Venezuela's political divisions run so deep it can sometimes seem like the country has broken in two. Pro-government chavistas and their opponents are barely on speaking terms, and the country's rifts periodically explode into violence.
But over the past few days, a rare consensus between backers of President Nicolas Maduro and those who have been working to oust him has been forged by one issue. A huge chunk of neighboring Guyana belongs to Venezuela, Maduro insists, and Venezuelan politicians of all persuasions have fallen in line behind him.
On Wednesday, Maduro announced the creation of the Presidential Commission for Border Issues to win control of a long-disputed swath of jungle and grassland known as the Essequibo, equal to two-thirds of Guyanese territory. He insists his government will pursue the claim "by peaceful means."
"The Essequibo issue cannot be resolved militarily," Maduro said, while appointing a high-ranking military official, Gen. Gerardo Izquierdo, to lead the commission.
With his government mired in a deep economic crisis and parliamentary elections scheduled for December, Maduro has framed the issue as a test of Venezuelan patriotism for his opponents.
On Tuesday the country's National Assembly voted unanimously to back him, with nary a negative word from opposition leaders.
Although a panel of judges in Paris granted the area to Great Britain in 1899 when Guyana was a British colony, Venezuela challenged the ruling as unfair in 1962.
Four years later, the so-called "Geneva Agreement" instructed the two countries to work out a solution, but 50 years later the territory is internationally recognized as part of Guyana.
Venezuela's claim on the Essequibo has simmered for years, but it kicked up again last month after Exxon Mobil discovered a "significant" oil field off the coast of Guyana. Venezuela, whose ongoing dispute with the American oil giant is no less bitter, claims the find is within the territorial waters of its "Maritime Defense Zone."
"Let there be no doubt about the legitimacy of our claim that the Essequibo is Venezuelan territory," said National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, following Tuesday's unanimous vote. "The Essequibo is Venezuela. The Essequibo is Venezuelan."
The declaration charges the Guyanese government with "attacking the dignity of the Venezuelan people," with backing from Exxon Mobil and "the U.S.-international oil lobby," amounting to "a dangerous provocation that undermines a peaceful diplomatic solution."
Maduro has appealed directly to U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to mediate. In the meantime, Maduro's government is planning to issue 200,000 identification cards to the Guyanese living in the Essequibo and mount an advertising campaign to convince them they'd be better off living under Venezuelan rule.
Guyanese leaders say Venezuela's push amounts to a veiled military threat. Earlier this month the other members of the CARICOM alliance of Caribbean nations sided with Guyana, South America's only English-speaking nation.
Guyanese President David Granger, who took office in May, is planning to travel to Brazil next week to attend a summit of the Mercosur bloc, of which Venezuela is a member. Granger is expected to take up the dispute at the forum.