VIEWPOINT: Guyana-Venezuela controversy

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 November 2023, 12:17 by Denis Chabrol

by Kit Nascimento

Venezuela has never owned the Essequibo and never will. Long before we became an independent country, the Essequibo region, that is all the land due west of the Essequibo River, within the boundaries of Guyana, was part of British Guiana.

Unfortunately, however, as Sir Shridath Ramphal, better known as Sonny to all of us, puts it in the book “The New Conquistadors, the Venezuelan Challenge to Guyana’s Sovereignty”, “there are classes and forces in Venezuela that have made the acquisition of most of Guyana their life’s cause, and sought to turn it into a national crusade”.

Venezuela is the 5th largest country of South America and Guyana one of the smallest. Venezuela is 4½ times the size of Guyana with a population of over 30½ million, Guyana is less than 1million, but the Essequibo holds much of our wealth, including out to sea in our waters, oil and gas, so the Maduro government wants to grab it.

Venezuela’s economy, first under President Chavez and worse under Maduro, is on the verge of collapse and its people fleeing the country in order to survive, those who can, coming to Guyana as migrants. We must welcome them and ensure that they are duly processed as migrants.

Guyana’s borders with Venezuela were legally settled and internationally recognized between the United Kingdom and Venezuela over 100 years ago. The Treaty of Washington, in 1897, agreed  to a Treaty of Arbitration to settle for all time, the boundaries between Venezuela and British Guiana and to consider the results of the Tribunal of Arbitration as a Full, Perfect and Final Settlement of all the questions referred to the Arbitration.

Every Guyanese knows, indeed, the world knows, that on October 3rd, 1899, the International Tribunal of Arbitration presented its Award. In fact, the Award was exceedingly generous to Venezuela. It gave Venezuela the Orinoco and control of the Orinoco Basin, which, at the time, was Venezuela’s principal objective. What was left has become, since Independence, the country of Guyana.

Shortly after the Award, America’s President, William McKinley, expressed his satisfaction in his State of the Union Address to the US Congress on December 5th, 1899, describing the Award as “equally satisfactory to both parties”.

History tells us that the boundaries determined by the Award were demarcated by a Commission appointed by Britain and Venezuela and an official boundary map was signed on January 7th, 1905, by representatives of Venezuela and the United Kingdom. The Commissioner representing Venezuela, Civil Engineer, Dr. Abraham Tirado, and Head of the Boundary Commission, pronounced that “the honourable task is ended and the delimitation between our Republic and the Colony of British Guiana an accomplished fact”.

In 1931, Venezuela, Brazil and British Guiana demarcated the trijunction boundary point on the summit of Mount Roraima, reaffirming the border between the three countries for all time.

For 60 years, successive Venezuelan governments honoured and respected Guyana’s borders with Venezuela but greed and avarice for the mineral wealth which lies within the Essequibo and now the oil and gas in the ocean within those boundaries, drives the ambition of the Maduro regime to take possession of two-thirds of our country.

Suddenly, in 1962 when Guyana’s Prime Minister, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, raised the matter of Guyana’s Independence before the United Nations, Venezuela demanded that the Arbitral Award be revisited prior to any Independence being granted to Guyana. Venezuela’s President, Romulo Betancourt, expressed concern to the US Ambassador in Caracas about Guyana becoming independent under a Communist government led by Dr. Jagan.

One year later, in 1963, US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, prior to a meeting between President John Kennedy and UK Prime Minister, Macmillan, asked his Ambassador in the UK to explore how best to persuade the British government that British Guiana be prevented from becoming independent under a Communist government. All of this taking place behind closed doors.

The Venezuelan government now challenged the legitimacy of the Arbitral Award, declaring to its people that Venezuela had been robbed and that the Essequibo region of Guyana must be reclaimed for Venezuela.

Well, on what grounds? Believe it or not, a Memorandum written in 1944 by a junior American Lawyer, in the Arbitral Tribunal hearing, Severo Mallet-Prevost, published after his death in 1949, that is 45 years after the Tribunal was settled, contended that the 1899 Award was the result of a conspiracy to cheat the Venezuelans out of the land within the Essequibo region between Great Britain and Russia effected by the British and Russian Judges of the Tribunal, that is, none other than, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, another Judge of the US Supreme Court nominated by the US President and the Lord Chief Justice of England, presided over by an internationally recognised Professor of International Law from Russia.

Not a shred of evidence supports this spurious and unfounded anancy story that the Venezuelans, to this day, are advancing in support of their claim to annex, take possession of Guyana’s territory in the Essequibo.

Today, of course, the US government, along with the British, the Commonwealth Commission, Canada, the CARICOM countries and the majority of the countries within the Organisation of American States, have firmly rejected the Venezuelan claim.

Mr Kit Nascimento is a consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs