The Trail Of Diplomacy

A Documentary History of the Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue
by Odeen Ishmael
© Copyright 1998



In the course of the history of the Guyana/Venezuela border, Venezuela has presented varying claims to territory in Guyana. A summarised list of the claims is set out below:

1. The Spanish authorities in a Report dated the 10 July 1788 put forward this first claim:

It has been stated that the south coast of the Orinoco from the point of Barima, 20 leagues more or less inland, up to the creek of Curucima, is low lying and swampy land and, consequently, reckoning all this tract as useless, very few patches of fertile land being found therein, and hardly any savannahs and pastures, it is disregarded; so taking as chief base the said creek of Curucima, or the point of the chain and ridge in the great arm of the Imataka, an imaginary line will be drawn running to the south-south-east following the slopes of the ridge of the same name which is crossed by the Rivers Aguire, Arature and Amacuro, and others, in the distance of 20 leagues, direct to the Cuyuni; from there it will run on to the Masaruni and Essequibo, parallel to the sources of the Berbis and Surinama; this is the directing line of the course which the new Settlements and foundations proposed must follow.

2. In 1840 Venezuela claimed that all lands west of the Essequibo River was its territory.

3. On the 21 February 1881, in a Note to Lord Grenville, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain at that time, Venezuela proposed a frontier line starting from a point one mile to the north of the Moruka River, drawn from there westward to the 60th meridian and running south along that meridian. This would have granted the Barima District to Venezuela.

3. The Venezuelan contention, in the 1890s, before the establishment of the Arbitral Tribunal, was that the boundary of British Guiana must be drawn along the west bank of the estuary of the Essequibo from the sea to the junction of the Cuyuni with the Mazaruni, then along the east bank of the Essequibo to its confluence with the Rupununi, then following the watershed between the Essequibo and the Berbice and Corentyne Rivers, to the frontier of Brazil.

4. The Government of Venezuela in its Case presented to the Arbitral Tribunal, modified its claim as regards the district immediately west of the Essequibo, and claimed that the boundary should run from the mouth of the Moruka River southwards to the Cuyuni, near its junction with Mazaruni, and then along the east bank of the Essequibo to the Brazilian frontier, as stated above.

5. In the Note of recognition of the independence of Guyana on the 26 May 1966, Venezuela stated:

Venezuela recognises as territory of the new State the one which is located on the east of the right bank of the Essequibo River, and reiterates before the new State, and before the international community, that it expressly reserves its rights of territorial sovereignty over all the zone located on the west bank of the above-mentioned river. Therefore, the Guyana-Essequibo territory over which Venezuela expressly reserves its sovereign rights, limits on the east by the new State of Guyana, through the middle line of the Essequibo River, beginning from its source and on to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean.

6. Venezuelan maps, produced since 1970, show the entire area from the eastern bank of the Essequibo, including the islands in the river, as Venezuelan territory. On some maps, the western Essequibo region is called the "Zone of Reclamation". 7. The Venezuelan claim to all lands west of the Essequibo River -- as displayed on Venezuelan maps after 1970 -- became a new claim, since in the case before the Arbitral Tribunal, a part of the Essequibo coast east of the line connecting the mouth of the Moruka River with the Cuyuni-Mazaruni junction was not claimed. Some maps published after 1975 even included the Essequibo Islands as part of the extreme claim.

7. On the 23 June 1982, answering questions, Dr. Garavini, the Venezuelan Ambassador, stated that the only solution to the issue would involve ceding of some land by Guyana. He insisted that his Government no longer intended to demand all the land it was originally claiming. This idea of not pursuing the claim to its entirety now added a new dimension to the claim of territory by Venezuela, and this declaration by the Ambassador could be seen as a new claim being put forward by Venezuela.

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