RENEWAL OF VENEZUELAN CLAIM TO ESSEQUIBO
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From the beginning of the 1960s, as the movement towards independence gathered momentum in Guyana, some politicians and sections of the media in Venezuela demanded that their Government should officially resurrect its claim to the western Essequibo. This move to reopen the claim by Venezuela to the area west of the Essequibo River had actually recommenced in 1949 following the publication of a memorandum written by Severo Mallet-Prevost, a lawyer in the team that conducted the Venezuelan case before the arbitral tribunal in 1899. The memorandum written in 1944 claimed that the award which settled the boundary between Venezuela and Guyana in 1899 was a result of a "political deal" between Great Britain and Russia. A Russian judge was the chairman of the five-member arbitral tribunal.
In February 1962, when the United Nations Fourth Committee was discussing the issue of independence for British Guiana, Venezuela, basing its case on the Mallet Prevost memorandum, officially made its contention through a memorandum presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The memorandum alleged that the Arbitral Award of 1899 was invalid, and put forward the claim that the region west of the Essequibo River was Venezuelan territory. While Venezuela did not object to the forthcoming independence of Guyana, it objected to the western Essequibo being included as Guyanese territory.
In reply to the Venezuelan contention, Sir Patrick Dean, a special British representative to the UN, on 19 September 1962, took the position that the border dispute had been settled by the 1899 Award, and that the question could not be reopened on the posthumous word of an aged lawyer who had nursed grievances against the Tribunal for the whole of his life. In his lengthy address to the Special Political Committee of the UN, Dean repudiated all Venezuelan claims to Guyanese territory.
The border issue was further discussed at another meeting of the UN Special Committee on the 12 November 1962. At that meeting, Dr. Marcos Falcon Briceno, Minister of External Relations of Venezuela, said that his country was not asking the UN to pass judgement on the substance of his country's claim, and that he was merely putting on record the reasons why Venezuela could not recognise the 1899 Award as valid.
The British Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Colin Crowe, replied that the British Government did not accept that there was any frontier dispute to discuss. He added that British experts conducted a very thorough examination of the records and were completely satisfied that there was no justification whatsoever for reopening this frontier question.
Crowe announced that the British Government, with the concurrence of the Government of British Guiana, was prepared to discuss with the Venezuelan Government, through diplomatic channels, arrangements for a tripartite, Venezuela British Guiana United Kingdom examination of the voluminous documentary material relevant to this question. He added that this was not an offer to engage in substantive talks about the revision of the frontier but to dispel any doubts which the Venezuelan Government had about the validity or propriety of the Arbitral Award.
After an agreement to this effect was reached between the British and Venezuelan Governments, Venezuelan experts examined British documents in London from 30 July to 11 September, 1963. Sir Geoffrey Meade, retired Foreign Service Officer, who was appointed to represent the United Kingdom, also represented the Government of British Guiana at the latter's request.
On the 5-7 November 1963, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela met the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom to review the progress in the examination of the documents. The Foreign Ministers agreed that the British expert, Sir Geoffrey Meade, should go to Caracas to examine any documents which the Venezuelan Government might wish to produce to support their allegation that the Award was improperly arrived at. Meade was in Caracas from 3 to 12 December 1963, and examined the relevant documents produced by the Venezuelan Government. (The examination of documents in the two capitals by both sides continued in 1964 and into 1965 and the reports of the experts appointed by each side were exchanged. Nevertheless, Venezuela refused to be convinced even though it could not produce any document to support its contention).
The Venezuelan claim to the western Essequibo was strongly rejected by the Guyana Government which set out its main policy statement on the issue on 28 February 1964 when Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the Premier, addressed the Legislative Assembly. He was adamant that his Government had no intention of reopening the boundary issue and forcefully declared: "The Government of British Guiana is not prepared to yield to Venezuela or any other country a single rivulet or creek; we are not prepared to surrender a single inch of soil of this country."
The renewal of the Venezuelan claim was regarded as one of the techniques of destabilisation aimed at blocking independence for Guyana under Dr. Jagan's leadership. The thought of an independent Guyana under a socialist PPP Government created fear in imperialist circles, and as a result, the American Government pressured Venezuela, then a pro American state, to reopen the claim to the western Essequibo, while at the same time instigating disturbances in Guyana with the aid of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and local anti PPP forces from 1962 to 1964.
Further, the threat from Venezuela was aimed at generating fear among Guyanese so that they would be influenced to choose a Government which would win the support of an American-British alliance against any aggression by Venezuela. Since the American Government, in particular, had no liking for Dr. Jagan and the PPP, it was obvious that the Guyanese people were being indirectly told that Burnham and the PNC were preferred, and that under a Burnham-led Government, an American-British alliance could be depended upon to prevent any aggressive designs by Venezuela.