DISCUSSIONS ON THE BORDER ISSUE
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At the conclusion of the constitutional conference, which fixed the date for Guyana's independence, another ministerial meeting occurred on the 9 and 10 December 1965 between Foreign Minister Ignacio Iribarren Borges of Venezuela on the one side and Michael Stewart, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom, and the Premier of British Guiana, Forbes Burnham, on the other. At this meeting the stand taken by Great Britain and Guyana was that there was no dispute as regards the frontier, but that the only dispute was that arising out of Venezuela's contention that the 1899 Award was invalid.
Great Britain and Guyana also stated that the examination of the documentary material had produced no evidence whatever in support of the Venezuelan allegation that the Award was the result of a deal or was otherwise invalid. The discussions, however, were inconclusive and the participants decided that the representatives of the three Governments should meet again in Geneva, Switzerland, on 16-17 February 1966.
A joint communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said that the Geneva conference would "seek satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy which has arisen as a result of the Venezuelan contention that the 1899 Award is null and void." The meeting would also examine plans for the collaboration in the development of Guyana.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, sections of the media, on learning of the date of British Guiana's independence had been fixed, launched a strong emotional campaign at home and abroad in support of their country's territorial claims, while at the same time purporting to welcome the independence of their colonial neighbour.
In Guyana, the decision to hold a further meeting in Geneva was strongly criticised by Dr. Jagan. He sharply denounced the PNC UF for not consulting with the opposition before making this decision on the vital issue of Venezuela's claim to the Guyana's territory. Burnham shortly after issued a public statement that the PPP would in fact be consulted. He warned that the British Government appeared to be letting the Geneva talks take a dangerous trend since it was allowing a spurious claim to be listed on the agenda as a "controversy" needing a solution.
Throughout December 1965 and January 1966, the Government's time was taken up in making plans for the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Guyana, and found it inconvenient to carry out consultations with the opposition on the Guyana-Venezuela border issue. The Queen eventually visited Guyana on 2-3 February 1966, and participated in a packed programme of activities, including the official opening of the National Park which was named in her honour. The PPP boycotted all the official functions for the Queen in protest against the continued detention of 16 of its members by the Government.
Burnham waited until a few days before the Geneva conference was due to be convened, before inviting the deputy leader of the PPP, Ashton Chase, in the absence of Dr. Jagan who was out of the country, to discuss the Venezuelan contention and hear the PPP's views on the issue.
Chase, accompanied by Jocelyn Hubbard, acting Chairman of the Party, subsequently met Burnham at his office on Friday 11 February 1966. The PPP delegation emphasised that the border issue was one of national importance and suggested that the delegation going to Geneva should include two representatives from the PPP, namely, either Dr. Jagan or Chase and Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye who served as Attorney General in the PPP government. They insisted, however, that if only one representative could be accommodated, then that representative should be Dr. Jagan, the PPP leader, or Chase, the deputy leader. Burnham said he would have to consult with his cabinet before responding to this proposal.
The PPP members also expressed the view that there should be no special arrangements with Venezuela over the development of the Essequibo area since such special arrangements might compromise the Guyana government in regard to the Venezuelan claim.
On the following day, Burnham informed Chase that he could not agree to the PPP's request for representation at the Geneva Conference. However, he offered to include Ramsahoye in the Government delegation.
Later that same day, Ashton Chase, on behalf of the PPP, wrote to Burnham rejecting the offer. He stated that the Party had made it clear to Burnham the day before that the best way to deal with the border issue with Venezuela was "to present a national front in order to cement opinion at home and to influence public opinion". He added that the PPP felt it was unprincipled for Burnham to decide which member of the PPP should be part of the delegation. As a result, the PPP refused Burnham's request for Ramsahoye to join the delegation to Geneva.
In his letter, Chase told Burnham that by refusing to include the PPP leader or his deputy on the delegation, the government lost a significant opportunity to demonstrate to the world that all Guyanese were determined not to yield any part of Guyanese territory to Venezuela.
No further correspondence or discussion was exchanged between the Government and the opposition. Subsequently, a PNC UF Government delegation, led by Burnham, departed for Geneva on 13 February to attend the conference. In great contrast to the Guyana delegation, the Venezuelan delegation that proceeded to Geneva included representatives from their main opposition parties, thus presenting a strong united front at the conference.