ARBITRATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN GUYANA AND VENEZUELA
Cleveland's speech to the US Congress was seen as a direct threat of war with Great Britain if the British did not comply with the Venezuelan demands now openly championed by the United States. Actually, almost immediately after Cleveland's statement to the United States Congress, American military forces were put on combat alert in case war should break out with Great Britain.
Cleveland's warlike statement was discussed all over the United States. In some quarters there were expressions of enthusiasm for war on the British and general public opinion was thus manipulated to turn in support of the President. On the 18 December 1895, Congress voted 100,000 dollars for the United States Venezuelan Boundary Commission (which was to be formally established on the 1 January 1896).
Even the President's political rivals were caught up in the spreading of the war hysteria. One of the leaders of the Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt (later to become a Vice-President and President himself) during this period wrote in support of a war with Great Britain , even suggesting that should there be a war, "we (the USA) would take Canada".
Indeed, in the United States, the expectancy of war against Great Britain was so great that the Irish National Alliance, a strong anti-British organisation representing Americans of Irish ancestry, revealed that it would supply one hundred thousand volunteers for the war!
But there were also strong expressions of opposition to Cleveland's statement. Scores of newspapers printed scathing criticisms of the President's policy over the Venezuela-British Guiana border dispute saying that it was extreme and provocative.
The Venezuelan Government was quick in congratulating the United States Government for its stand against the British and for its open support for Venezuela. On the 19 December 1895, the day after the President's message was approved by Congress, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington, Josť Andrade, called on Secretary of State Olney to express his country's appreciation.
But business circles in the United States were deeply alarmed over the possibility of war between the United States and Great Britain. This alarm, generated by the President's special message to Congress, caused panic selling in the Wall Street stock exchanges in New York.
In Great Britain, Cleveland's statement was severely attacked, while the semi-official media in Germany by and large described it as highly provocative.
With the expectancy of war hanging on the balance, Pope Leo XIII, towards the end of December 1895, offered to find a solution to the escalated border crisis. But this offer was not taken up by either the United States or Great Britain.
In British Guiana itself, a state of excitement existed; and while the residents vehemently rejected the Venezuelan claims to all territory west of the Essequibo River, the British Government never officially consulted its subjects during the crisis period and during subsequent negotiations with the United States and Venezuela.
During this period, Great Britain was already faced with a state of war in its colonial possessions in Southern Africa, and obviously had no intention of having any violent confrontation with the United States. The British Government, therefore, stepped up its exchange of diplomatic letters with the United States and Venezuela with the aim of bringing an early end to the dispute.
The United States, nevertheless, intended to push the Venezuelan claim to the extreme. In January 1896, based on a decision of Congress, the United States Venezuelan Boundary Commission was established. It was headed by David J. Brewer, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The other members were Richard H. Alvey, Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, who was also a skilled Spanish scholar; F.R. Coudert, a distinguished member of the New York bar and of the counsel of the United States in the Bering Sea dispute of 1892; Dr. D.C. Gilman, a noted geographer and President of the John Hopkins University; and Andrew D. White, a historian and diplomat. The Commission selected Judge Brewer as its Chairman, and appointed as its secretary, Severo Mallet-Prevost, a trained scholar and lawyer.
For a few weeks the work of the Commission was the leading news item in British and American newspapers.
Meanwhile, diplomatic correspondence was continuing with greater momentum. This was occasioned by the German Kaiser's open support for the anti-British actions of President Kruger of the Transvaal (in South Africa). The Kaiser's statement, made in January 1896, was seen as an open threat of war by Germany on Great Britain, and the latter decided to try to win the support of the United States in case a European conflict should break out.
Side by side with the increased diplomatic negotiations, the British arduously worked towards the improvement of Anglo-American friendship. By February 1896, the tensions seemed to have cooled down to a great extent and there was expectancy that a solution on the border dispute would be forthcoming later in the year.
Discussions were opened later in the year between Great Britain and Venezuela, with the encouragement of the United States, and they finally reached an agreement in November on a treaty to send the dispute to international arbitration. By this Treaty of Washington signed by Venezuela and Great Britain on 2 February 1897, both Great Britain and Venezuela agreed that the decision of the arbitration tribunal would be a "full, perfect, and final settlement" of the border dispute.
Shortly after, the United States Venezuelan Boundary Commission was dissolved and it sent a lengthy Report to President Cleveland. The Report examined the history of Dutch colonisation in Essequibo and the geography of the area, and compiled hundreds of historical documents and prepared an atlas containing seventy-six maps. All of this material was subsequently made available to Venezuela for its case before the Arbitral Tribunal which met in Paris in 1898-1899.