Understanding why Venezuelans think that the Essequibo belongs to them gives one a good insight into why some of them are so determined to fight for it. Nevertheless, as UK Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, said, “those borders were settled in 1899.”
Despite the fact that Venezuela initially had some legitimate claim to the Essequibo, the border between Guyana and Venezuela was settled over 120 years ago. Since then, and way before that in fact, Guyana has been administering the territory, developing its landmass and infrastructure into what it is today, and supporting its population.
Not all Venezuelans are united in the fight for the Essequibo. For many of them, it is only a byword or chorus, and not something they would invest much energy into.
In summary, the Venezuelan government does have an obscure claim of the Essequibo, but it is a very obscure claim which diminishes with each passing year. Essequibo belongs to Guyana, and that is the way it will always stay.
The 2023 Venezuela/Guyana Border Crisis is the story of yet another failed attempt by Venezuela to annex the Essequibo. It is also the story of how the Guyana Government, lacking a capable military, fought a cold war on a diplomatic front and won, stymieing Venezuela’s hopes of ever “reclaiming” the Essequibo. The crisis also tested the resolve of world powers to defend and protect Guyana’s sovereignty, and cast a good light on who Guyana’s true friends and allies are.
1777 – The Spanish Empire founds the Captaincy General of Venezuela, a territorial sub-entity that includes Essequibo.
1811 – Venezuela becomes independent from Spain, and Essequibo forms part of the nascent republic.
1840 – London appoints explorer Robert Schomburgk to define the border. Shortly after, the “Schomburgk Line” was unveiled, a route that claimed nearly 80,000 additional square kilometers.
1841 – The dispute officially begins when Venezuela denounces an incursion by the British Empire into its territory.
1886 – A new version of the Schomburgk Line is published, claiming more territory.
1895 – The United States intervenes under the Monroe Doctrine after denouncing that the border had been expanded in a “mysterious manner” and recommends that the dispute be resolved in international arbitration.
1899 – The Paris Arbitration Award is issued, a ruling favorable to the United Kingdom with which the territory officially falls under British rule.
1949 – A memorandum by American lawyer Severo Mallet-Prevost – part of Venezuela’s defense in the Paris Arbitration Award – is made public, in which he denounces that the award was a political compromise and that the judges were not impartial. The revelations of Severo Mallet-Prevost and other documents serve to make Venezuela declare the award “null and void.”
1966 – Three months before granting independence to Guyana, the United Kingdom agrees with Venezuela on the Geneva Agreement that recognizes Venezuela’s claim and seeks to find satisfactory solutions to resolve the dispute.
Contributed by author and historian Reaz Mohamed