Relations with Venezuela

Guyana Table of Contents

Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have been driven by a persistent border dispute. Venezuela's claim to a mineral-rich five-eighths of Guyana's total land mass dates back to the early nineteenth century. The dispute was considered settled by arbitration in 1899. Decades later a memo written by a lawyer involved in the arbitration and published posthumously indicated that the tribunal president had coerced several members into assenting to the final decision. In 1962 Venezuela declared that it would no longer abide by the 1899 arbitration on the grounds of this new information.

On February 17, 1966, representatives of Britain, Guyana, and Venezuela signed an agreement in Geneva that established a border commission consisting of two Guyanese and two Venezuelans. The commission failed to reach an agreement, but both countries agreed to resolve their dispute by peaceful means as stipulated in Article 33 of the United Nations Charter. In the meantime, relations remained tense. In February 1967, Venezuela vetoed Guyana's bid to become a member of the Organization of American States (OAS). The Venezuelan government also attempted to sabotage Guyana's development plans for the disputed region by letting it be known to would-be foreign investors that it did not recognize Guyanese jurisdiction.

With Venezuelan backing, several prominent ranching families and Amerindian followers in the southern part of the disputed region began an uprising. The rebels launched a surprise attack on the police outpost at Lethem on January 2, 1969, and several policemen were killed. The government flew police and military forces to the region with orders to raze everything. Only livestock and cattle were spared. The Venezuelan government admitted that some of the Guyanese insurgents had received training in Venezuela and that it would grant refuge to the rebels. Guyana protested this action in the UN.

Venezuela found itself diplomatically isolated, unable even to gain the support of its neighbors in Latin America. Pressure on Venezuela to resolve the dispute led to the Protocol of Port-of- Spain, whereby in 1970 Guyana and Venezuela agreed to a twelve-year moratorium on the dispute. The protocol would be automatically renewed unless either party gave notice of its intention to do otherwise.

In 1981 the Venezuelan president, Luis Hererra Campíns, announced that Venezuela would not renew the protocol. Relations again grew tense. Guyana's government accused Venezuela of massing troops near their common border to invade Guyana. The Venezuelan government denied this accusation, stating that its troops merely were involved in regular maneuvers. The subsequent Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands (called the Malvinas by Argentina) and the 1983 United States invasion of Grenada were heavily criticized by the Guyanese government, which feared that a precedent had been set for Venezuela to resolve its territorial grievance by force.

In the late 1980s with different administrations in both countries, relations between Venezuela and Guyana improved. Relations became so cordial, in fact, that Venezuela sponsored Guyana's bid for OAS membership in 1990. Although the territorial issue remained unresolved, there seemed little imminent threat of a Venezuelan invasion.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress