Esequibo blues

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Guayana Esequiba Zona en Reclamación
Bye, bye, Esequibo! We hardly knew ya…

For generations, all maps of Venezuela have included the term “Area in Contention” (Zona en Reclamacion) to highlight the Guayana Esequiba, currently administered by our neighbor to the East, the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. It is the largest part of what they say is their territory. Instead, our maps are the only exception to the rule, which sees “el Esequibo” as Guyanese.

The story of Venezuela’s beef with Guyana goes back to the XIXth Century, but the pivotal moment was a arbitration ruling that did not go our way. In February of 1966, months before the United Kingdom granted Guyana its independence, the governments of the UK, British Guyana (before it became the CRG) and Venezuela signed the Treaty of Geneva, in which the three parts agreed to find “a practical and satisfactory solution” to the dispute.

Days ago, during the formal unveiling of a 45-million dollar deal between the Guyanese government and the Brazilian consortium Quieroz Galvao for a feasibility study of a hydroelectrical plant in the area, Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett declared to local news agency GINA that “…while she cannot predict the future, she does not foresee any issues developing with the neighbouring nation since the area is no longer regarded as “disputed”.

There has been no official response to Rodrigues-Birkett’s statement either by the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry (MPPRE) or by any other government official. Even if Foreign Affairs Minister Elias Jaua travelled weeks ago to Georgetown, it looks like the issue wasn’t in the agenda at all. Still, both governments are formally in talks regarding their border disputes. But why such a relaxed attitude to all this?

Well, the possible answer to this question came almost at the same time: last month, the Guyanese government agreed to sell 200,000 to 250,000 tons of rice to Venezuela in the next few months as part of the PetroCaribe deal. For local rice producers, this agreement is very, very important. After all, rice is one of Guyana’s biggest exports.

And guess what? One week earlier, Guyana was one of the 22 countries which voted in the OAS against allowing opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado to speak publicly. Just like the case of Jamaica, Guyana depends mightily on PetroCaribe, and in exchange for having the government’s diplomatic back, they not only get cheap oil, but also some of their goods have a viable market.

As a bonus, Guyana now has the chance of settling a historical and strategic border dispute in a deadly quiet fashion.

As an addendum, this also confirms that “food soverignty” is a mere formality: It was last year and continues to be today.

1 COMMENT

  1. In truth, the “border dispute” is just a bit of silly nationalist posturing, with a footing in international law that was always so weak it’s basically non-existent. You don’t get to accept a Laudo Arbitral for half a century then suddenly go back and “discover” you never accepted it at all, like Venezuela has tried to do. Taking Venezuela’s claim seriously would imperil any number of borders in any number of countries all around the world: it’s basically unthinkable in terms of international law.

    Even the story of the 1899 decision we always get told is just dead wrong. The real issue at the end of the 19th century is that Britain wanted to control the mouth of the Orinoco! Their claim would’ve put the border about 30 km. further west on the Barima river, which would’ve allowed them to build a fort at the chokehold controlling all internal shipping on the Orinoco river system (including the Arauca, etc.) THAT was the strategic point of the British claim. THAT’s why the gringos cited the Monroe Doctrine and hinted at war if the Brits didn’t accept an arbitration panel. The whole strategic crux of the 1899 case was control over shipping on the Orinoco.

    You would never ever know it from the way the subject is taught to Venezuelans but from the point of view of the 19th century WE WON THE 1899 CASE. We got the only strategic asset at issue. The British consolation prize was to be awarded notional sovereignty over a bunch of virgin jungle they had absolutely no interest in.

    For once, I’m sort of with chavismo on this one. The reclamación was a ridiculous bit of puntofijista theater/grandstanding. Better to just allow it to die quietly and move the bilateral relationship to the real business between the two countries, such as it is.

    • thanks for the historical aspect quico, hadn’t thought of that since camisa azul.
      regarding the policy i disagree though. by allowing the claim to die down the govt is putting on display another blatant of example of its hypocrisy. otra raya pa un tigre y tal, but these guys are the guys who accuse the opposition of giving away the country to the gringos while they give away a semi-legit LAND CLAIM for some rice and a ultimately meaningless day at the oea. i mean if they’d tried surely they could of gotten more than that!

      • They’re not “allowing the claim to die down”. The claim was stone-cold-dead for over half a century before the adecos took it out of the grave, propped it back up and decided to *pretend* it was alive, “Weekend At Bernie’s” style. All the government is doing is tacitly accepting the utterly obvious: Venezuela will never ever control the west shore of the Essequibo river. Ever. In a million years. EVER.

        • Just imagine the chaos in international relations if a claim like this one became successful.

          Is there *any* border in the world that would be safe if suddenly 115 year-old claims could be opened back up on the basis of ONE memo by a long-dead dude about irregularities in procedure?

          It’s too idiotic for words.

          This can never happen because the international system couldn’t work if obviously spurious claims like this one were allowed to go forward.

          It staggers me that in 2014 people are still discussing this. There is no Essequibo dispute. There hasn’t been for 115 years.

          • Its not like this isn’t something of a theme with extreme leftist governments in South America.

            *coughcoughMalvinasFalklandscoughcough*

          • Not to inflame nationalist ideas, but there might be more to us than just renouncing the claim altogether – even if we don’t get a hold of the entire region.

          • Besides, those guys accepted the terms of the Geneve Agreement in 1966. That settled the question of whether the original process in 1899 was flawed. Discarding the terms of that Agreement by dropping the issue would be inconsistent on all parties’ accounts here. Guyana recognized we had a legitimate claim back then and agreed to sit down to discuss it. Why should we just drop the ball now?

    • Francisco,

      I am glad to hear at least one Venezuelan come to the same conclusion I did about the Esequibo. When I first got here and heard about the “Zona en Reclamación”, I read up on this territorial dispute and concluded that Venezuela’s case was very, very weak to begin with, and that since it had not been seriously pursued, it was as good as worthless. However, it seems that the vast majority of Venezuelans are not capable of looking at this case rationally.

    • Bless you for this Quico. Why we want a piece of land with little to no infrastructure connecting it to Venezuela, inhabited by people who don’t share our language or our culture truly beats me. As for the resources, we’re not doing a great job managing the ones we already have.

    • Not sure of that, Francisco. It had more to do with the gold mines in El Callao. Commercial traffic in the Orinoco was never that important, was it? I don’t think gringos were that interested in controlling the Orinoco River either

    • OAS member states except two: Diosdado Cabello just mugged someone right in front of your sorry faces, said thank you and kiss my ass, and you will do absolutely nothing. Nice work.

  2. From a practical perspective the existence of the dispute has allowed Venezuela to block oil exploration by Guayana offshore of the the disputed land area , there was an incident a couple of years ago where the govt moved to stop a guayana authorized exploration company from doing any offshore exploration .

    At the same time Venezuelas marine demarcation treaty with trinidad extends over marine areas which allow it the right to share in the exploitation of gas fields located cross border from the trinidad side and which arent that distant from the sea areas which guayana might claim for itself had the land dispute been resolved.

    There is a story of the result of the Esequivo arbitration having been fraudently influenced by the US firm of Curtis Mallet (in favour of G Britain) . Curtis is currently the law firm representing the Chavez regime in all of its most important international disputes and also acts as its most trusted legal advisor in the handling of its oil nationalization measures.

    • Checked up on the Curtis Mallet story and it isnt as bad as it has been made out to be , Quite simply Mallet Prevost a member of the firm who was actively engaged in the arbitration left a sealed letter to be opened many years after his death where he recounts how the russian head arbitrator sent a message to the Americans which represented Venezuela that he was inclined to vote in favour of the british govt but would consider a decision which would allow Venezuela to keep the enthrance of the orinoco and a small surrounding territory in Venezuelan hands provided all the rest was given to britain because he wanted an unanimous decision and to achieve that would allow Venezuela the benefit of keeping the orinoco mouth in its territory . Mr Mallet Prevost thought this was unconsciounable as Venezuela definitely had the better claim but on discussing the proposed deal with others decided that it was better than having the russian lead arbitrator decide in favour of the british. !! Finally they decided to go along with the russian proposal and accept the surrender of of most of the disputed to Britain. It was clearly not a decision based on the legal merits of the case but on a practicalities of XIX century real politiks. The brits had also knowledge of valuable mineral deposits being located inside the disputed area ( which they admitted to being interested in in private correspondence ) .

  3. Man, I dont remember all the stuff, but I do remember that, from the point of view of education in Venezuela, it was almost an article of faith.

    Me, I thought the thing was lost from the moment Guyana became independent. One thing is to say you want some territory back from an empire that took it, and another from a independent country. But still, I do remember dimly some ton of “legal” stuff that said it was Venezuela, forever, no doubt about it.

    Not sure how they can sell something like that with their own obsession with the flag and Patria and stuff… well, so far it seems they are just not saying anything…

    Probably worst tangible loss would be future students that will not have a nice make-believe machine gun with their plastic template of the map 😛

  4. um, this morning:

    Jaua dijo que Venezuela no ha renunciado al Esequibo

    El canciller Elías Jaua aseguró que el país no ha renunciado al reclamo sobre la soberanía en este territorio, sino que ha respetado y se ha alineado a los mecanismos establecidos por la Organización de Naciones Unidas, en una entrevista ofrecida a Globovisión. Manifestó que prefiere no disertar sobre el tema pues es muy delicado y “precisamente las posibilidades de su éxito depende en sacarlo de la diatriba política, en función de la defensa de los intereses nacionales”. Jaua agregó que sigue el mecanismo establecido por buenos oficios del secretario General de la ONU.

    “Jaua dijo que Venezuela no ha renunciado al Esequibo”

    (Caracas, 31 de marzo – Noticias24).- El Canciller de la República, Elías Jaua Milano, se refirió este lunes al conflicto por el Esequibo. Aseguró que Venezuela no ha renunciado al reclamo sobre la soberanía en este territorio, sino que ha respetado y se ha alineado a los mecanismos establecidos por la Organización de Naciones Unidas (ONU).

  5. Francisco is right to state that its all water under the bridge by now and that there is no hope that the arbitration decision will ever be reversed . What the Venezuelan position amounts to is the traditional ‘derecho al pataleo’ which emotionally softens the blow of all defeats in Venezuelan culture . There is some practical advantage in that it has maybe allowed Venezuela to assert its rights to certain offshore oil deposits in the trinidad border line which extends beyond the area that separates trinidad waters from disputed Esequivo waters (depending on the angle from the shore which you use to draw the former line).

    On strictly legal terms Venezuela appears to have had the better title , Britain got its right to Guayana from a treaty with the Netherlands which apparently set the Esequivo river as the easter border of the transferred land while a number of maps drawn and published in Britain before the dispute went live gave Venezuela title over the land on the western shore of the Esequivo . There was somekind of US Congressional commission which did a study of the question which favoured Venezuelan claims , but ultimately The Russian arbitrator (something of an anglophile with not much respect for the barbaric half breed people of spanish america ) decided otherwise and thats what counts.

    Time and the prestige of formal pronouncements by emminent bodies in time make legitimate what originally wasnt , In 10 years time who is going to argue that there was no cause for MCM to lose her parlaimentary seat , it will all be water under the bridge.!! .

  6. While we´ve dropped the ball on the Esequibo as a National Security concern, others have started looming their way in, given our misguided or lack of a modern foreign policy approach. For instance, Gustavo mentions how the Brazilians are buying their way into Georgetown given the mentioned infrastructure project that was agreed upon, in order to expand the Brazilians clout as a soft power.

    Its not a question of how we mismanaged or not our own natural resources, its a matter of how we´re signaling our condition of a Failed State to our own neighbours, and how they´re conceiving it as its for grabs.

  7. Guyana is a Castro client State too. Venezuela can take the territory militarily. It may be a stretch but they can have air and sea superiority in a cinch. Don’t think anyone would come to Guyana’s help except the USA but if done right, it’s possible to take and hold militarily without USA intervention. I have not thought out the political side just the military. For this to happen and succeed they would need tacit support and assistance from their friends including Russia. This is future long term scenario. I would not dismiss this outright. Anything and everything is possible with these chavistas.

  8. Under Uti possidetis juris, essential foundation of American public law regarding limits, the Republic took over full ownership of the territory which in 1810 belonged to the Captaincy General of Venezuela, which extended to the river in Guyana Essequibo. Like Spain, considered all foreign occupation west of that river as territorial encroachment in violation of the Treaty of Münster in 1648 by which Spain recognized Dutch territories, the latter possessed.

    Documentation relating to diplomatic missions sent by the Great Colombia to London, reveals that official was released to Britain that the border between Venezuela and British Guiana running down the Essequibo, without that power as categorical statements objected. In this respect, it is ofsingular transcendence the statement made by the Minister Plenipotentiary, Manuel J. Hurtado, when negotiated and obtained the recognition of the Gran Colombia by the United Kingdom.

    England withdrew recognition of the border in 1840 to publish the Schomburgk line as a border call attempt, exposed to discussion lmítrofes countries. The finding of a composite map of British Guiana by Schomburgk in 1835 in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society ofLondon has revealed that prior to that it was considered as the first line Schomburgk there was another, the original Schomburgk line, roughly coincident with that claimed by Venezuela.

    Britain is not presented, as was appropriate, this original Schomburgk line examination of the arbitration tribunal, depriving it of a decisive convición element.

    The border issue, created prematurely by Schomburgk, was characterized in the nineteenth century by successive advances of his line with the same name usurped increasing portion of Venezuelan territory west of the Essequibo: the 1835gave only 4,920 km2 British Guiana, 1840 the usurpation reached 141 930 km2 of 1887-167830 km2, reaching the highest British claim that tried to include Venezuela 203 310 km2 of which were located within Venezuelan populations as Guasipati old and known as,Tumeremo and others.

    Using his economic and military power, Britain violated the 1850 agreement, formalized by crosses between the British legation note and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, through which both countries had agreed not to occupy the territory as arbitrarily it ambition.

    Britain then tried to give legal value to the occupation by force, despite protests Venezuelan diplomatic notes given in the Foreign Ministry. It is noted that both the Metropolitan and Colonial Government had reiterated on many occasions publicly warning to those who will be entering the territory claimed by Venezuela, who had to have the guarantee of the Government of His Majesty.

    In an attempt to provide mapping support to successive encroachments of Venezuela, Britain published from 1887, and represented to the Court of Arbitration, a series of maps in which the call Schomburgk line appears adulterated. Pursuing a policy outrageous colonialist, Britain decided to occupy the territory within the Schomburgk line adulterated which first referred to by the British Government in October 1886, or nearly half a century of termination that maps and twenty one years of his death. The incident promoted in 1894 by a British officer in front of the confluence of Yuruan, in territory that Britain had recognized as the undisputed Venezuelan up to eight years before the event, and especially the occupation Amacura litorial to the river, showed British ambition to seize Venezuelan territory to the very mouth of the Orinoco.

    The Government of the United States and the public of this country, they realized that if the mouths of the Orinoco passed into the hands of Great Britain, it achieved its hegemony in northern South America, the U.S. intervention in 1895 stopped the British advance on Venezuelan territory, and forced Britain torefer the matter to arbitration.

    The negotiation of the Treaty of Arbitration of 1897 was led by the United States and Britain in circumstances in which the momentary tension arose between the two powers happened a stage of cordial entente qualified understanding by historians of both countries. On important clausesthe Treaty, Venezuela gave a different interpretation from that agreed by the negotiators. Despite his resignation, our country was in the case of sign to prevent further damage.

    So it is understandable that tell the public opposition of the country, the Venezuelan government was forced to bring the matter to a tribunal whose composition, by prior arrangement between Britain and the United States would not enter any Venezuelan, though whether it was part of the British officials, creating a so-called development blatant Award.

    The arbitration tribunal, chaired by Professor Frederick Martens Russian, was obliged under the Treaty of 1897, to decide the question in strict law. However, as the culmination of a process in which the right of theforce is imposed on the force of law, the Court ended in what many described as farce contemporary documents. As this farce elements have proven the following facts:

    That the President of the Court, Frederick Martens, coerced the American arbitrators to admit the time line known as the Award under the threat that otherwise he would vote for a border even more unfavorable to Venezuela.

    That one line, previously prepared in the Colonial Office three months before the Court, was adopted by the British and Russian officials, and imposed on the American arbitrators.

    That judgment call was the result of a compromise of the Russian President with referees British Court.

    That the arbitrators exceeded their powers even to convict and self regulate on waterway transport of Barima and Amacura Venezuelan rivers, for which they were not entitled.

    That exceeding its powers, the arbitrators acted against arbitral Treaty not to issue a statement of law but of commitment, apart besides the relevant part, essential to any legal judgment.

    That the Court were presented by Britain doctored maps, and charts, and hid her documents, then in possession of the British Government, the examination was of decisive importance for the proper decision of the case.

    Venezuela has been named repeatedly repudiating 1899 Award from the infamous date of enactment until today.

    The argument that the award of the Arbitral Tribunal is definitive and irrevocable and can not, therefore, be reviewed, without foundation, and is inappropriate. That would certainly irrefutable argument if there were noevidence, verified by further research, that the Award suffered from substantial defects that invalidate it completely and make it appear as the work of coercion, of malice and injury. Bygone era of colonialism and ominousconquest during which, thanks to his immense power, imposed over the globe its domain, Britain must admit that the award is invalid because the defects affecting substance and form, and which need to be reviewed. Prestige would suffer moral decline of Britain other for intransigence on their part, Venezuela was forced to denounce before the world public the dark details of the process that led to this award, justice reproach.

    In consequence of the above, our Organization, Mi Mapa de Venezuela incluye nuestro Esequibo, give full support to the just claim that Venezuela has raised the UK to give back the territory that rightfully belongs, and which was strippedarbitrarily by the Award, the result of flawed circumstances, singularly favored by the atmosphere of the time, when the colonialist policy of the Great Powers were in full swing and prevailed over all other considerations.

    • You had a nice riff going until this plasta…

      Venezuela has been named repeatedly repudiating 1899 Award from the infamous date of enactment until today.

      If you can’t be honest about the fact that 50-years of gocho regimes accepted the 1899 award before AD unrecognized them, you miss the heart of the matter. It’s that 50-year acquiescence that renders the Venezuelan claim now ridiculous. It’s not the sort of thing you get to go back on.

      Even if way worse irregularities regarding 1899 than those alleged were discovered tomorrow the claim would still be absurd because Venezuela isn’t the only country with iffy borders. Spend ten minutes on the wikipedia entries for “Sykes-Picot” or “Berlin Conference” and you’ll grasp fully why this claim is never going to go anywhere. To accept this kind of reasoning would be to create worldwide border chaos and not a few wars. This is never going to happen, and THANK GOD for that.

      • Francisco although agreeing with you on the impracticality of keeping this claim alive after all these years must admit that history sometimes plays funny outcomes, for example who would have though that 1900 years after the destruction of the temple of jerusalem a State of Israel would be established and remain the mayor factor of power of the middle east until today. Or that 40 odd years after the Soviet Union had established absolute russian hegemony over the baltic countries they would again become independent . No one can outguess history and the future always has the capacity to surprise us !!

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  10. Call me shallow Quico, but I really liked drawing those Venezuelan maps with the strips in the “zona en reclamación”…it was pretty cool..and I also liked the idea that Venezuela gave automatic citinzenship to those born in the “zona en reclamación”

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