During Prime Minister Burnham's
call he asked for our help in persuading Venezuela to be less
“bellicose” about the border dispute. You asked for a memorandum.22. See Document
The dispute, involving some 5/8 of Guyana (see attached map),33. Attached but not reproduced. goes back to
colonial times. We became involved in the 1890s in an arbitration effort
between the British and Venezuelans. The award generally corresponds to
Guyana's present boundaries. Venezuela has never accepted it.
Venezuela allowed the case to lie dormant until Guyana approached
independence. Thinking that it could get more concessions out of a
Britain anxious to get rid of a problem colony than an independent new
nation, the Venezuelans began agitating their claim. They blocked Guyana
from joining the OAS and becoming part
of the Latin American Nuclear Free Zone.
In 1966 at Geneva the British and Venezuelan Governments agreed to
establish a Mixed Guyana–Venezuela Commission to discuss the dispute.
The agreement provides that if the dispute has not been resolved by
1970, the Commission will be dissolved and the problem taken to the
The Commission has not made any progress toward resolving the boundary
question but it has succeeded in draining off some of the political
heat. Last year there was a small flareup when Venezuela occupied the
border island of Ankoko, half of which is claimed by Guyana.
We have made it clear to both governments that they should use the Mixed
Commission to work out their differences. We follow the controversy
closely and counsel restraint when things get unsettled. After the
Ankoko incident interrupted the dialogue, we encouraged President Leoni
to receive an emissary from Guyana to resume bilateral talks. Venezuela
eventually agreed to this, and offered to consider joint economic
development projects in Guyana under the aegis of the Mixed Commission.
Prime Minister Burnham accepted
this suggestion in the understanding that the projects would not be
limited just to the disputed territory.
The prospects for reaching a solution to the border controversy in the
near future are not bright, unless there is a sharp change in attitude
by the Venezuelans. For internal political reasons, they now find it
convenient to agitate the issue from time to time. Our strategy is to
use our influence to restrain the Venezuelans from further adventurism
along the frontier and from too much politicking at home. We have
repeatedly reminded the Venezuelans that if they undermine Burnham, they run the risk of getting
a communist bridgehead at their back door under Cheddi Jagan.
1 Source: Johnson Library,
National Security File, Country File, Guyana (Brit. G.), Vol. I,
Cables, Memos, and Misc., 5/66–11/68. Confidential.