Following is summary developments Guyana–Venezuela border dispute that
can be drawn on as appropriate.
1. Background: Dispute originates in 1899 Arbitral Award of territory
west of Essequibo River (about five-eighths of what is now Guyana) to
Great Britain. GOV has since 1962 maintained officially that arbitral
award was result “fraudulent deal” between British and Russian members
tribunal and therefore award is null and void. In period immediately
prior to British granting independence to Guyana, Venezuela pressed for
reopening question of where boundary should lie in belief that Venezuela
could more easily twist tail of British lion than of small newly
sovereign neighbor. In February 1966 at Geneva UK, British Guiana and
Venezuela Governments signed agreement establishing Mixed Commission to
discuss dispute arising out of Venezuelan claim. Since Guyana's
independence May 1966, Mixed Commission has met 9 times and has
generally served as useful channel for diversion political heat
generated in both countries.
2. Mixed Commission meetings have been frustrating to GOV, however, since
it apparently saw purpose Mixed Commission to redraw boundary, whereas
Guyana saw it as forum to examine validity Venezuelan allegations
concerning Arbitral Award. In effort break impasse GOV offered
contribute to joint economic development of disputed territory. GOG
expressed willingness discuss Venezuelan economic assistance but broke
down when it became clear to GOG that GOV wanted exercise more authority
over project than normal for economic assistance donors.
3. Last year Venezuela occupied tiny border island Ankoko, half which
claimed by Guyana. As dispute boiled over “Ankoko Affair” early summer
1967 we encouraged President Leoni receive Guyana emissary. Talks
resulted in easing of tensions and assuring GOG that Venezuela did not
intend to use force in dispute and that matter would be played in low
key during pre-electoral period in Guyana.
4. In May 1968 Venezuela reiterated a 1965 warning that any commercial
concessions GOG might grant to foreign firms in disputed territory would
not be recognized by GOV. (GOV has policy not to grant new concessions
for mineral exploration in territory it controls.) This brought angry
charges from Guyana Government that Venezuela violating Geneva Agreement
by publicizing its claim outside Mixed Commission and commiting
“economic aggression” against Guyana. In late June GOV withdrew from
sub-commission for economic development following refusal GOG entertain
joint development of disputed territory.
5. On July 9 Venezuelan President issued decree claiming 9 miles of
territorial sea beyond 3 miles claimed by Guyana off coast of disputed
territory. “Explanatory note” published with degree pointed out
Venezuela claims 12 mile territorial sea off its own coast and wished
put on record its claim to similar area off disputed territory. However
since Guyana does not claim zone from 3 to 12 miles Venezuela feels free
claim zone and, “explanatory note” implies, exercise immediate
sovereignty over it by some unstated “physical act of possession” or
“concrete act of dominion.” GOV member Mixed Commission told press
foreign merchant ships would have right innocent passage through zone
(which includes major shipping lanes) but no fishing rights. Naval
vessels could pass with GOV permission. GOV FonMin told US Ambassador privately he “assumed” GOV
will institute naval patrols of zone.
6. On July 13, Under Secretary asked explanation decree's meaning from
Venezuelan Ambassador in Washington stating that if Venezuela intended
exercise rights of sovereignty in 3 to 12 miles zone off Guyana US would take “most serious” view situation.
Under Secretary pointed out:
7. US has consistently maintained neutral
stance on merits of dispute itself and has so informed GOV and GOG. We
may, however, be compelled make our position public at future date on
legal aspects recent decree and its implications for peace in area. We
will attempt to avoid making public our legal position until GOV
responds to Under Secretary's inquiry.
8. GOG has undertaken at UN present case to regional groups and
particularly seek support from LA
countries. Burnham also
contemplating bringing matter to UNSC.
9. Press reports implying US favors GOV
inaccurate and to date press reports of GOV military or naval movements
also appear inaccurate.
10. Foregoing can be used as background in discussion with government
officials provided such action would not be interpreted as lobbying for
interests of either government.
1Source: National Archives and Records
Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 GUYANA–VEN.
Confidential. Drafted by Luers and George F. Jones, cleared by Hill and Richard A. Frank (L/E),
and approved by Sayre.
Repeated to London, USUN, USCINCSO, and Montevideo for Assistant
2Telegram 206210 to
Georgetown, July 20, reported that Under Secretary Katzenbach met with Prime Minister
Burnham earlier in the
day and assured him “that U.S. viewed decree as invalid under
international law and had so informed GOV firmly.” (Ibid., ORG 7
3Telegram 206216 to Georgetown and Caracas, July 20,
reported that President Leoni of Venezuela, in the presence of
Foreign Minister Iribarren, gave Ambassador Bernbaum assurances that
“no incidents would occur and that the right of innocent passage
would be honored.” The telegram reported that these assurances were
conveyed to Burnham
following his meeting with Katzenbach. (Ibid., POL 7 GUYANA)
4Telegram 7021 from Caracas, July 20,
reported that after Bernbaum's conversation with Leoni and Iribarren
(see footnote 3 above) Foreign Office
Director of Political Affairs Herrera Marcano met with Carlson who outlined the effect
GOV's actions were having on Guyana's domestic political situation
stressing how they were helping Jagan and hurting Burnham. Carlson pointed out that Jagan's position had been on ebb, but that Burnham had felt compelled to
bring him in to consult on Guyana's position in order to present a
united front, thus lending Jagan some new respectability. Carlson also said that “recent
Government of Venezuela ‘provocations’ distracted Burnham” and that they could have
a significant effect on Burnham's campaign effort. (Ibid., POL 32–1