to Mr. Phelps.
Washington , February 17, 1888.
Sir: I transmit herewith translation of a note received by me on the 15th instant, wherein the Venezuelan minister sets forth the information lately supplied to him, to the effect that the legislature of Demerara has recently asserted a claim to British jurisdiction over the gold-mining district of Caratal, on the headwaters of the Yuruari River, and that by a decree of the governor of British Guiana, dated December 31, 1887, formal denial is made of the validity of a grant by the Venezuelan Government for the construction of a railway from Giudad Bolivar to Guacipaté,[Page [Map 1]] [Page ] [Page 699]
a city in the Caratal district, on the ground that it passes “in and over certain territories and lands within and forming part of the colony of British Guiana.”
No other foundation for the minister’s statement appears than the article in the Financier of January 24, to which Mr. Olavarria’s informant refers.
The Government of the United States has hitherto taken an earnest and friendly interest in the question of boundaries so long in dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela, and, so far as its disinterested counsels were admissible, has advocated an amicable, final, and honorable settlement of the dispute. We have followed this course on the assumption that the issue was one of historical fact, eminently adaptable for admitting arbitration, and that the territorial claims of each party had a fixed limit, the right to which would without difficulty be determined according to the evidence.
The claim now stated to have been put forth by the authorities of British Guiana necessarily gives rise to grave disquietude, and creates an apprehension that the territorial claim does not follow historical traditions or evidence, but is apparently indefinite. At no time hitherto does it appear that the district of which Guacipatí is the center has been claimed as British territory or that such jurisdiction has ever been asserted over its inhabitants, and if the reported decree of the governor of British Guiana be indeed genuine it is not apparent how any line of railway from Ciudad Bolivar to Guacipatí could enter or traverse territory within the control of Great Britain.
It is true that the line claimed by Great Britain as the western boundary of British Guiana is uncertain and vague. It is only necessary to examine the British colonial office list for a few years back to perceive this. In the issue for 1877, for instance, the line runs nearly southwardly from the mouth of the Amacuro to the junction of the Cotinga and Takutu Rivers. In the issue for 1887, ten years later, it makes a wide detour to the westward, following the Yuruari. Guacipatí lies considerably to the westward of the line officially claimed in 1887; and it may perhaps be instructive to compare with it the map which doubtless will be found in the colonial office list for the present year.
It may be well for you to express anew to Lord Salisbury the great gratification it would afford this Government to see the Venezuelan dispute amicably and honorably settled, by arbitration or otherwise, and our readiness to do anything we properly can to assist in that end.
In the course of your conversation you may refer to the publication in the London Financier of January 24 (a copy of which you can procure and exhibit to Lord Salisbury), and express apprehension lest the widening pretensions of British Guiana to possess territory over which Venezuelan jurisdiction has never heretofore been disputed may not diminish the chances for a practical settlement.
If, indeed, it should appear that there is no fixed limit to the British boundary claim, our good disposition to aid in a settlement might not only be defeated, but be obliged to give place to a feeling of grave concern.
I append, for your information, a copy of the map recently printed, with the boundary correspondence, by Venezuela, on which are roughly penciled the situation of Guacipatí and the line of demarkation according to the colonial office list for 1887. The line for 1877 nearly follows that shown on the map as “Sir Robert Schomburgk’s line.”
I am, etc.,