Mr. Gresham to Mr. Bayard.

No. 442.]

Sir: During your incumbency of the office of Secretary of State you became acquainted with a long pending controversy between Great Britain and Venezuela concerning the boundary between that Republic and British Guiana.

The recourse to arbitration, first proposed in 1881, having been supported by your predecessors, was in turn advocated by you in a spirit of friendly regard for the two nations involved. In the meantime, successive advances of British settlers in the region admittedly in dispute were followed by similar advances of British colonial administration, contesting and supplanting Venezuelan claims to exercise authority therein.

Toward the end of 1887 the British territorial claim, which had, as it would seem, been silently increased by some 33,000 square miles between 1885 and 1886, took another comprehensive sweep westward to embrace the rich mining district of the Yuruari as far as Guacipati; and this called forth your instruction to Mr. Phelps of February 17, 1888, respecting the “widening pretensions of British Guiana to possess territory over which Venezuelan jurisdiction” had never theretofore been disputed.

Since then repeated efforts have been made by Venezuela as a directly interested party, and by the United States as the impartial friend of both countries, to bring about a resumption of diplomatic relations, which had been suspended in consequence of the dispute now under consideration. The proposition to resume such relations has, however, been intimately bound up with the ultimate question of arbitration. Until recently Venezuela has insisted upon joining to the agreement to arbitrate a stipulation for the restoration of the status quo of 1850 pending the proposed arbitration; but it seems that this condition is now abandoned. On the other hand, Great Britian has on several occasions demanded, as a preliminary to an understanding touching arbitration, that Venezuela shall definitely abandon all claim to a large part of the territory in dispute and limit the eventual arbitration to that portion only to which Great Britain has more recently laid claim.

In May, 1890, replying to a note of Mr. Lincoln tendering the good offices of this Government to bring about a resumption of relations, by [Page 251] means of a conference of representatives of the three powers, or in any friendly way, Lord Salisbury offered to submit to arbitration any questions in respect to territory west of Schomburgk’s line of 1840, but insisted on admission of the British claim to all parts to the east of that line.

The Venezuelan Government has on three occasions since the rupture sent accredited agents to London to negotiate for a restoration of diplomatic intercourse. Dr. Urbaneja having failed, Señor Púlido succeeded him, and insisted, as his predecessor had done, upon a preliminary agreement for unreserved arbitration, but he was met by a counter proposal for a conventional boundary line which was somewhat more favorable to Venezuela than that formerly insisted upon, in that it departed importantly from the Schomburgk line and relinquished claim to the Barima district, on the main branch of the Orinoco. Not reaching an accord, Señor Pulido returned to Carácas in September, 1890, and the matter rested for a time.

In 1893 Señor Michelena was sent to London as a confidential agent, bearing a modified proposal to resume diplomatic relations on the basis of the status quo of 1850, and to appoint commissioners to determine a conventional boundary, leaving to arbitration any question as to which they might fail to agree. Lord Rosebery, replying July 3, 1893, treated this proposal as a substantial renewal of Venezuela’s claim for unconditional arbitration, and in effect declared that the proposed settlement of the boundary by a commission could only be entered upon after Venezuela should have relinquished all claim to any territory eastward of the line laid down on a map submitted to Venezuela 19th March, 1890. This line appears to substantially follow Schoniburgk’s, with some modification. Señor Michelena declined this proposition and advanced a counter proposition July 31, 1893, to which Lord Rosebery replied, September 12, that it did not appear to Her Majesty’s Government that Senor Michelena’s note opened the way to any agreement that they could accept concerning this question, but that they were “still desirous to come to an understanding in regard to the frontier between the possessions of the two countries,” and were “disposed to give their best attention to any practicable proposals that might be offered them to that effect.”

A discussion soon followed touching a scheme for the British occupation of High Barima and the region to the northwest as far as the Orinoco, which elicited from Lord Roseberry, September 22, 1893, the declaration that the acts of jurisdiction complained of did not encroach upon Venezuela’s rights, but were, “in fact, no more than part of the necessary administration of a territory which Her Majesty’s Government consider to be indisputably a portion of the colony of British Guiana, and to which, as it has been their duty to state more than once, they can admit no claim on the part of Venezuela.” Against this declaration Señor Michelena protested October 6, 1893; and there the matter now rests.

The President is inspired by a desire for a peaceable and honorable adjustment of the existing difficulties between an American state and a powerful transatlantic nation, and would be glad to see the reestablishment of such diplomatic relations between them as would promote that end.

I can discern but two equitable solutions to the present controversy. One is the arbitral determination of the rights of the disputants as the respective successors to the historical rights of Holland and Spain over the region in question. The other is to create a new boundary line in [Page 252] accordance with the dictates of mutual expediency and consideration. The two Governments having so far been unable to agree on a conventional line, the consistent and conspicuous advocacy by the United States and England of the principle of arbitration, and their recourse thereto in settlement of important questions arising between them, make such a mode of adjustment especially appropriate in the present instance, and this Government will gladly do what it can to further a determination in that sense.

With these considerations I commit the matter to your hands, leaving it to you to avail yourself of any convenient opportunity to advance the adjustment of the dispute in question.

I append for your convenient perusal copy of a memorandum1 on the controversy, which has recently been handed to me by the Venezuelan minister at this capital.

I am, etc.,

W. Q. Gresham.
  1. Not printed.