Prominent facts relating to the boundary question between Venezuela and Great Britain.
The Republic of Venezuela inherited from Spain all the territories formerly known as Captaincy General of Venezuela.
Guiana was a province thereof. It was bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and by the Amazon River on the south.
A part of this territory had been invaded by the Dutch, during their war of independence. Their rights over the newly acquired possessions along the northern coast of South America were recognized by Spain on the 30th of January, 1648 (treaty of Munster).
In the extradition treaty signed at Aranjuez on June 23, 1791, by Spain and Holland, the islands of St, Eustache and Curaçao, and the colonies named Essequibo, Demerara, Berbice, and Surinam, lying east of Venezuela, were considered to be Dutch possessions.
Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice were transferred to Great Britain through the treaty of London, August 13, 1814. England has no other titles in Guiana than those conferred by virtue of this treaty, so that in 1811, the year of Venezuelan independence, the Essequibo River was the boundary between Dutch Guiana and Venezuela. The Essequibo limit was furthermore maintained by the Government of Colombia, in 1822, and has been established in the constitution of Venezuela up to the present time.[Page 804]
1841.—An English commissioner, Engineer Schomburgk, planted posts and other marks of dominion in Barima and Amacuro, far west of the Essequibo River. The Government protested and Her British Majesty ordered the prompt removal of the marks, which, it was stated, were not intended to indicate possession.
1844.—The minister plenipotentiary of Venezuela in London, Señor Fortique, succeeded in opening negotiations with England, after three years’ preliminaries, and proposed the Essequibo River as a divisional line between Venezuela and British Guiana.
Lord Aberdeen, then minister for foreign affairs, proposed the Morocco, a river west of the Essequibo, but the Government did not accept the latter line, as it deprived the Republic of the tract of land lying between the two rivers.
1850.—To the effect of contradicting a rumor that Great Britain intended to claim jurisdiction over Venezuelan Guiana, Mr. Wilson, then British chargé d’affaires to Venezuela, stated that his Government had no intention to occupy the region disputed; that they would neither order such occupations nor sanction them on the part of their authorities, and that the latter would be enjoined to refrain from such acts. He also requested and obtained a similar declaration from the Government of Venezuela.
1876.—The settlement of the question was again urged by Venezuela, and in February, 1877, Dr. I. M. Rojas, minister resident in London, reopened the negotiations commenced by Señor Fortique. He stated that the proposition offered by Lord Aberdeen had not been accepted because of certain conditions connected with it which interfered with the sovereignty of the country. He also expressed the conciliatory sentiments of the Government; but the consideration of the matter was postponed by the British cabinet until after the arrival of the governor of British Guiana, who was expected in London about March.
1879–1881.—Dr. Rojas, who had resigned his post in 1878, was again appointed to the legation in London. On the 12th of April, 1880, he informed Lord Salisbury that Venezuela, in order to come to a satisfactory agreement, would abandon the position of strict right and adopt a frontier to the convenience of both parties, such as the Moroco River, indicated by Lord Aberdeen in 1844 as a boundary on the coast.
Her Majesty’s Government replied, February 12, 1881, that the Moroco line could not longer be admitted, but that they would consider any conventional line starting from a point on the coast south of the former.
On the 21st of the same month Dr. Rojas sent his answer to Lord Granville and suggested, as a proof of the friendly wishes of Venezuela, the drawing of a line commencing on the coast 1 mile north of the mouth of the Moroco. He also declared that, in case of nonaeeeptance, there was no other course left but arbitration. Lord Granville equally rejected the new boundary, and proposed another which he described in a confidential memorandum. This compromise was carefully examined by the Government and found utterly unacceptable, as it established a limit widely different from the original Essequibo frontier, and was based on certain assumptions absolutely erroneous.
1883.—Gen. Guzmán Blanco was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, for the settlement of this and various other matters. While negotiating a new treaty of commerce, he obtained from the British Government a written promise to submit to arbitration all disputes arising between the two countries, the Guiana boundary question included. A change in the ministry took place shortly afterwards, and Lord Rosebery, Lord Granville’s successor, [Page 805] refused to keep the aforesaid promise on the ground that controversies on limits could not be judged by arbitration. Lord Rosebery evidently forgot that England applied it to similar disputes with, the United States, in 1827 and 1871, when the King of Holland and the Emperor of Germany acted as arbiters.
1886.—Lord Rosebery presented a new frontier. This was deemed inadmissible for several reasons, one of them being that, conjointly with it, a demand was introduced for free navigation and commerce on the Orinoco River.
As the invasion went on without interruption and acts of jurisdiction over the Venezuelan territory were constantly committed by English authorities, the Venezuelan legation solemnly protested and demanded satisfaction.
1887.—On the 6th of January Venezuela reiterated her willingness to appeal to arbitration, pursuant to which she demanded the previous evacuation of the region between the Orinoco and Pomaron rivers, declaring at the same time that if by the 20th of February no answer had been given, or a negative one had been returned, she would be forced to sever her diplomatic relations with England.
The proposition for arbitration was again refused. Venezuela accordingly protested once more against the grievous proceedings of Great Britain, and suspended relations with her on the 20th of February, 1877.
Through the intervention of the United States Lord Salisbury consented to receive Dr. Lucio Pulido in 1890, as confidential agent of the Republic. Notwithstanding his efforts Dr. Pulido did not obtain a satisfactory arrangement, and returned to Venezuela soon after.
Señor Tomás Michelena was appointed to London with the same character some months ago, with a view to promote and procure the reestablishment of her former connections with Great Britain; but since Lord Rosebery, while disposed to surrender the controversy to the decision of an arbiter, does not admit the existence of Venezuelan titles over the territory comprised between the Essequibo River and the Schomburgk line, as shown in the map hereto subjoined, and is absolutely negative as to considering the possession of this vast portion of land subject to arbitration, no practical or valuable results can be reached through the renewal of friendship without the formal pledge of England that it is desirous to settle the conflict in accordance with the laws of justice and right.
Venezuela is, and always has been, willing to submit to arbitration. In pursuance of this purpose, she invoked and obtained the moral help of all the American republics. She instructed her minister in Washington, in 1890, to request the friendly services of the Government of the United States, which were cordially offered her, inasmuch, said Mr. Blaine, as the volume of evidence in favor of Venezuela is overwhelming and mostly derived from English sources.