524. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Colombian-Venezuelan Affairs (Margolies) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann)1


  • Venezuela Asks U.S. Intercession in Settling Guiana Boundary Dispute

The Problem

On December 15, 1964, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister called on Mr. Ball (then Acting Secretary), and requested that the U.S. Government use its good offices to help bring the current negotiations between Venezuela and Great Britain on the British Guiana boundary dispute to a conclusion favorable to Venezuela. Mr. Ball told the Foreign Minister that he could not comment on the problem because he was not familiar with it, but said he would look into it.2


In presenting his views to Mr. Ball, the Foreign Minister handed over a memorandum3 that stated that the Venezuelan Government has obtained evidence which allegedly casts some doubt on the integrity of the American citizen members of the 1899 arbitration tribunal. The memorandum states that this information has not yet been made public, but offers to furnish the evidence to the Department in confidence for our study.

Another noteworthy development in this situation is the number of recent confidential reports indicating that the Venezuelan military are very sensitive to the boundary problem. They view the possibility that British Guiana may become independent under a pro-Communist government as opening the way for a Castro beach-head on the continent. They are also apprehensive because of the proximity of British Guiana to Venezuela’s developing iron and steel and hydro-electric complex in Guayana State. There are indications that the military have already prepared a contingency plan for the seizure of the area by force should this seem to them necessary at some future time.

[Page 1089]

A further complicating factor is that Forbes Burnham, the new Premier of British Guiana, is reliably reported to believe that the U.S. Government has sufficient influence with Venezuela to cause the latter to drop its claim.

ARA/CV’s Views

Our continuing attitude (with which EUR agrees) toward this boundary dispute is that we hope to see the problem satisfactorily settled between the two interested governments through quiet and friendly negotiations without our becoming involved.

We believe that Britain would be most reluctant to modify the 1899 arbitration award, and the head of the UK Foreign Office desk for Latin America, Mr. John Slater told us recently that the British experts have found no evidence in the material submitted to them by the Venezuelans which would in the British view vindicate the Venezuelan claim.

We believe that Britain in any event will not wish to impose a boundary change on the present inhabitants of British Guiana against their will. The Venezuelans are aware of this problem, but nevertheless seek to have the boundary rectified before independence so as to avoid the awkwardness of having to demand territory from an independent neighbor. Responsible leaders in British Guiana also hope that the problem will be solved before independence, since some of them fear that Venezuela might actually seize the disputed area from a weak and newly-independent neighbor.

Recommendations: 4

Even though Venezuela regards this problem as a very real one, we believe that our present position of non-intervention should remain unchanged. However, since Mr. Ball said that we would look into it, we propose from a precautionary standpoint the following:

When the documentary evidence is received from the Venezuelan Government, it should be translated and furnished to L for a review of the alleged proofs submitted as to any fraud on the part of members of the arbitration tribunal, and of any possible implications regarding the U.S. members. Further action, if any, would depend upon [Page 1090] the authenticity of the evidence submitted by Venezuela as it might implicate American citizen members of the tribunal.
Apart from whatever conclusions the Department might draw from the evidence provided by Venezuela, it would, of course, be possible for Venezuela and the United Kingdom, should they so agree, to submit the question of the existence of any fraud and any consequent invalidity of the award either to an ad hoc arbitral tribunal, or to the International Court of Justice. For the present, however, we do not believe that the U.S. Government should try to urge this line of action upon the interested governments.
In order to allay the understandable fears of Venezuela that British Guiana might become a Castro beach-head on the continent after independence, the U.S. Government should give assurances to the Government of Venezuela, either through our Ambassador, or high-level officers of the Department, that we do not intend to stand idly by and allow such a course of events to take place, and that on the contrary we would use every resource to prevent such a development.


On January 15, Embassy Caracas reported that the visit of Prime Minister Burnham to Caracas was well received and that the subject of the boundary dispute was merely mentioned, and was neither discussed nor debated. (Emb Caracas 962.)5

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 BRGU–VEN. Confidential. Drafted by Crowley; cleared by Cobb, Whiteman, and Randolph. A copy was sent to Adams.
  2. According to a memorandum of this conversation Iribarren said “he hoped that the United States would lend support to the Venezuelan position.” (Ibid.)
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. There is no indication on the memorandum that Mann approved these recommendations. In a January 28 memorandum to Margolies, Adams dismissed any serious consideration of “evidence.” “I think it is ridiculous on the part of the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to seek our ‘good offices’ with the U.K., and at the same time threaten to blackmail us on the allegedly fraudulent findings of an American 66 years ago.” Adams suggested that the United States refuse to accept the evidence if Venezuela submitted it “in any formal way,” e.g. by diplomatic note. Otherwise, Adams agreed that the United States should avoid involvement in the dispute unless it appeared that Castro might establish a “beach-head” in British Guiana. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 BR GU–VEN)
  5. Dated January 15. (Ibid.)