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428. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Call of Prime Minister Burnham of Guyana
  • Border Disputes


  • Foreign
    • L. Forbes Burnham, Prime Minister of Guyana
    • H.E. Sir John Carter, Guyanese Ambassador to the United States
  • United States
    • The Secretary Mr. Robert M. Sayre, Acting Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Mr. John Calvin Hill, Jr., Director, North Coast Affairs

The Prime Minister alluded to the border dispute with Surinam which had flared up before his departure and reported that, in the interval, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the Guyana High Commissioner in London, had taken the matter up in the Hague with the Foreign Minister when he was presenting his credentials as Ambassador to the Netherlands. Sir Lionel was in the process of returning to report in detail, but he had gained the impression that the Netherlands was not backing the Government of Surinam and that the matter could be settled quietly.

The border dispute with Venezuela was more worrisome, especially as it was also an election year in Venezuela with the consequent temptation to agitate the issue. The saving factor grace was the Venezuelans were pledged not to use force and that they seemed to realize the problems which would result from a hostile government on [Page 945]their frontiers. The Mixed Commission was now working satisfactorily (except that the Ankoko Island question remained unsolved)2 and it was setting up a Sub-committee to look into economic cooperation. Guyana appreciated the efforts that the U.S. had been making to keep matters cool on the Venezuelan side and was counting on the U.S. to continue those efforts, as the Opposition in Guyana was only too anxious to cry “sell out” at any sign of failure to maintain the nationʼs sovereignty. The Secretary commented that border issues were often agitated in political situations but that it was contrary to Venezuelaʼs traditions and objectives in the OAS and UN to settle matters by force. He remarked that, in the 40 or so border disputes around the world, it was our observation that those in possession seemed to win out and that the thing to do was for all to remain cool.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 GUYANA. Confidential. Drafted by Hill and approved in S by Shlaudeman. The memorandum is part 3 of 5; regarding parts 1, 2, 4, and 5, see footnote 1, Document 427. The meeting was held in the Secretaryʼs office.
  2. In 1966 Venezuela moved to occupy the tiny border island of Ankoko, half of which was claimed by Guyana, according to a background paper attached to a January 22 briefing memorandum from Sayre to Rusk (see footnote 1, Document 427). That paper also described how Venezuela had “effectively blocked Guyana from becoming a party to the Organization of American States by the Act of Washington which bars admission to American States that have unresolved border disputes with a member state.”