Venezuela Inside

Guyana Esequiba: A short summary of the history of the zone in reclamation between Venezuela and Guyana

Hello, my dear readers! Today I come to talk about a very particular topic and I want to share it as a curious and interesting piece of information about my country.

Since I was a little girl I always thought that the map of Venezuela was this:

The continental territory borders on the north with the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, on the west with Colombia, on the south with Brazil and on the east with Guyana. With this last country, the Venezuelan State maintains a claim on 159 542 km² of territory west of the Essequibo River, this area is known as Guayana Esequiba or Zone in Reclamation. In the school they taught us that this territory is part of Venezuela as well and that it is part of the map but as I grow up I discovered a little more of this history.

Guayana Esequiba is a region of the Guyanese shield between the west of the Essequibo River and the landmark on the top of Mount Roraima in South America. It has an area of 159,542 km² that the Cooperative Republic of Guyana administers as its own but whose sovereignty is claimed by Venezuela based on the Geneva Agreement of February 17, 1966.

Only the eastern part of the Anacoco river island on the Cuyuní River is it is under the sovereignty of Venezuela but has been protested by Guyana; for Venezuela the entire island is outside the disputed area, Guyana does not understand it for the eastern half and, consequently, has maintained that it was an act of annexation of the Venezuelan army when in 1966 it occupied it militarily.

Venezuela claims the territory as its own and, in its maps, the area is usually marked obliquely or with the legend Zone In Claim, subject to the Geneva Agreement of February 17, 1966. The territory is claimed as an integral part of the jurisdiction of the Bolívar and Delta Amacuro states.

As you can see this is a great historical conflict so I will make a very brief summary of the story.

The Essequibo was controlled by the Spanish empire, the Dutch and later the British, who in 1897 committed to Venezuela, which claimed the territory, to resolve the dispute in international courts.

In 1899, the area was adjudged to the British Empire by means of an arbitral award in a court in Paris.

But in 1962, Venezuela filed a lawsuit with the United Nations alleging that the award was settled fraudulently, as allegedly there was complicity between the British delegates and the Russian judge who determined the ruling.

Meanwhile, Guyana gained its independence in 1966.

That year, and following the Venezuelan complaint, the Geneva Agreement was signed, according to which the area is controlled by Guyana although its sovereignty is disputed by Venezuela.

The agreement, which was temporary, established a term of 4 years to resolve the dispute. But their guidelines are still valid.

Between 1982 and 1999, both countries tried to solve the problem through the mechanism of good offices of the UN (a system of pacific settlement of disputes, to mediate in the territorial dispute) that never yielded concrete results.

Later, during the Hugo Chávez administration, the disagreement was shelved, partly due to the good relations between the deceased Venezuelan president and Georgetown.

But the conflict was revived in 2015, when the oil company Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of an important deposit in the Atlantic Ocean, just in the area that enters the historic territorial dispute.

The explorations were made with the endorsement of Georgetown and that provoked the protest of the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro.

After a diplomatic upheaval, it was finally decided to resolve the conflict through the mechanisms of good offices of the UN, but, again, no solution was reached.

However, the oil company continued in the area doing prospections, which Venezuela considers illegal and found more deposits.

The development of the oil sector could be vital and very beneficial for Guyana, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.

Therefore, Guyana decided to introduce a request to the Court of The Hague for the territorial dispute to be resolved.

The Venezuelan government, for its part, responded in a statement that it does not recognize the judicial system as a way to resolve the dispute and protects this position in that it would contravene the 1966 Geneva Agreement.

“Resorting to the judicial settlement to settle the dispute, is unacceptable, sterile and inapplicable, given that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not recognize as mandatory the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice,” says the statement of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.

“Venezuela has proposed to the Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to reinitiate diplomatic contacts to achieve a practical and satisfactory solution to the territorial dispute.”

The Guyanese government, meanwhile, qualifies the Venezuelan claim as “absurd” with the argument that the area has never spoken Spanish nor was it part of the General Captaincy of Venezuela during the colony. Which makes the case very curious and places it more in Guyana’s favor.

In an interview with BBC World in 2017, Guyana’s foreign minister, Carl B. Greenidge, said that the area passed into Dutch hands when the United Provinces of the Netherlands separated from Spain in 1648.

Then the territory was transferred to the British in 1814.

Nobody of Spanish speech has ever exercised sovereignty over the territory. In fact in Guyana you can find places with names in French, as a result of incursions by French pirates, but there is no place with names in Spanish, neither on the coast of Guyana nor in Essequibo.

In Venezuela, nevertheless, they defend that during the colony the limit of its general captaincy was established by the Essequibo river and that if it fell into the hands of Holland it was precisely because of the weakness of the Spanish Empire.

For Caracas, the Essequibo is Venezuelan land by historical right.

Finding a solution is now in the hands of the judges in La Haya.

The situation is certainly complex and this was a short a short summary of a long history very interesting to know.

What do you think? Who should the Essequibo be? Did you like this week’s post?


Categories: Venezuela

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