He conflict between Venezuela and Guyana through the territory called the essequibo Remains constant. This border dispute appears as a threat, not only to the diplomatic relationship, but to all types of treatment or communication between the two countries. In this note we will explain the origins of this fight and the consequences that it can cause.
Origins of the Venezuela-Guyana conflict
The Essequibo is a territory of 159,542 square kilometers, located in the Caribbean region of Latin America. It was initially under Spanish rule, then Dutch, and was ceded to the United Kingdom.
In 1777, this space was part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, now Venezuela. But then it gained independence and became part of the English territory, today known as Guyana.
“When Venezuela separated from the Republic of Colombia (Gran Colombia) in 1830, the Essequibo River remained as the border of the Republic of Venezuela. That was recognized during a large part of the 19th century,” Venezuelan historian Manuel Donís explained to BBC Mundo.
In 1814, the United Kingdom took possession of the Essequibo under a treaty with the Netherlands and, in 1840, the task of drawing the western border was given to the British explorer Robert Schomburgk. Time later, this would be known as the Schomburgk Line, a controversial limit that claimed about 80,000 more square kilometers.
In 1841, the then president of Venezuela José Antonio Páez denounced an alleged British expedition in the plains country from Guyana. Following this, he decided to ask the United States for help and tell it to intervene, which he did in 1895 and, in 1897, the United Kingdom promised to end this dispute.
On October 3, 1899, an agreement was finally reached: the United States, representing Venezuela, and the United Kingdom signed the Paris Arbitration Award.
This was a hard blow for Venezuela, which had hoped for US intervention to obtain this territory, but the opposite happened. The provisions of said treaty referred to the recognition of the Essequibo as property of the United Kingdom.
At the end of World War II, the United Nations Organization (UN) was created, an organization that was in charge of guaranteeing the independence of the European colonies in South America, including Guyana, in 1966.
Still having this unease, Venezuela took advantage of this opportunity to denounce before the UN, in 1962, that the Award of Paris had been developed in an irregular manner and that there was a fraud committed between the British delegates and the Russian judge in charge of the ruling.
On February 17, 1966, the representatives of Guyana, Venezuela and the United Kingdom signed the Geneva Agreement, which was transitory and summarizes that, if a peaceful pact is not reached within a period of four years, the UN Secretary General it must determine some solution mechanism, included in article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.
Between 1982 and 1999, attempts were made to reach an agreement through the UN good offices mechanism, but to no avail.
After this, the then-elect president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, archived this matter and tried to establish good relations with the neighboring country, which he succeeded in doing.
Why was this conflict fueled?
Once Chávez’s term ended, his successor Nicolás Maduro was elected in 2013. He had no intention of reactivating this conflict.
It was not until 2015 when the oil company Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of a large deposit in the Atlantic Sea, today known as the Stabroek Block, right in the Essequibo territory.
From that moment, Maduro sought to reach a solution through the UN mechanisms, but again to no avail.
last instances: ICJ verdict
In 2018, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, established that the International Court of Justice in The Hague examine the case.
After a long process, on Thursday, April 6, 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Guyana, which angered the Venezuelan leader.
“Venezuelan men and women will continue the tireless and firm fight to defend respect for the historic Geneva Agreement and the territoriality of our dignified nation. The truth is with us. The Essequibo is Venezuela!” Maduro said in a tweet.
The Foreign Ministry and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), ruler of the oil country, joined this act.
Is there the possibility of a Venezuelan invasion in the Essequibo?
Although it is an option that has been on the mind of more than one person, it would be a false move on the part of Maduro, since, although Venezuela outnumbers Guyana in military corps, the latter has the support of several countries that they are not necessarily looking for a diplomatic agreement with the Venezuelans.
Guyana’s main buyers are Brazil and Canada, which share the same geoeconomic interests. So, they would not hesitate to support their supplier country.
Furthermore, from Cuba’s side, Havana is a historical ally of Georgetown (Guyana) since its participation in the Angolan civil war and would also be an obstacle for the oil giant.
“No country in the Americas or the Antilles would endorse an invasion of Guyanese territory,” explains Daniel León, a specialist in Political Science at the University of Leipzig.