Oct 21, 2020 Letters
Kaieteur News – Since 1895, the USA has always been involved in matters concerning the Essequibo. In the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal that determined the border, Venezuela’s selected representatives were Chief Justice Melville Fuller and Justice David Brewer of the USA Supreme Court, and General Benjamin Harrison, a former President of the USA. On the other side, the British colonial government was represented by Great Britain’s Chief Justice and a Justice of their Court of Appeal. The USA and British Justices together selected a Russian jurist as the President of the Tribunal.
In the 1899 Award, Venezuela got all of the Orinoco River, which was its principal aim in the negotiations, and also 3,000 square miles of territory east of the 1840 Robert Schomburgk line. The British did not win their position that the Orinoco River and the Schomburgk line should be the border. Venezuelan President Joaquin de Jesus Crespo thanked the USA’s President and Secretary of State and he affirmed that the Award “put an end to the old dispute”. The Venezuelan Congress ratified the Award. In 1905, a Joint British/Venezuelan Boundary Commission demarcated the border with permanent markers on the ground. Subsequently, in 1931, the border between British Guiana, Venezuela and Brazil was ratified by all three countries. For over 40 years, Venezuela did not raise any concerns about the 1899 Award.
But, from the 1950s, right-wing Venezuelan Presidents had to be restrained by the USA from carrying out aggressive actions against Guyana.
In 1958, a USA-aligned coalition of right-centre parties led by Romulo Betancourt overthrew the military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez who was about to invade Guyana and seize the Essequibo.
In 1968, the USA did not support President Raul Leoni when he amassed military forces on the border and planned to use the Venezuelan Navy to illegally annex the Essequibo coastline.
In 1969, the USA pressured President Raul Leonito stand down and withdraw his government’s support of armed rebels who wanted to establish a Republic of Rupununi under the protection of Venezuela. After the Guyana Defence Force swiftly defeated the rebellion, the rebels and their leader Valerie Hart fled to Venezuela where they were granted Venezuelan citizenship.
In 1970, after the end of the Leoni government, the USA supported Dr. Eric Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to facilitate the 12-year Protocol of Port-of-Spain between Guyana and Venezuela that suspended the Geneva Agreement and declared a moratorium on any land claims. In 1982, Venezuela declined to renew the Protocol.
However, in contrast to those USA’s actions to defend Guyana’s interests, there have also been moments when USA’s interests accommodated aggressive actions by the Venezuelan right-centre political parties.
The most damaging moment for Guyana was in 1962 when the government of President Romulo Betancourt claimed the Essequibo and made an unjustified contention to the United Nations that the 1899 Arbitral Award on the Guyana/Venezuela border was null and void.
The USA did not take a public position for or against Venezuela’s claim. Why the USA did not publicly disagree with the Betancourt government’s hostile action against Guyana in 1962? In essence, Venezuela’s claim of the Essequibo was a repudiation of the role played by its American representatives in the 1899 Tribunal that unanimously agreed the border award was “a full, perfect and final settlement”.
The reason was that the Cold War was heating up between the USA and the Soviet Union in Latin America where the USA-aligned rich and upper middle classes were being seriously challenged by left-centre forces. In 1959, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro overthrew the USA-backed Batista dictatorship. In 1961, the USA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was defeated. That year, Castro declared for socialism and allied with the Soviet Union. Then, there was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that took the world to the brink of nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union.
In Venezuela, political support for the 1959-1964 Betancourt government was declining after its main partner left the coalition, and two Cuban-backed guerilla armies had launched an insurrection to overthrow his government.
Venezuela was where USA companies had their largest investments in Latin America, especially in the oil and mineral sectors. In 1961, to protect USA investments and to defeat the growing influence of Cuba and the left-centre forces, President John F. Kennedy visited Venezuela and launched the US$20 Billion Alliance for Progress (AFP) to support land reform, to deepen democracy, to develop industry and agriculture and to increase the incomes of the peoples.
It can be assumed that Kennedy discussed with Betancourt the situation in British Guiana where the left-leaning People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had won democratic elections in 1953, 1957 and 1961, and who established close relations with Cuba. In response, the USA government financed disturbances in1962 and 1963 to destabilize Premier Jagan’s government.
Many observers contend that President Kennedy and President Betancourt agreed that Venezuela would claim the Essequibo so that, if necessary, hostile actions could be taken to prevent the possibility of ‘a second Cuba’ under an independent government led by Cheddi Jagan.
Although a USA-backed PNC/UF coalition was elected in 1964 to lead Guyana into independence in 1966, the Venezuelan ultranationalist right-centre forces continued to take aggressive actions against Guyana because they believed that, after the Kennedy/Betancourt understanding in 1962, they would not be publicly rebuked by the USA.
In 1966, the Venezuelan military invaded the eastern half of Ankoko Island in Guyana’s territory where, to this date, it maintains a military base and an airport. In that same year, the PNC/UF coalition government was convinced by the USA and Great Britain to sign the Geneva Agreement to examine Venezuela’s contention that the 1899 Tribunal Award was null and void.
In 1967, Venezuela prevented Guyana from joining the Organization of American States (OAS). It was only in 1990, 23 years later, that Guyana became a member of the OAS.
In 1981, Venezuela officially objected to any funding of the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-Electric project by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Brazil. The USA government did not take a public position against Venezuela’s objection because, at that time, USA relations with the Burnham regime were at a low level.
From 1998 to the present during the Chavez and Maduro governments, the USA has not publicly rebuked the hostile actions against Guyana by the right-centre political opposition. For example, in 2013, the USA-backed main opposition leaders Maria Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido (who is now recognized by the USA, the OAS and the Lima Group as the interim President of Venezuela) led a team of opposition members of the Venezuelan National Assembly to illegally cross the Cuyuni River and enter Eteringbang in Guyana’s territory to “claim sovereignty over the Essequibo”. Last year (2019), Juan Guaidoled the right-centre majority in the Venezuelan National Assembly to reaffirm their territorial claim of the Essequibo.
Now, there is no Cold War and no threat of “a second Cuba”. The coincidence of USA and Guyana interests means that, just as in 1958, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1970, the USA will have to persuade the USA-aligned right-centre forces to discontinue their aggressive and warlike actions against Guyana
Improving political relations with Venezuela is Guyana’s greatest dilemma. This letter explored the aggressive actions of the right-centre parties. The next letter will explore the ambivalence and the bullying tactics of the left-centre parties.
Geoffrey Da Silva
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