Kaieteur News – President Irfaan Ali has reportedly told the Organization of American States that, “Accepting established borders has been the tradition in our hemisphere, (Western Hemisphere), a tradition that has shielded our nations from conflicts, paving the way for peace, cooperation, and development.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost every country in Latin America has had, at one time or the other, border and territorial controversies. The majority of the claims that gave rise to these controversies can be traced back to the colonial era.
President Irfaan Ali’s assertion that the Western Hemisphere has a tradition of accepting established borders is a simplistic view that disregards the border disputes in the region. The colonial legacy, ongoing disputes, and emerging challenges all point to a reality where established borders are far from universally accepted.
There is no tradition within the Western Hemisphere about accepting borders between states. When it comes to borders and territorial conflicts, the Western Hemisphere is no different from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Against this background, it is hard to understand where President Ali got this idea that there is a tradition of accepting established borders in the hemisphere. He has been misadvised yet again.
While the President may have sought to emphasize the importance of stability and peace in the region, this does not arrogate to him ownership of facts to support his argument. The following are some of the border and territorial controversies in the hemisphere:
Argentina and Chile have a dispute over the Beagle Channel. Argentina and Paraguay also have a dispute over a section of their northeastern border. Argentina also has a dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falklands/ Malvinas Islands which led to a war in 1981.
Belize, a member of CARICOM, has been the victim of a claim to its territory by Guatemala. Bolivia and Chile contest each other over the use of the waters of the River Lanca. The same Bolivia, which is a landlocked state, has always sought a passage of the Pacific. This has led to a dispute with Chile to which Peru has enjoined itself.
Closer to home, Colombia and Venezuela have a disputed section of their border; Guyana faces a claim to two-thirds of its territory by Venezuela. Suriname has territorial controversies over the New River area, and also with French Guiana.
The United States occupies a section of Guantanamo which belongs to Cuba. Ecuador and Peru have had a dispute over the province of Maynas. In 1980, El Salvador and Honduras signed a treaty to resolve a frontier dispute that dates back to the 19th century. Guyana and Venezuela are presently before the International Court of Justice to resolve their long-standing territorial controversy.
The aforementioned hardly paints a picture of a tradition in the Western Hemisphere of countries accepting traditional borders. Why therefore Guyana’s President would choose to say this in front of the Organization of American States is mind-boggling.
Border and territorial controversies in the Western Hemisphere were creations of colonial disputes. Colonial powers, such as Spain, Portugal, Britain, and France, engaged in a land-grabbing race, leaving behind a legacy of territorial disputes. The Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, for example, arbitrarily divided the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal, without regard for the Indigenous populations already inhabiting these territories. This division alone sowed the seeds of numerous border disputes, some of which persist to this day.
Latin America, in particular, is replete with examples of border disputes that belie President Ali’s assertion. For instance, the longstanding border dispute between Ecuador and Peru over the Amazon region is a stark reminder of historical grievances stemming from colonial times. The 1942 Rio Protocol may have temporarily resolved the conflict, but tensions flare up periodically, underscoring the fragility of such agreements.
Even in North America, which President Ali might consider a region of relative stability, border disputes have arisen. The US-Mexico border, for instance, exemplified the complexities of border relations. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 did establish certain borders, but disputes over interpretation and enforcement have persisted. Moreover, contemporary debates surrounding immigration and border security continue to complicate matters.
Rather than perpetuate the myth of a tradition of acceptance of established borders, it is essential for leaders, such as President Irfaan Ali, to place greater trust in diplomacy, and the rule of international law. These are Guyana’s best chances of ensuring lasting peace, cooperation and development.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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