Venezuela reiterates claim to territory in Guyana
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuela on Sunday revived a
century-old border dispute with Guyana over a mineral-rich area the size of
Florida, probably the last major territorial dispute in the Americas.
Venezuela claims almost two-thirds of Guyana, an English-speaking enclave
on the northeastern shoulder of South America. The dispute revolves around
the Essequibo region, a 61,000-square mile (158,000-square km)
unpopulated area thought to be rich in minerals, including gold and
Britain, then the colonial power over British Guiana, and Venezuela argued
over the boundary for much of the 19th century before accepting the
decision of an international Tribunal of Arbitration in 1899.
The dispute resurfaced half a century later following the death of Venezuela's
lawyer at the talks. He said in a letter opened posthumously that the
settlement was void because it was the result of a secret deal. The dispute
has simmered since then, with the United Nations eventually becoming
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it considered the "painful"
act signed exactly 100 years ago, on Oct. 3, 1899, in Paris, to be "null and
an irritant." The ministry said in a statement that the agreement "illegally
stripped our country of Essequibo."
The ministry added it would continue to seek with Guyana "satisfactory
solutions" to the "controversy" under the auspices of the United Nations,
which in 1989 named a mediator in the dispute.
Some Caracas-based diplomats have said the Essequibo issue was bound to
assume a larger significance after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an
outspoken nationalist, took office eight months ago.
"We have started to take some actions in the past few months in order to
bring the issue to the negotiating table," Chavez told reporters on Saturday.
He did not elaborate.
Guyana's ambassador to Venezuela, Bayney Karran, said he doubted
Chavez would up the ante on Essequibo.
The diplomat recalled to Reuters recently that Chavez said shortly after
taking power that Venezuela's border disputes -- there is another, minor one
with Colombia -- would probably not find a lasting solution during his term
Usually seldom mentioned in Venezuela, the Essequibo dispute was widely
covered by the press over the weekend.
Major newspapers dedicated long articles, complete with historical data
maps, referring to the 1899 decision as "a major theft" that left "a gaping
The dispute, with roots in the colonial history of the only part of South
America settled by the Dutch, British and French, is by many accounts a
The Venezuelan claim is largely based on a posthumous letter opened 50
years ago. The document was a memorandum written in 1944 by a U.S.
lawyer, Severo Mallet-Prevost, who had represented Venezuela before the
Mallet-Prevost had asked the letter to be opened only after his death.
letter asserted the 1899 settlement was null and void because it was the
result of a behind-the-scenes deal. But all the other participants in the
tribunal had died and no balancing view was available.
Venezuela formally raised the invalidity of the 1899 accord at the U.N.
1962, four years before Guyana won independence from Britain.