Notes From The Margin

July 10, 2007

Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

Filed under: Capitalism,Caribbean,Caricom,Globalisation,Hugo Chavez,Petroleum,Venezuela — notesfromthemargin @ 1:56 am

Continuing our series on Venezuela:

Venezuela and Bird Island

The folly of Petro Caribe

We now move to Venezuela’s territory claim to everything west of the Essequibo river. In case you aren’t familiar with Guyana the graphic below will give you an idea of just how much of Guyana this is. The area claimed by Venezuela is shaded with the wider spaced horizontal lines. This is not some vague historical claim, if you go to the Venezuelan Embassy today you will see the area marked as “Zona de reclamacion”. Of course the area is rich in mineral wealth, timber and other resources.



The border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana goes back at least to 1844 when, soon after independence from Spain, Venezuela made claims to the Essequibo region of what was then British Guiana. The conflicting claims were rooted in the fact that the region had changed hands many times in its colonial history, between Spain, France, and the Netherlands, before firmly becoming part of the British Empire in 1831. When Venezuela first stated its claim to the Essequibo region it was simply reviving an older claim that Spain had back when Venezuela was a Spanish colony. The Essequibo region is nearly sixty percent of modern day Guyana and consists of all territory west of the Essequibo River.

Latin American Studies Center – Maryland University

In 1897 the matter was submitted to arbitration, at the end of a long drawn out process lasting more than two years a decision was reached which awarded part of the area including the mouth of the Orinoco river to Venezuela. Neither the British nor the Venezuelans got what they wanted but they declared themselves satisfied. The Venezuelans couldn’t force their claim against the mighty British Empire, and the Brits didn’t want to tick off the Americans who had placed themselves firmly on the side of the Venezulans. (Funny how things change isn’t it?)


Flash forward to the 1960’s with Guyana moving towards independence. Venezula produces a memo from one of the lawyers who agreed the original deal stating that they were pressured to accept the deal. As a result of this Venezuela repudiated the agreement and renewed its claim.


In 1968 Venezuela invaded and annexed Guyanaís half of Ankoko Island (in a river junction forming part of the border agreed in 1899). That year Venezuela also decreed that they had annexed the coastal waters of the disputed Essequibo territory. There were also covert moves made by Venezuela including an attempt to organize the indigenous inhabitants, or Amerindians, in the Essequibo region to support their claim, and even train and arm dissidents there to launch a rebellion, but little ever came of it. The indigenous population consists of only about four percent of Guyanaís population, and speak a variety of local languages.


The situation has gone hot and cold since then however Venezuela has never renounced it’s claim. The continued claim has hamstrung Guyana’s efforts to develop the region as no one is going to invest in a region that may suddenly change ownership. (There are alot of similarities in this regard to the Barbados/Trinidad dispute but we’ll talk about how this dispute affects that dispute in a later post)


Some of the harshest critics of the Venezulan claim have been the Caricom Territories, they are unlikely to say anything now if they are beholden to Venezuela, with loads of “easily financed” oil debt. I am once again asking the question “What does Venezuela get out of Petro Caribe?”


  1. […] lay any claim to the eastermost part of the line set out in the treaty would be to operate on the basis of it’s claim of all of Guyana west of the Essiquibo River. Now the Venezuelans were consistent in their claim on this, but what is surprising here is that […]

    Pingback by How Trinidad Recognised Venezuela’s Claim to Most Of Guyana’s Land « Notes From The Margin — July 27, 2007 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

  2. There is a river inside the Essequibo territory called the Pomeroon. This was the western edge of British settlment decades before the border arbitration at the end of the 19th century. This river was also the western edge of Dutch settlement. In an book called ‘A soldiers recollections of the West Indies and America’ by Lt. Col. St. Clair published in 1834,it says:

    The Essequibo river runs about twelve miles to leeward of the Demerara. The colony of that name commences at Bonesique creek, and is bounded on the west by a supposed line which divides the Spanish settlement of Orinoko from the English possessions. This stream (the Essequibo) is upwards of twenty miles in breadth at its mouth, and is the finest river in possession of the English in this part of the world.

    The cultivation along the coast extends a little to leeward of the Pomeron (pomeroon) river:and, on its banks, at a short distance from the sea, is situated a strong military post, containing a block-house, at present commanded by Lieutenant Cook, of the 4th West India Regiment. This fort is separated from from the Spanish possessions on the banks of the Oriniko by an extensive space of wild and savage country:but, not withstanding this barrier, the Spaniards distress and annoy the planters on the leeward coast and their coasting vessels exceedingly, having a small number of boats and canoes fitted out and numerously manned with with Negroes, Indians and runaway slaves, who pass from these colonies into the Columbian government; and many of these individuals have shown them the way to their masters’ estates, which have been plundered and their boasts loaded with produce seized and carried into the Orinoko.

    Parenthesis added by me.

    This is an English account that there existed a fortified settlement at the mouth of the Pomeroon river which was separate from a Spanish settlement on the Orinico Delta by a swath of wilderness. The Spanish and hence the Venezuelans never OCCUPIED the Pomeroon. Before the British rules this region, it was ruled by my ancestors, the Dutch, who settled the river and who mostly stayed there when the territory was ceded to the British. If Lt Col. St. Clair is to be believed, the Spanish had a raiding relationship, which was hardly the grounds for a territorial claim on the land that was already settled by a recognized power.

    The colony of Essequibo was bounded by Bonesique creek on the east and the fort at the mouth of the Pomeroon river on the west. Any possible fair dividing line would probably run SOMEWHERE between this fortified settlement and the Spanish Settlement at Orinoco. This is exactly what happened.

    Regardless of any accusations, true or false, that the British bribed or wined and dined someone on the arbitration panel, any claim that Spanish and hence Venezuelan territory extends to the banks of the Essequibo is false because of of another river that many people forget about: the Pomeroon.

    I call upon the government of Guyana to immediately petition the government of Trinidad and Tobago to revise their maritime borders with Venezuela, that implicitly recognize Venezuelan sovereignty over Guyanese maritime territory off the coast of the Essequibo.

    I also call upon the government of Guyana to immediately nullify recall any petroleum purchase agreement associated with PetroCaribe because this potentially puts the government of Guyana in a position that could compromise the territorial integrity of the nation through financial means.

    Additionally I call upon the government of Brazil to refuse to recognize any Venezuelan claim in Guyanese territory and to threaten trade sanctions unless Venezuela withdrawals from the Guyanese half of Ankoko island tat was seized in 1968.

    Finally, I call upon the people of Guyana to demand action and results in these categories that I have named.

    We’re not giving up a piece of our rightful land of inheritance, not a blade of grass.

    Y para el presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, quiro que sepas que yo te estoy mirando. Luchare’ contra ti hasta que no amenezcas mas el pais de mis antepasados. No tendras nuestra tierra, ni nuestro oceano, ni nuestro petroleo, ni los diamantes, ni una hoja de hierba.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 14, 2007 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  3. […] for those of you who haven’t been following, Venezuela claims about two thirds of Guyana’s territory.  Now usually this has been a very quiet border dispute, but there have been incidents in the […]

    Pingback by Venezuela Attacks Guyana - Is This A First Strike? « Notes From The Margin — November 20, 2007 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

  4. […] Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land […]

    Pingback by Is This Venezuelan Propaganda Under Hammie La’s Name? « Notes From The Margin — April 13, 2008 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

  5. As a trinidadian, I find that the venezuelan argument has more weight than the British. I’ll explain by using an example: Lets say I have a neighbour Jacky who has land adjacent to me. She is interested in using the land and I am not interested in my piece. I am the spanish-venezuelan side but Jacky represents the British-Dutch-Guyanese point of view. Jacky and I decide to demarcate a boundary at point A. She really uses her piece of land and I don’t but because she realises that I’m not using the land, she decides to plant and build a little on my side of Point A. She then sells the land to another man Jim. Do I have to renegotiate with Jim just because I didn’t use the land? Of course not. Even if she build on my side of Point A, the piece of the land is still mine. The British are like Jim trying to argue that the piece of land that she built on my piece of land should be theirs just because I didn’t occupy it. That mentality encourages squatting as that’s how squatters think.

    The humanitarian bone in me wants to support the Guyanese however since I think they need the money (from the land) more and Venezuela has sufficient land space. In fact, venezuelans settle mainly on the northern part of venezuela near the caribbean coast and use the other areas for agriculture and mining etc. so I’ll be happy if venezuela simply renounces the land and calls a truce

    Comment by NC — November 15, 2011 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  6. What are you talking about , the land is belong to venezuela brthis use push power to get a resoltion with the help of us , russian but the venezuelan goveremnt was not represtneted by any one

    wellids very easy if you buy a land you regsiter this land no? If anybody latter appreance reclaiming owner again you land well very easy you going to regsiter office to see belong to whom is this land
    iwhich property documnt is older , simple thing

    well why we dont see old maps register ? It is very easy , tle land is belong to venezuela ther are two coices release the land peacefuly with any treaty to resolve the problems on peace or use military force to retake our land , there is not other way , that is the true ,

    Comment by aaa — April 18, 2012 @ 6:29 am | Reply

  7. According to the British in 1896, the colony of British Guyana included part of the territory that is presently occupied by Venezuela. In the 1899 arbitration, the British did pursue this claim any further…

    Comment by Mahadeo Mahase — January 15, 2013 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  8. To put this in plain terms; the land was not settled or developed by Venezuela. They simply pointed at it declaring it theirs. Venezuela then agreed to arbitration and cried foul because it did not go their way. Well that’s the risk BOTH sides took with arbitration.
    It’s EXACTLY like children in a playground. You have Guyana using a swing set, and Venezuela crying that they saw it first.
    Guyana has been on that land putting it to work for over a century since arbitration declared it British (now Guyanese) territory.
    It has been decided, let it go, move on, prioritize to the very real and current issues on hand in both countries.

    Comment by Benito Chavez — January 21, 2015 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

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