Venezuela refuses to present case on the border issue to World Court

By Odeen Ishmael

The government of Venezuela on June 18 declared that it would not participate in the judicial process requested by Guyana of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule as to whether or not the 1899 arbitration territorial award is “null and void,” an allegation the Spanish-speaking republic has promoted since 1962.  As a result of this allegation, it reopened a pre-1899 claim to an extensive area of Guyanese territory in Essequibo, a claim which has progressively extended to even include Guyanese territorial waters.

In a communique, the Venezuelan government claims that the court lacks jurisdiction and requests Guyana to resume bilateral negotiations on the border issue. While Venezuela never acceded to the general jurisdiction or recognition of the ICJ, Guyana has said that that court’s ruling will be binding on both the participant and non-participant.

The decision to stay away came after Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreza Montserrat met with the ICJ president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf who explained procedural matters relating to the upcoming case.


The International Court of Justice, The Hague

In response to the Venezuelan refusal, Guyana stated on the following day that it would request the court to apply a decision binding on both parties, based on Article 53 of the Court’s statutes, which states that if one of the parties fails to appear before the court, or refrains from defending its case, the other party may ask the court to decide in its favor. A statement from the Guyanese foreign ministry hopes that, in due time, Venezuela will reconsider its position and decide to appear before the court and defend its case.  Guyana says that it has requested the ICJ to decide that the arbitration award of 1899 is legal.

If the ICJ upholds the legality of the award it will give Guyana unquestionable recognition to the ownership of its territorial space in the eyes of the international community.

The refusal by Venezuela to present its case to the ICJ has prompted opinions on the legal ramifications. In Guyana, the online news site, Demerarawaves, on June 19 reported the views of a “legal and security expert,” who requested anonymity, as saying that “Venezuela cannot accept and reject the jurisdiction of the ICJ in settling the border controversy. . . There is an interesting and powerful nuance – because the Geneva Agreement named the ICJ as a means of resolution of the controversy; Venezuela has, for all intents and purposes, recognized and accepted the jurisdiction of the Court for this narrow issue and cannot seek to approbate and reprobate at the same time.”

The expert added: “It should be noted that the court is itself already operating as if it has jurisdiction—primarily because of the source or origin of the matter, which is the Secretary General, and not a state party. The UN itself has . . . invoked the jurisdiction of the court and not Guyana and the ICJ is duty bound to respond.”

According to the Demerarawaves report, Venezuela’s rejection of the ICJ marks that country’s move to set the stage to reject the court’s decision, thus seeking to reserve its right not to respect the decision of the court, especially if the ruling is not to its liking.

In Caracas, the conservative daily El Universal reported that the diplomat and international analyst, Julio César Pineda, said the initial premise of the Guyanese Government to Venezuela in relation to the Essequibo is false as “the Article 53 to which they appeal, is not valid in this case because it only applies when both parties accept the jurisdiction of the Court and agree to appear.”

Pineda explained that Venezuela is not obliged to appear before the ICJ since the country has preferred to stick to the involvement of the UN Good Office. On the other hand, the university professor also urged President Nicolas Maduro and other competent bodies to gather all specialists in the area of ​​diplomacy, in order to build a solid strategy that “does not let us lose such an important part for Venezuela.”  He suggested continuing to appeal to Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, proposing bilateral agreements and leaving the judicial part as a last and remote instance.

Apparently, Pineda fails to understand that the UN Secretary General himself said that the Good Office has been fruitless and has chosen the judicial method as a means of settlement.

El Universal also reported that the former director of International Treaties of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Milagros Betancourt, said that if the decision of the Venezuelan government was not to appear “what is proper is to monitor the process” and “have a strategy to achieve the start of talks with Guyana aimed at resolving the dispute in this way.”

The paper added that the former UN ambassador of Venezuela Milos Alcalay felt that in international law “the absence of one of the delegations can be an obstacle to the claims.” This is similar to the position taken by the non-governmental organization (NGO), Citizen Control, which in February suggested that Venezuela should gather a team of legal experts to prepare its case to present to the ICJ. As such, opinions regarding participation in the ICJ process are divided in Venezuela. Despite this, one prevailing view is that Venezuela will eventually field a legal team to at least observe the proceedings when they occur.

Ironically, while its allegation of nullity of the arbitration award of 1899 is of a juridical nature, Venezuela, from the time of the Geneva Agreement in 1966, has adamantly rejected the idea of a legal solution to the controversy and has consistently refused to present a legal case to support its position. That opportunity now exists within the ICJ, but a juridical solution certainly does not seem to be in the interest of the Venezuelan government.

June 25, 2018

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). Among his books is the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy—The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]


U.S. intervention in Venezuela-British Guiana border dispute

By Odeen Ishmael

In a February 1877, the Venezuelan government proposed to British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Lord Derby a settlement of the border with British Guiana by the arbitration of a conventional line fixed by agreement, though it continued to insist that the Essequibo River was the territorial boundary. At the same time, the Venezuelan government appealed to the United States to support its claims, but the latter refused to become involved.

Break in diplomatic relations

Diplomatic exchanges continued for the next ten between the Venezuela and Great Britain, but no solution to the problem could be reached. But tensions escalated in February 1887, after the British Government again rejected Venezuela’s claim to the disputed area and demands to evacuate the territory. When the British refused, Venezuela then accused Great Britain of “acts of spoliation” and broke off diplomatic relations. Nevertheless, it continued to maintain a Consulate in Georgetown, British Guiana, while the British Government’s interests in Venezuela were handled by the German legation in Caracas.

During 1890 and 1893, negotiations were initiated by the Venezuela for the renewal of diplomatic relations and a settlement of the boundary dispute. However, they failed to have any successful result because of the persistence of the Venezuelan negotiators in asserting the claim of Venezuela to all territory as far as the Essequibo River or its immediate vicinity.


American suggestion of arbitration

Despite the United States’ refusal to be involved in the issue in 1877, that country’s policy had by 1885 begun to take a decisive turn when the Grover Cleveland administration indicated its interest in the matter by offering advice to the British Government to solve the issue. By this time, the United States had achieved great economic strength and international political stature, and many leading American politicians viewed their country as a major competitor to Great Britain in the field of international politics. The Secretary of State, Thomas Bayard, in 1885 expressed the interest of the United States in helping to bring about a solution, but he was not too pleased over the British response to the American overtures. In a note addressed to Edward Phelps, the American Minister Plenipotentiary in London, he stated “that if it should appear that the British claim had no fixed limit, the friendly desire of the United States to assist in finding a solution would be predestined to failure, that a deep feeling of regret would take its place.”

The administration of President Benjamin Harrison (1888-1892) was concerned over the suspension in 1887 of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Great Britain. In February, 1888, Bayard, in a note to Phelps said that it would be a matter for grave consideration if it should appear that no bounds were being placed upon the British territorial claims. Apparently, Bayard felt that the British expanded claims were a stumbling block to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Great Britain.

Subsequently, efforts were made in 1890 by the Secretary of State James Blaine to heal the rift. He suggested to both Great Britain and Venezuela that they should hold of an informal conference involving a representative of each country, along with a representative of the United States, to cordially discuss the pending difficulties. Blaine hoped that this would enable them to arrive at a final settlement, and allow the two Governments to renew their friendly relations.

While Venezuela was willing to participate in such a conference, Great Britain felt that such a conference was not possible until Venezuela put a halt to its claims of dominion over lands owned and occupied by the British in British Guiana.

British counter-proposal

Shortly after Blaine made his proposal, Robert Todd Lincoln, the United States Minister in London, obtained from Prime Minister Lord Salisbury a formal declaration describing all the country to the east of the Schomburgk line as unequivocally British. Lincoln had relayed Blaine’s proposal to Lord Salisbury who replied that, while he was ready to agree to an arbitration commission, he must insist that the only subject to be decided by such a commission should be the ownership of the territory west of the Schomburgk line. This was a practical suggestion since the British regarded themselves as entitled to portions of the territory not allotted to Great Britain by Schomburgk. In fact, the British actions in the past decade were consistent with this view, since British settlement was steadily advanced westward, occupying the country and establishing posts. A police station had already been established at Cuyuni Mine, at the confluence of the Yuruari and Cuyuni Rivers, not far from the gold mines of El Callao, the new El Dorado.

The Venezuelan lobby

Continued efforts by the United States to get the two countries to negotiate a settlement brought no result throughout 1891, and on December 9, 1891, President Harrison, in his annual State of the Union message to the United States Congress was obliged to report:

“I should have been glad to announce some favorable disposition of the boundary dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela touching the western frontier of British Guiana, but the friendly efforts of the United States in that direction have thus far been unavailing. This Government will continue to express its concern at any appearance of foreign encroachment on territories long under the administrative control of American States. The determination of a disputed boundary is easily attainable by amicable arbitration where the rights of the respective parties rest, as here, on historic facts readily ascertainable.”

By this time, President Grover Cleveland’s second administration was already being lobbied by Venezuelan supporters to take Venezuela’s side in the dispute. William L. Scruggs, the former American Consul in Caracas, who had been recalled by the Cleveland administration in 1893, was recruited by the Venezuelan government to operate on its behalf in Washington D.C. as a propagandist and legal consul. Shortly after his recruitment, Scruggs published a booklet entitled British Aggression in Venezuela, or the Monroe Doctrine on Trial. This booklet attacked what he termed as British aggression and claimed that the Venezuelans were anxious to arbitrate over the border dispute. Scruggs also claimed that British policies in the disputed territory violated the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

Also, by the beginning of 1895, President Cleveland has already realized that his administration was losing popularity especially among western and southern farmers and workers everywhere in the country. In July, Secretary of State Gresham died, and to succeed him, Cleveland transferred Richard Olney from the Department of Justice to the take up the post. To divert attention from the domestic problems that faced the country, both Cleveland and Olney decided to adopt a vigorous foreign policy. They, therefore, decided, inter alia, to openly support the Venezuelan side in the boundary dispute with Great Britain.

U.S. support for Venezuela

Despite its support for Venezuela, the administration was more interested in helping both countries to re-establish diplomatic relations, and this feeling was reflected in a letter from the Secretary of State Walter Gresham to Thomas Bayard, now the American Ambassador in London, on July 13, 1894:

“The President is inspired by a desire for a peaceable and honorable settlement of existing difficulties between an American state and a powerful transatlantic nation, and would be glad to see the re-establishment of such diplomatic relations between them as would promote that end. I can discern but two equitable solutions of the present controversy. One is the determination of the rights of the disputants as the respective successors to the historical rights of Holland and Spain over the region in question. The other is to create a new boundary line in accordance with the dictates of mutual expediency and consideration. The two governments having so far been unable to agree on a conventional line, the consistent and conspicuous advocacy by the United States and England of the principle of arbitration and their recourse thereto in settlement of important questions arising between them, makes such a mode of adjustment equally appropriate in the present instance, and this government will gladly do what it can to further a determination in that sense. . .”

This position was re-emphasized by President Cleveland in his annual message to Congress on December 3, 1894 when he also openly supported arbitration of the dispute, a position championed by Venezuela. He stated:

“The boundary of British Guiana still remains in dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela. Believing that its early settlement on some just basis alike honorable to both parties is in the line of our established policy to remove from this hemisphere all causes of difference with powers beyond the sea, I shall renew the efforts heretofore made to bring about a restoration of diplomatic relations between the disputants and to induce a reference to arbitration—a resort which Great Britain so conspicuously favors in principle and respects in practice and which is earnestly sought by her weaker adversary.”

This declaration was followed on February 21, 1895 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress in support of arbitration.

Venezuela’s response

The Venezuelan government was highly pleased with President Cleveland’s statement in December 1894 and the Congress resolution. This feeling was reflected on March 29, 1895 when Venezuela’s President Joaquin Crespo sent the following message to his nation’s Congress:

“The high powers of the United States have just given on the occasion of the pending question between Venezuela and England a proof of the extent to which the principle of human justice prevails in the spirit of the great northern people. The Chief Magistrate of that powerful Republic, being persuaded at the peril which involves the American interests in the prolongation of a conflict of so grievous a nature, expressed in his annual message to Congress a strong wish and the disposition of inducing Great Britain to put an end to the dispute through the arbitration earnestly proposed by Venezuela.

“The American Congress in February last, as a consequence of the wise advice contained in President Cleveland’s annual message, passed a resolution to this effect. . . The terms of this resolution disclose the noblest interest in having this long controversy settled in conformity with the principles of justice and reason. Therein it is earnestly recommended that the two contending parties adopt the course indicated by the President of the United States in order peacefully to settle the dispute, as has been suggested by Venezuela.

“The legislative act referred to was approved by both the branches of the American Congress, and his Excellency President Cleveland affixed his seal thereto February 21. Such tokens of the spirit of justice with which the overshadowing question at the Guiana boundary is studied and considered by the Chief Magistrate and legislators of the great Republic of the north requires from Venezuela a significant act of special gratitude which only you can sanction so as to interpret the thought of the whole republic. I am sure that this idea will have the most enthusiastic acceptance in the hearts of the worthy legislators of my country.”

Both branches of Venezuelan Congress immediately adopted a joint resolution expressing their hearty appreciation of the friendly interest shown by the American people in their dispute with Great Britain.

Olney’s letter

This was later followed by a lengthy letter of support for the Venezuelan cause by Secretary of State Richard Olney to Lord Salisbury in July 1895.  In his letter which extended the Monroe Doctrine, Olney declared that the United States regarded any dispute between a European colony in the western hemisphere and any sovereign Latin American state as a matter of American national interest. He also insisted that Great Britain must agree to the arbitration of the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. In a strong reply, Lord Salisbury rejected any application of the Monroe Doctrine to the territorial issue and denounced it as having no bearing on international law.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress resolution and Olney’s letter gave the Venezuelans what they desired since 1877—full United States intervention on the side of Venezuela.

June 3, 2018

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). Among his books is the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy—The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]

Venezuelan NGO wants best team to present case to World Court

By Odeen Ishmael

The Venezuelan non-governmental organization (NGO), Citizen Control, specializing in national defence issues has accused the government of abandoning the claim to Guyana’s Essequibo region during the past eighteen years, a claim which would be at greater risk when the case goes to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court.

Despite rejection to the Court’s involvement by both the government and the opposition, Citizen Control, nevertheless, remained firm on the opinion that Venezuela must present its case to the international court. In a statement published on its website on February 8, it declared: “It is time to look for the best team of Venezuelans, made up of the best prepared, to present this case before the International Court of Justice. That forces us to include and not exclude.”

The organization also called on the country and the leadership of the armed forces to demand a public declaration by President Nicolas Maduro on the strategy the Venezuelan government would follow to defend “Venezuela’s rights over the Essequibo territory, which is part of the vital interests of the nation.”

It also urged the armed forces, especially the Navy, “until the trial process of the International Court of Justice and its results,” to exercise permanent surveillance, visit and examine the registration of any foreign ship navigating the marine areas of the claimed area, including the Atlantic facade of the mouths of “our Orinoco River and Continental Platform of the Delta Amacuro.”

But Citizen Control, chaired by Rocío San Miguel, a specialist in military issues, still seemed worried about an eventual unfavourable ICJ ruling, saying:  “The risks . . . are enormous, to the point that they represent the threat of an unquantifiable dispossession, for its territorial magnitude and the natural resources that the Essequibo territory possesses, to the heritage of present and future generations.” At the same time, it added, the referral (and ultimate legal decision) would be “a geostrategic threat, in the terms of closing in perpetuity the frank exit from Venezuela to the Atlantic.”

Meanwhile, the opposition-controlled powerless National Assembly— not recognized by the Maduro government—appointed a joint commission of on February 8 with the aim of preparing a report on the actions and omissions of the government on the Venezuelan territorial claim. This came after it rejected the UN decision to refer the territorial issue to the international court and insisted on the continued use of the UN Good Offices—which has shown no practical result since its application since 1990—as a method of resolution, asserting that the ICJ should not be considering the issue since “the controversy is not within the context maintained in the Geneva Agreement.” Just the day before, the government-controlled Constituent Assembly, by a resolution, had also opposed the involvement of the ICJ.

This commission, headed by Unidad deputy William Davila, plans to hold sessions at the tiny border Ankoko Island—the Guyanese half of which is illegally occupied by Venezuela—and has requested the Navy to provide a report on air and maritime patrols in the border area, as well as the mapping of the “Atlantic Front of Venezuela, formed by the Gulf of Paria, the Caribbean Sea, the Orinoco Delta and the Reclamation Zone.”

Davila said that the report emanating from the commission’s work would be distributed to the UN, the Venezuelan armed forces, the diplomatic corps accredited in the country, and all national and international bodies. But how much influence the opposition commission will have is left to be seen.

In another development, the Venezuelan Minister of Defence, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, stated erroneously on his Twitter account on February 8 that the 1966 Geneva Agreement, “recognized the sovereignty of Venezuela over the Essequibo.” He again repeated the mantra that the arbitral award rendered in 1899 as null and void and that it “illegally ceded” territory to Guyana.

“The whole knee-jerk strategy is to begin the dismemberment and fragmentation of Venezuela. We, like the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, demand that we return to the Geneva Agreement, because we are not going to renounce the Essequibo territory,” the minister stated.

All of these developments are occurring at a time when Venezuela is experiencing a severe economic crisis. While the political leaderships (of both the government and opposition) show unity in taking a position against the ICJ referral, it is questionable whether the large majority of the citizens—who are more concerned with issued affecting their daily livelihood—want the border issue to remain static, as it has been since the signing of the Geneva Agreement more than fifty years ago. But it is now clearly apparent that the politicians do not want a legal solution since they already show an anticipated dread that such a resolution would not be what they desire.

February 27, 2018

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). Among his books is the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy—The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]



Venezuela objects to World Court involvement to solve border controversy

By Odeen Ishmael

As expected, the Venezuelan government rejected the January 30 decision of the UN Secretary General (UNSG) to refer the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court.

When the UNSG announced his proposal in December 2016, the Venezuelan government at first expressed its satisfaction, but within a month it backtracked and insisted on the continuation of the Good Offices process, which had failed to produce any tangible forward momentum for the past quarter of a century. Guyana, since 2014, had informed the USSG of its decision to abandon the Good Offices process and urged the involvement of the ICJ—a proposal now opposed by Venezuela. Therefore, that country’s recent statement on January 31 has not come as a surprise to anyone.

Guyana map

Interestingly, the statement by the UNSG also stated that the two countries could benefit from the continued Good Offices of the United Nations. This conclusion was arrived at even though the UNSG admitted that the Good Offices made no significant progress during 2017 towards arriving at an agreement for the solution of the controversy.  Clearly, by interjecting the use of “the continued Good Offices,” he seems to be attempting to appease the Venezuelan government which wants the continuation of that process.

Guyana’s foreign ministry welcomed the UNSG’s decision in a communique:

“Guyana will not allow factors extraneous to the controversy to influence its referral to the Court, but it will continue the advancement of peaceful relations with Venezuela whose people are the brothers and sisters of Guyanese. In this context, Guyana acknowledges the Secretary General’s suggestions for the immediate future.”

On the other hand, Caracas expressed concern over the decision in an official foreign ministry statement, and insisted on the recognition of the Geneva Agreement to resolve the dispute.

“It is fitting to wonder the reasons why they recommended the International Court of Justice to two states that do not recognize its jurisdictions, and given that the Geneva Agreement contemplates the political mechanisms for the solution to this territorial controversy,” the ministry stated.

But, the Geneva Agreement of 1966 conferred upon the Secretary-General the power and responsibility to choose a means of peaceful settlement from amongst those contemplated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations. The Geneva Agreement, signed by the Venezuelan, British and Guyanese government, also provides that if the means so chosen does not lead to a solution of the controversy, the Secretary-General will choose another means of settlement. In this respect, the last means in Article 33 is judicial settlement, which clearly points to a judicial settlement by the ICJ.

Interestingly, by signing the treaty, the Venezuelan government agreed fully to the list of methods the UNSG can choose for the solution of the controversy. By now announcing that it is rejecting the ICJ as a means to a solution, the Venezuelan government is actually opposing what it agreed to in 1966—and, hence, rejecting the Geneva Agreement. Is it now insinuating that the Geneva Agreement also is “null and void”?

Why doesn’t Venezuela want the controversy to be handled by the ICJ? It claims that the 1899 arbitral award that defined the boundary between the two countries is “null and void” but, at the same time, refuses to present its case to show such nullity. The ICJ will surely be an ideal venue to make its argument.

Significantly, the Venezuelan government has raised the issue of its non-compliance with the rulings of the ICJ of which it is not a state-party. Obviously, therefore, it presents the specter of a refusal to accept the decision of the ICJ if it deems it unfavorable. If this occurs, it would mean that the border controversy will again continue for an indefinite period.

However, Venezuela is not too interested in the legal aspects; it hangs on to the idea of a settlement by which it wants Guyana to unilaterally cede nearly two-thirds of its land territory. Actually, Venezuela’s demand has grown progressively over the years. It requested before the arbitral tribunal all the territory west of the Essequibo River with the exception of an area marked by a line stretching from the mouth of the Moruca River to the junction of the Mazaruni and the Essequibo. The claim also included the Essequibo watershed south of the junction of the Essequibo and the Rupununi rivers.

Today, the claim has extended to all territory west of the Essequibo River, including the islands in the river. It has also been expanded to include Guyana’s maritime region rich with oil deposits. And as is widely known, Venezuela seized Guyana’s half of the border Ankoko Island and its armed gunboats brazenly venture into Guyana’s section of the Cuyuni River.

It will be interesting to hear the response of the UNSG to the Venezuelan rebuff. At the same time, the member states of the United Nations are no doubt hoping for a judicial solution. It is possible that their quiet diplomacy can help to propel Venezuela to work along with Guyana towards this direction.

February 2, 2018

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). Among his books is the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy—The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He also currently serves as a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]



Guyana urges no delay to judicial settlement of the border controversy

By Odeen Ishmael

On December 16, 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon decided that the existing UN Good Offices process which began in 1990 in order to find a solution to the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy would conclude at the end of 2017. A UN media statement revealed: “If, by the end of 2017, the Secretary-General concludes that no significant progress has been made towards arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy, he will choose the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the next means of settlement, unless the governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.”

Two months later, on February 27 this year, the Secretary-General appointed Norwegian diplomat Dag Halvor Nylander as a mediator to help find a solution to the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Nylander has since been making regular visits to Georgetown and Caracas for meetings with government leaders to explore and propose options for solving the controversy arising from the Venezuelan claim that the 1899 arbitral award settling the then existing border dispute is null and void.

Venezuela’s statement

Since the December announcement, the Venezuelan government remained noticeably silent on the decision by the Secretary-General to ask the ICJ to rule on the issue. However, on September 15, it finally acknowledged this fact after a meeting between President Nicolas Maduro and Nylander. In a public statement, the Venezuelan government stated: “The UN Good Offices process will continue until the end of the year, when the organization will determine if significant progress has been made in the dispute, otherwise the case will be referred to the International Court of Justice.”

But, a few hours later, in a sudden reversal, it amended its statement by reverting to its long-held position that a settlement should be reached by mediation, and even claiming that “mediation will be supported by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in order to find a practical and satisfactory solution, as set out in the [1966] Geneva Agreement.”

Cuyuni boundary

Meanwhile, Guyana has remained adamant that the ICJ must finally decide on the issue. On September 13, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge firmly stated that Guyana was in no mood to entertain any request for more time beyond this year-end to decide whether the controversy should be taken to ICJ.

No doubt, the Venezuelan government’s ambiguous position over the decision to involve the ICJ is an indication that it is fearful of an international judicial decision on the issue. It has always insisted on mediation even though that process has failed to show any result ever since the involvement of the UN Secretary General in 1982.

Guyana urges no delay in ICJ involvement

This latest about-face by the Venezuelan government has certainly become irksome to the Guyanese government. President David Granger spoke on this matter at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 20. He stated:

“Guyana looks to the international community to ensure that Venezuela is not allowed to thwart the processes of judicial settlement, which is the clear and agreed path to peace and justice. . . Four UN Secretaries-General have been seized of the Venezuelan claims. The choice has become one between just and peaceful settlement, in accordance with international law, and a Venezuelan posture of attrition that is increasingly more blustering and militaristic. In this matter, protraction is the enemy of resolution, and the ally of sustained conflict.”

Granger reminded the General Assembly that former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and his successor, António Guterres, had already agreed that the ICJ will be the next means of peaceful settlement if by the end of December 2017, unless Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that mediation should continue.

It is obvious that Guyana will not request any change to this decision since it has not seen any success in the UN mediation efforts. Guyana maintains that the international arbitration award of 1899 decided on the border; that there is no border dispute and what exists is a controversy arising over Venezuela’s claim that the 1899 award is null and void; and that the Geneva Agreement signed by Venezuela, the United Kingdom and Guyana in 1966 calls for a settlement of the “controversy” and not of the border. On the other hand, while Venezuela continues to insist on the nullity of the arbitration award, it has never presented a legal case to verify its position, but it demands a “practical” settlement of the border.

International guarantee of Guyana’s borders

With a judicial settlement expected in due course, Guyana must decide to have its territorial integrity guaranteed by the international community. Back in the early 1960s, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government, hoping to lead the country into independence, had plans in this direction. On July 17, 1968, during debate in the National Assembly on the motion denouncing the “Leoni decree” by which Venezuela claimed a twelve-mile strip of Guyana’s continental shelf off the Essequibo coast, Opposition Leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan explained:

“When we were in the government we said that even if it may appear that we were surrendering part of our sovereignty, we are prepared to sign such a treaty with the Great Powers, who will not only see that Guyana remains neutral, but who will guarantee our territorial integrity. Perhaps, it would have been a surrender of a bit of sovereignty in that we were saying they would supervise our neutrality.”

Dr. Jagan pointed out that Austria, after it regained independence in 1955, signed a treaty with Russia, France, Britain, and the USA during the mid-1960s to guarantee its territorial integrity. He felt the Forbes Burnham-led People’s National Congress-United Force (PNC-UF) coalition government should have negotiated a similar treaty when the country attained independence, and blamed it “for failing to lodge, in conjunction with the British, at the United Nations, the boundaries of Guyana at the time of independence, for failure to negotiate a treaty of guarantee of our territorial integrity with the Great Powers, East and West.”

With a yet unclear Venezuelan position on a judicial solution, one is left to wonder if that government will be willing to accept the ruling by the ICJ if the decision is not in its favor. It is, therefore, imperative for the Guyana government to consider negotiating an international guarantee of the country’s borders as soon as the judicial settlement of the controversy is finally reached.

September 27, 2017

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). Among his books is the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy—The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He also currently serves as a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]

Voices of conscience must speak up for the persecuted Rohingya people

By Odeen Ishmael

The world looks on as the persecuted Rohingya people in Myanmar (known as Burma up to 1989) are systematically chased, brutalized and killed. More than 400,000 have fled as refugees across the border to neighboring Bangladesh. World leaders and regional groupings, especially at the UN General Assembly, must firmly demand that the Myanmar government cease its atrocities and restore and respect the citizenship and human rights of these brutalized people.

The early Indian ancestors of the Rohingyas originated from the region now known as Bangladesh from nearly thirteen centuries ago at a time when borders were largely non-existent and when Burma was not yet a nation state with carved-out national boundaries. Thus, over time, these people have intrinsically formed part of the general Burmese population, and under British rule (1824-1948), and even for a while after Burma achieved independence, some Rohingya leaders were elected to the national legislature. It must be firmly emphasized that the Rohingyas are Burmese and are not nationals of Bangladesh.


However, as Burma achieved independence, discrimination against minorities increased after a military coup in the country in 1962. Then in 1982, the military government enacted a nationality law derecognizing the Rohingya as a “national race” and denying that entire section of the population of citizenship rights. The military junta launched a brutal offensive against the Rohingyas in 1991–1992, which caused 250,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh and escalated tensions between the two countries.

Before the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis and the military outrages 2016 and 2017, the Rohingya population in Myanmar was around 1.3 million. The majority are Muslims while a small minority are Hindus. Described by the UN in 2013 as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, they are restricted from freedom of movement, voting rights, state education and civil service jobs. The legal conditions faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar have been compared with apartheid. The UN officials has described the persecution of the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing and believe the country wants to expel its entire Rohingya population.

Investigations by the UN have found evidence of increasing incitement of hatred and religious intolerance by ultra-nationalist Buddhists against Rohingyas while the Burmese security forces have been conducting unprovoked executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, burning of Rohingya villages, detentions, torture and ill-treatment and forced labor. (More than 87 percent of Burmese identify themselves as Buddhist.)

In 1990, the military junta allowed an election which was won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was immediately placed under house arrest by the military leaders and not permitted to become prime minister.

In the aftermath, supporters of Aung San lobbied foreign governments to seek her release and to pressure the Myanmar regime to allow free elections. There was the existing feeling that the return to democratic governance would give recognition to the Rohingya people, a tenet that the world felt that Aung San would embrace. I recall numerous instances when on the sidelines of international conferences at the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, and also the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), I, as well as many other ambassadors, met with some of these lobbyists and discussed the plight of Myanmar under the military dictatorship. And during discussions on the draft final declarations at conferences of the OIC in Iran, Burkina Faso, Malaysia, Mali, Sudan, Qatar, Egypt, Djibouti, and the UN, on behalf of Guyana, I spoke in support of the Rohingyas’ struggle for citizenship and the recognition of their rights in their own country.

When Aung San’s party overwhelmingly won the election in 2015 and she became the de facto leader of the country, the Rohingyas hoped that their future would see brighter days. But they were sorely disappointed when violent attacks carried out by the military and Buddhists, including ultra-nationalist monks, continued unabated. These attacks continue to this day.

Sadly, Aung San has refused to condemn the attacks on the Rohingyas, and despite being the leader of the country, has turned a blind eye on the military’s atrocities on these beleaguered people. She has also refused to accept that the Rohingyas are part of the citizenry of the country.

During the years of her house arrest, she was a voice of conscience, speaking out against atrocities carried out in various parts of the world. She was revered for her humility and compassion and the world applauded when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

But today she has not exhibited that compassion to the most downtrodden people in her own country. She sees nothing wrong in the oppression, claiming that the military is suppressing a Rohingya “terrorist” group, formed as a result of the brutal actions of the state agencies.

Even if the military is battling a terrorist group, does that give it the right to murder, rape, burn and expel and entire population? Surely, that small terrorist group does not encompass over a million people! The military atrocity amounts to collective punishment, akin to that used against the Palestinians—something that Aung San herself condemned when she was not in power.

Ironically, in her acceptance speech in 2012 for her Nobel Peace Prize, she commented on the problems faced by refugees: “Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering?” Now that her own government is creating a huge refugee flow, her words now seem to be highly hypocritical.

The voices of conscience across the world, including some other Nobel laureates, are urging Aung San to come to the defense of the Rohingya people. Unfortunately, she still remains indifferent and she should know that the flowing tears of these unfortunate people will leave an indelible stain on whatever legacy she leaves for the world.

September 18, 2017

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). He represented Guyana at the OIC from 1997 to 2014.]


Venezuelan minister urges: Know details of 1899 Award and Geneva Agreement

By Odeen Ishmael

As part of its activities to maintain its claim to Guyana’s Essequibo territory, the Venezuelan government has established an organization it calls the New Frontier of Peace Mission. A press release issued by the Venezuelan foreign ministry on June 2 announced that this organization held a seminar from May 31 to June 2 on the “geostrategic and geopolitical situation of the Essequibo territory” at the ministry. Interestingly, the release announced the inauguration of the “Essequibo Hall and the unveiling of a bust of Simon Bolívar, a replica of the sculpture located in the city of Puerto Esquivel along the Essequibo River.”

Where this “city of Puerto Esquivel” exists on the Essequibo River remains a mystery since there is no such place-name within Guyana’s 83,000 square miles of sovereign territory. However, as is known, the Venezuelan authorities a few years ago were instrumental in influencing Google to publish a map of Essequibo (prepared in Venezuela) on which all the towns and villages were shown with Spanish names. Therefore, it may not be strange to find the “peace mission” using a similar map showing a place called Puerto Esquivel on Guyana’s Essequibo River.

The Venezuelan ministry stated that this seminar would be the starting point of several activities aimed at “reaffirming, refreshing and re-sensitizing the officials of the ministries and other institutions of the country” of Venezuela’s territorial claim. According to Major General Gerardo José Izquierdo Torres, director of the border office of the ministry and Minister of State of the New Frontier of Peace Mission and executive secretary of the presidential commission for the border, “new evidence has been found of that vile imperial spoil, which seeks to seize the existing riches, both in terrestrial and aquatic spaces.” He did not reveal the alleged “new evidence.”

Other speakers at this seminar, mainly military personnel, were Colonel Pompeyo Torrealba, described as the founder of the so-called city of Puerto Esquivel; Lieutenant Averell Jhon Nicholas Melville, (of Guyanese ancestry), who spoke on the Rupununi uprising of 1969; Andrea Stefany and Juan Ruiz who discussed the geography, culture and infrastructure; while Brigadier General José Miguel Jaimes Vivas dealt with the Pemon separatist project (of which no details were publicized). The Pemon linguistic population comprises six Amerindian groups on the frontier region of Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela. Among them are the Arecuna and Macushi of Guyana.

In his presentation, Torres called for Venezuelans’ awareness and patriotic sentiment towards Essequibo, whose inhabitants should no longer be seen or treated as foreigners. For this reason he reported that actions have been initiated to grant Venezuelan nationality to people from Essequibo born in Venezuela. To this end, he announced that approximately one thousand identification cards were already available for such persons

He said President Nicolás Maduro, in the search for solutions to the “territorial conflict,” was following the vision of the late Hugo Chávez who had established the High Level Bilateral Commission “oriented towards cooperation with Guyana, which generated bilateral exchanges such as the import of Guyanese rice.” He added that spirit of mutual cooperation was maintained until the accession of the new Guyanese President David Granger in May 2015, who compared Venezuela with “the discomfort of having a thorn in the throat.” He also alleged that behind the “violations of international laws” there is an “imperial intention to turn the Orinoco into an international space, to seize energy and wealth, plus fresh water.”

Torres also emphasized the importance of knowing the details the Geneva Agreement and the 1899 Paris arbitration award, legal instruments that have no expiration and which he claimed are being violated by Guyana with the support of the American government. However, the press statement did not describe these alleged violations.

Obviously, Torres’ allegation of treaty violations can be easily rebutted by the Guyanese authorities who can point to the resuscitated claim to Guyana’s territory since 1962; the illegal occupation since 1966 by Venezuela of the Guyanese half of Ankoko Island at the Cuyuni and Wenamu border junction; the Leoni decree of 1968 by which Venezuela laid an extended claim to 12 miles of continental shelf off the Essequibo coast; and more recently the Maduro decrees of 2015 claiming almost all of Guyana’s offshore economic zone with its huge yet-to-be-exploited reserves of petroleum. All of these actions against Guyana’s sovereignty remain as flagrant breaches of both the Geneva Agreement of 1966 and the Paris arbitration award of 1899, especially the latter which both disputing parties—the Venezuelan and British governments—defined by treaty as “a full, perfect, and final settlement.”

July 12, 2017

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). He is the author of The Trail of Diplomacy – The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue (in three volumes). He also currently serves as a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]


ICJ adjudication of border issue draws nearer

By Odeen Ishmael

On February 27 this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment of Dag Halvor Nylander of Norway as his personal representative to help find a solution to the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Nylander comes with the experience as ambassador in Colombia in 2006-2008 and, more recently, as his country’s special envoy in the Colombian peace process (2012-2016). .

Earlier, on December 16, 2016, the Secretary-General concluded that the existing Good Offices process which began in 1990 would continue until the end of 2017. A UN media statement revealed: “If, by the end of 2017, the Secretary-General concludes that no significant progress has been made towards arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy, he will choose the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the next means of settlement, unless the governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.”

Nylander’s task involves regular and constructive meetings with both governments to explore and propose options for a solution to the controversy arising from the Venezuelan claim that the 1899 arbitral award settling the then border dispute is null and void.

Over the past fifty years, the controversy has generated intermittent tensions between the two countries. These heated up in 2015 after a significant oil find was announced in an offshore concession granted to Exxon by Guyana in its Atlantic economic zone, an area that Venezuela describes as “disputed waters;” and even also declaring the zone as its own, as it did in June 2015 when President Maduro issued decrees claiming almost all of Guyana’s offshore contiguous economic region.

Guyana opts for ICJ

More than a year before, the PPP administration of President Bharrat Jagdeo declared that the Good Offices process had outlived its usefulness and would no longer support its continuity. The government of that period opted for the controversy to be dealt with by the ICJ. On the other hand, the Venezuelan government insisted that it wanted the Good Offices process to continue and would not support any move to the international court to handle the issue.

The Guyana government headed by President David Granger from May 2015 also took a similar position. The recent appointment by the Secretary-General seems set to placate both governments—allowing the continuation of the Good Offices process desired by Venezuela, and announcing that the process would end this year after which the ICJ would become invoved, as advocated by Guyana.

With the Secretary-General deciding to choose the ICJ as the next means of settlement if his personal representative does not succeed in enabling a solution, it is absolutely clear that the Guyanese government will never ask the Secretary-General to refrain from taking this action.

UN recognition of Guyana’s territory

Interestingly, Nylander is given the mandate to mediate, a power which previous Good Officers did not have. However, his mediation will have to be bound by an earlier decision of the UN which gave recognition to the legality of Guyana’s boundary as demarcated by the 1899 arbitral award. This was defined when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Tribunal made its award in the case of the maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname in 2007. In making that award, the arbitrators used Devonshire Castle Flat, a location on the Essequibo coast, as a base point to draw the boundary line based on the principle of “equidistance.” By using the Essequibo coast as a base point, the arbitrators (and hence the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea) gave recognition to the Essequibo as part of Guyana’s sovereign territory despite the existing claim by Venezuela.

Actually, during the arbitration hearings, the Suriname government had initially opposed the use of this base point, on the grounds of its location in the area claimed by Venezuela.  However, the arbitration court dismissed Suriname’s protest, declaring that Caricom, with Suriname being an integral member, recognized Guyana’s sovereignty over the Essequibo region. But despite this recognition, Venezuela since 1966 has continued to occupy Guyana’s eastern half of the three-square-miles Ankoko Island at the border junction of the Cuyuni and Wenamu Rivers.

Maritime boundary not defined

In his attempt at mediation, the Good Officer, therefore, will have to concentrate on finding a solution to the maritime boundary between the two countries—a maritime boundary that was never legally demarcated. But in doing so, he will have to keep in mind that Venezuela is not a signatory to the UN Law of the Sea, which has been involved in settling maritime boundaries between various countries.

Actually, both countries saw the importance of a settled maritime boundary. A joint declaration of September 30, 2011, signed in Port of Spain by Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and Nicolas Maduro, the foreign ministers of Guyana and Venezuela, respectively, recognized that the delimitation of the maritime boundaries between the two countries was an outstanding issue and agreed that such delimitation would require negotiations. Another meeting on October 17, 2013, between the Guyanese foreign minister and her new Venezuelan counterpart, Elias Jaua, ratified the decision of the September 2011 discussions and they declared that a bilateral technical team would meet within four months to exchange views on how such delimitation could proceed. However, this technical team could not be organized since Venezuela, then experiencing growing political instability, was unprepared to begin this work despite several reminders from Guyana.

Advisory commission

In preparation for Nylander’s mediation, and likely ICJ jurisdiction, it is hoped that the proposed national border institute or a politically bipartisan special commission will be fully organized as an advisory body to the government on the border issue.

In the limited time left for his mediation efforts, the Norwegian diplomat may encounter some difficulty in managing his work with Venezuela, as the country is facing serious political, economic and social crises along with massive anti-government street protests. Thus, it is doubtful that he will be able to mediate any solution before the end of the year. This means that the UN Secretary-General will have no other option but to request adjudication by the ICJ to end the controversy.

May 30, 2017

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait (2011-2014). He is the author of the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy – The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He also serves as a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]




Challenges for Guyana’s National Border Institute

By Odeen Ishmael

On August 4, 2016, the Guyana government announced plans to establish a National Border Institute aimed at providing advice and ideas on border related matters, and to enable research to ensure the maintenance of Guyana’s territorial integrity. The Institute is expected to be a repository of all documents, maps, charts relating to Guyana’s territorial boundaries with Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil.

As part of its research activities, this body will be also be tasked with ensuring the maintenance of Guyana’s territorial integrity as well as to address issues relating to the nation’s air space and continental shelf.

According to the government, the institute will be semi-autonomous under the management of a board of directors, headed by the foreign minister. The board will comprise representatives from the attorney general’s office, the army, civil aviation, the maritime administration department, the national archives, the lands and surveys commission, and the University of Guyana. The services of other Guyanese with the relevant knowledge will also be utilized.

On its establishment, the institute will, no doubt, function also as a “think tank” to develop and discuss ideas relating to Guyana’s border issues. It should also venture into the area of public diplomacy by encouraging reputable persons (including non-Guyanese) to publish op-ed articles supportive of Guyana’s position on the Guyana-Venezuela issue (in both the local and foreign news media), and audio and video commentaries also for local and foreign distribution and for publication on the internet. At the same time, it should be a most important provider of resource materials for educational institutions as part of their curriculum in imparting knowledge of the history of the nation’s border relations. And to ensure its connection with the general public, it must encourage Guyanese to submit their views on a continuous basis on how to deal with specific problems surrounding the country’s boundary issues.


The proposal for this forum has its antecedents from at least 1999 when, under the PPP administration, a parliamentary border and national security committee was formed following consultation between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte. The report the committee submitted in June 2001 to President Jagdeo recommended, inter alia, that the highest level of consultations for discussion and resolution of issues pertaining to border and national security issues should take place between the president and the leader of the opposition. At the level of the National Assembly, it also expressed the necessity for a parliamentary standing committee to be established to tackle border and national security issues through the engagement of ministers and shadow ministers.

In a statement after the submission, David Granger who co-chaired the committee, emphasized that the bipartisan process should be supported by a technical or academic component in the form of an institute of border studies, a strengthened frontiers unit of the foreign affairs ministry and the review or consolidation of existing institutions to prevent duplication in functions.

On October 15, 2013, Granger, as opposition leader, urged the foreign ministry to establish a permanent national borders commission to boost institutional strengthening on issues regarding Guyana’s territorial integrity and to take responsibility for accumulating data and documents on territorial matters. He had earlier made this proposal during a meeting in January 2012 with Dr. Norman Girvan, the UN “Good Officer” tasked with maintaining contacts with Guyana and Venezuela on the border issues on behalf of the Secretary General.

In November 2013, Granger followed up by requesting Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to inform the National Assembly whether the government intended “to work towards establishing a standing parliamentary committee to address, specifically, border and national security issues as recommended by the border and national security committee” in its report of June, 2001.

In response to Granger’s proposal, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds on December 19, 2013 informed the National Assembly that the government had no plans to establish a parliamentary committee to specifically address border issues. He explained that there was already a parliamentary committee on security, which had been established by an amendment to the constitution and which was intended to specifically be the forum for parliamentary consideration of national security matters including border issues.

Documentary tasks of the Institute

Now, with the firm decision made, it is expected that knowledgeable persons will be appointed to conduct the work of the Border Institute.

On its establishment, the border institute will most likely begin to gather and archive documents related to the British and Venezuelan cases presented to the arbitration tribunal in 1898-1899. While the Foreign Ministry archives may have much of these, no doubt, the Institute will have to explore the possibility of obtaining additional documentary resources from the British Foreign Office. In addition, a wealth of material is located within the archives of British, American and French newspapers which covered the arbitration in great detail and published daily reports of the proceedings. The Dutch and the Spanish archives hold a treasure of related documents as well.

Significantly, the US Library of Congress has a large collection of related documents including the report of the US Venezuelan Border Commission that functioned in 1896-1897 after it was established by the US Congress on a direct request by President Grover Cleveland. All of the documents emanating from the report of this Commission were provided to the Venezuelan government by the US government to assist the former to prepare its case to the arbitration tribunal. In those days, the United States was an avid supporter of Venezuela with regard to the border dispute.

Guyana-Suriname border

With respect to Guyana’s boundary with Suriname, the Corentyne River boundary is still not yet clearly defined. (The maritime boundary was finally settled in 2007 after the PPP administration headed by President Jagdeo decisively moved to request the intervention of the Law of the Sea tribunal, to which Suriname agreed.) Currently, the entire Corentyne River is regarded as being totally owned by Suriname, though there exists no specific agreement to this effect between the colonial powers (the United Kingdom and Holland) or between the independent nations of Guyana and Suriname. The task of the border institute has to be aimed at developing ideas and methodology to modify this situation. It will have to form a strong case to show that the boundary runs along the thalweg (the mid-channel) of the river. Alternatively, the case must be made for the unimpeded and free use of the river by Guyanese if Suriname is to maintain ownership of the entire river.

With consideration to the New River Triangle, a comprehensive collection of documents from all sources to support Guyana’s ownership is necessary. Significantly, the archives of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the British Foreign Office should be consulted to obtain all the background documents relative to the fixing of the Brazil-British Guiana-Suriname tri-junction point at the Kutari River, (the source of the Corentyne River) in 1936—which definitively fixed the south-east boundary of Guyana with Suriname and Brazil, and similarly, Brazil’s boundary with Guyana and Suriname at that point.


Guyana-Brazil boundary

As to Guyana’s boundary with Brazil which was finally settled in 1904, it is important that documents relating to the Brazil-British Guiana border dispute which was arbitrated in 1901-1904 should be compiled. This is imperative, considering that the area ceded to Brazil (roughly 4,000 square miles of territory bounded by the Ireng, Takutu and Cotinga Rivers) was claimed by Venezuela during the 1898-1899 arbitration, but it was awarded to British Guiana.


It is of interest to note that in Venezuela’s current claim to Guyana’s territory (which it says it “lost” in the 1899), that country is not asserting any demand to the area ceded in 1904 to Brazil after the arbitration conducted by the King of Italy. Logically, Venezuela should have also extended its spurious claim to this part of Brazil, but as is generally known, logic is not always synonymous with international political behaviour. Obviously, Brazil’s size and political and military power are determining factors for Venezuela’s reluctance in this instance.

October 5, 2016

[Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela (2003-2011) and Kuwait (2011-2014). He is the author of the trilogy, The Trail of Diplomacy – The Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue. He also serves as a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.]

Economic Incentives Vital for Development of the Guiana Shield

By Odeen Ishmael

The fourth international congress on the biodiversity of the Guiana Shield, sponsored by the International Biodiversity Society of the Guiana Shield (IBG)[1] in conjunction with the Guyana government, was held during August 8-12 in Georgetown, Guyana.

In his address to the forum on April 8, Guyana’s President David Granger proposed a three-pronged approach to be adopted for the effective protection and preservation of the Guiana Shield. That approach, he said, must include the establishment of a scientific research institute, the setting up of strong mechanisms for data and information sharing, and adequate investment and funding.[2]

President Granger said that the scientific community, governments, non-governmental organizations and communities must forge partnerships to protect the Shield’s biodiversity, while allowing states to leverage its high endemicity, cultural diversity and intact ecosystems for inclusive growth and secure futures.[3]

 The Guiana Shield

 The Guiana Shield is a 1.7 billion-year-old Precambrian geological formation in northeast South America.[4] The higher elevations are the Guiana Highlands, with flat-topped mountains and are the source of some of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls such as Angel Falls and Kaieteur Falls. The Shield underlies Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana (Guyane) as well as parts of Brazil and Colombia. It has one of the highest biodiversity in the world, and is the natural habitat of numerous endemic species of mammals,[5] fresh water fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and insects.[6]

It also sustains one of the largest blocks of primary tropical rain forest worldwide as well as an eco-region marked by a very high biodiversity levels. With 90 percent covered with intact rainforest, the Shield plays a critical role in mitigating climate change and in regulating the water levels of the Amazon, Essequibo and Orinoco basins.[7]

As part of the wider Amazonian rain forest, the Shield’s protected areas include the Iwokrama Rain Forest of central Guyana, Kaieteur National Park, Kanuku National Park of southern Guyana, the Central Suriname Nature Reserve of Suriname, the Guiana Amazonian Park in French Guiana, the Tumucumaque National Park in Brazil’s Amapá State, and the Canaima, Parima-Tapirapeco and Neblina National Parks of Venezuela.[8] In 2014, Colombia designated a 250 hectare area of its section of the Guiana Shield, as a protected wetland.[9]


Map showing the Guiana Shield (Source:

IIRSA projects for the Guiana Shield

As far back as 2006, the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA)[10] unit of UNASUR[11] mapped out an ambitious road project for the Guiana Shield “hub” involving the infrastructural integration of eastern Venezuela (the states of Sucre, Anzoátegui, Monagas, Delta Amacuro and Bolívar), northern Brazil (the states of Amapá and Roraima), and the entire territory of Guyana and Suriname as well as French Guiana.[12] Part of this plan also includes a highway linking Ciudad Guayana in eastern Venezuela and Linden[13] in Guyana. The overall objective is to spur economic development in areas linked by this integration plan which has remained largely dormant over the past three years.

With an estimated area of 2.7 million square kilometers and a population of about 22 million, the Guiana Shield maintains a very low population density of just about 5 persons per square kilometer, and is one of the least developed areas in South America.[14]  Even so, it has significant urban centers such as Manaos, Macapá, Boa Vista, Paramaribo, Georgetown, Ciudad Guayana and Ciudad Bolívar.

Economic sub-regions of the Shield

The Shield has two markedly different economic sub-regions, one with value-added production and relatively high population density, and the other, with abundant natural resources and a low population density. The more active economic section is located in eastern Venezuela with its petroleum industry and steel, aluminum and other manufacturing plants. The lesser developed area, which includes Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and the Brazilian states of Amapá and Roraima, is developing at a slower pace with low value-added activities  and contributes only about 12 percent of the hub’s GDP.[15]

Nevertheless, the lesser developed area has, overall, an immense developmental potential with its mineral, hydrocarbon, forest, and fishing resources, as well as immense hydroelectric capability and very large areas of under-exploited arable land. The territory also includes the Amazon ecosystems, vast savannahs, numerous rivers, waterfalls, mountains and extensive Atlantic and Caribbean coasts. These natural riches demonstrate a huge potential for tourism.

The integration of the road and transportation infrastructure will no doubt boost development at various geographical nodal points within the Guyana Shield hub. Already, with better road and river links between Manaos and other Brazilian population centers, that city has boosted its production of processed food, electronic goods, motorbikes and automobiles. A free zone has been established and the city now has a population of more than a million with several universities and research centers. Its growth, undoubtedly, has helped to generate economic development in the hinterland state of Roraima.[16]

Clearly, the Guyana government hopes that a similar pattern in the future can develop in the Rupununi region (bordering Brazil) as permanent road links are established with Brazil via the bridge across the Takutu River and, ultimately, the completion of the interior highway from Lethem to Linden and Georgetown.

It is obvious that the IIRSA communication plan for the Guiana Shield countries cannot be fulfilled in the short-term. But a start has already been made, and incremental implementation is expected to follow. Ultimately, the political commitment of the respective governments will determine how successful it will be.

REDD+ for the Guiana Shield

Currently, the countries of the Guiana Shield are pursuing policies that emphasize the importance of establishing biodiversity corridors to avoid landscape fragmentation and loss of species and habitats for biodiversity. At the same time, these policies are aimed at protecting the rights of the indigenous Amerindians to their territories and of access to their natural resources, in order to preserve their livelihoods and cultures.

Until the end of the twentieth century, the Guiana Shield forests were under little threat in comparison with other tropical forests. However, demographic and economic growth has increased pressures on the natural ecosystems. Since governments prefer to advance national development in a sustainable manner, they have shown strong interest in the United Nations Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+)[17] +) through which they would be able to financially value their efforts in protecting their forests and at the same time acquiring carbon revenues from participating developed countries. This program was launched in 2008.

The project, “REDD+ for the Guiana Shield,[18] was initiated first by Guyana, Suriname, France (for French Guiana), and the Brazilian state of Amapá. It aims to prevent deforestation and degradation within the framework of the REDD+ mechanism.

REDD+ for the Guiana Shield is funded by the Regional Development European Fund (FEDER) through the Interreg IV Caraibes program (1.26 million euros)[19], the French Global Environmental Facility (1 million euros), the French Guiana Region (90,000 euros), as well as by the project partners own contributions.[20]

Guyana-Norway forest agreement

In Guyana’s case, the country was promised US$250 million under the multi-year forest protection agreement with Norway signed in 2009.[21] This was shortly after Guyana established the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS),[22] under the presidency of Bharrat Jagdeo, to fashion by 2020 a new low carbon economy geared toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and promoting economic and cultural projects to minimize the effects of climate change.

By 2015, Guyana was credited with over $190 million from this arrangement, $70 million of which has been deposited into the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF). A sum of $5.8 million was disbursed to the Guyana Forestry Commission to assist with development of the monitoring, reporting and verification system, and $80 million has been directly transferred to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the government’s equity in the Amaila Falls hydro-electric project[23]—a project forming an integral part of the LCDS—which was unfortunately jettisoned[24] by the new government which came to power in May 2015. A further $40 million is pending having been announced in May 2015.[25]

More recently, the Guyana government has stated its interest in resuscitating the hydro-electric project[26] but has also revealed that it will lose US$18 million from the agreement with Norway. This financial loss comes as a result of penalties for not meeting certain indicators specified in the agreement, as well as from losses due to adjustments in the exchange rate between the Norwegian kroner and the US dollar.[27]

Need for investment

 The sustainable development of the area encompassing the Guiana Shield should be a priority for the countries of that geographical region. The area provides essential environmental services to all of humanity and, as such, economic incentives are vital to ensure that the forests remain in a pristine state. As President Granger said during his address[28] to the international congress, the absence of investment will place pressures on the governments of the Shield, particularly the three smallest states, if they move to exploit the region’s natural resources. The developed countries must realize the necessity of the sustainable development of this region and their inputs in the form of tangible investments can go a long way in preventing deforestation and destructive mining, as well as in preserving the biodiversity of the area.

August 22, 2016

(Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador Emeritus (retired), historian and author, served as Guyana’s ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela 2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014). He actively participated in meetings of UNASUR from 2003 to 2010 and has written extensively on South American integration issues. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.)




[3] Ibid.

[4] Lujan, Nathan K.; Arbruster, Jonathan W. (2011). “13: The Guiana Shield”.

In James S. Albert and Roberto E. Reis. Historical Biogeography of Neotropical Freshwater Fishes (PDF).

The Regents of the University of California.

[5] Hollowell, T.; Reynolds, R.P. (2005). “Checklist of the Terrestrial Vertebrates of the Guiana Shield” (PDF). Bulletin of the Biological Society of Washington.

[6] Costa, Mauro; Viloria, Ángel L.; Hubber, Otto; Attal, Stéphane; Orellana, Andrés (2013).

“Lepidoptera del Pantepui. Parte I: Endemismo y caracterización biogeográfica”. Entomotropica. 28 (3): 193––217. .





[11] UNASUR was then known as the Community of South American States.




[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.



[19] In 2008, the euro was equivalent to US$1.50. Its value has declined since then.

[20] Ibid.




[24]   project.html




[28], op. cit.