Fmr. Ambassador proposes strategies to defend Guyana against Venezuela

The new map covering Guyana's territory.


Dr. Odeen Ishmael, former Ambassador from Guyana to Venezuela
Dr. Odeen Ishmael, former Ambassador from Guyana to Venezuela

[] – Former Guyanese Ambassador to Venezuela Dr Odeen Ishmael has promulgated a string of measures the President David Granger administration can employ to defend Guyana territorial integrity against Venezuela’s aggression. 

Ishmael who is responsible for bring Venezuela’s latest claim to Guyana’s attention, says the highest priority should always be given to the consideration and formulation of Guyana’s strategy and tactics for the preservation of its territorial integrity.

Read the full context of Ishmael’s statement below.


By Odeen Ishmael

  1. Guyana, as a sovereign state, rejects all forms of foreign aggression, subjugation, occupation, domination, dependence, or hegemonistic tendencies, and equally resents interference and pressures (of whatever kind) which impinge on its international relationships.
  2. In view of Venezuela’s claim to western Essequibo, the highest priority should always be given to the consideration and formulation of Guyana’s strategy and tactics for the preservation of its territorial integrity. This priority should remain for as long as this claim is not aborted.
  3. Previously, between 1966 and 1982, Venezuela was guilty of the following unfriendly and hostile acts:


  1. Those of a military nature


(i) In 1966 Venezuelan diplomatic personnel in Guyana were engaged in a clandestine attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of Guyana through the subversion of members of Guyana’s Amerindian community. As a result, Guyana was forced to declare as persona non grata a Second Secretary of the Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown.


(ii) In 1966, (a few months after Guyana’s independence, and even while Guyana was discussing the modalities for resolving the controversy), Venezuela militarily occupied the Guyana part of an island of Ankoko, through which the common border runs, and has remained in occupation of it to this very day.


(iii) In 1968 the then President of Venezuela issued a decree which purported to annex a belt of sea off the coast of Essequibo as part of its territorial waters and contiguous zone of Venezuela. That decree authorised the armed forces of Venezuela to impose dominion over the belt of sea which is part of Guyana’s sovereign territory. This decree, considered by Guyana to be a calculated breach of Article 5(2) of the Geneva Agreement, violated the established tenets of international law and practice.


(iv) Thereafter, Venezuela has committed numerous acts of aggression in violation of Guyana’s territorial integrity, and routinely violated Guyana’s air space. It also posted jungle brigades at the border to create tension and intimidation.

(v) In late 1968, a number of Guyanese citizens residing in the Rupununi received military training in Venezuela. They later launched a military attack on police outposts in the Rupununi with an aim of dismembering the state of Guyana. The uprising was put down by the Guyana Defence Force and the leaders of the armed rebels fled to Venezuela where they were granted asylum.

 (B) Those of an economic nature

 (i) In 1968, Venezuela conducted a campaign to hurt Guyana economically. It inserted a paid advertisement in the British newspaper, the Times, to deter would be investors from considering investments within the area claimed by Venezuela. This was obviously intended to undermine Guyana’s efforts to attract investment in the area.

 (ii) In June 1981, the Foreign Minister of Venezuela wrote to the President of the World Bank expressing Venezuela’s opposition to the construction of a hydro-electric facility in Mazaruni. Its objection to this project, which was assessed as economically and technically feasible, was on the grounds that it was in the region of Guyana which Venezuela claims. This was obviously another calculated act of economic aggression.

 (iii) Early in 1982 the Venezuelan Government approached the European Economic Community in an effort to dissuade that body from participating in Guyana’s development.

 (C) Those of a political nature

 (i) Just after Guyana became independent, Venezuela’s deliberate intervention invoked a specific Article in the Charter of the Organisation of American States (OAS) to prevent Guyana becoming a member as long as Venezuela maintained a claim to territory in Guyana.

 (ii) At the 11th General Assembly of the OAS held in St. Lucia in December 1981, Venezuela frustrated all constructive efforts to find a formula for the elimination of this discriminatory Article. Venezuela eventually agreed to the amendment of the Charter in 1990 thus allowing both Guyana and Belize to become permanent members of the OAS in 1991.

 (iii) A provision similarly discriminating against Guyana and Belize also existed in the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America, aimed at making Latin America a nuclear weapons free zone. This provision was amended to coincide with that to the OAS Charter. Before this amendment, Guyana and Belize were excluded from the treaty on the basis that their territories were being claimed by other countries. This discriminatory Article in the treaty was previously firmly supported by Venezuela.

The new map covering Guyana's territory.
The new map covering Guyana’s territory.

 (iv) In the wider international field Guyana attached great importance to the issue of “intervention and interference in the internal affairs of states.” This matter was raised at the Colombo Non-Aligned summit in 1976 as part of a general strategy to combat the destabilisation of small non aligned and other developing states. Despite more than 5 years of patient effort and hard work, the UN General Assembly at its thirty-sixth session failed to adopt a declaration on the inadmissibility of intervention and interference in the internal affairs of states. Unfortunately Venezuela was the only developing country which sided with those who voted against the adoption of the declaration.

 (v) Since 1982, political aggression from Venezuela has been mainly in the form of re-statements by leaders of the Venezuelan government of claims to Guyana’s territory. Some of these statements have also been seen as warnings and threats to foreign investors in western Essequibo. Venezuela has erroneously maintained that under Article 5(2) of the Geneva Agreement, Guyana does not have the right to grant concessions in western Essequibo to investors. This economic aggression on the part of Venezuela has no doubt prevented some foreign investment in the area. For example, a Chinese firm which was granted lumbering concessions in Essequibo in 2000, decided not to continue with its planned investment after the Venezuelan government stated its objection to the Chinese government. In addition, an agreement for a considerable investment of hundreds of millions of US dollars by Beal Aerospace of Texas to set up a satellite launching station on the north coast of the Essequibo region faced strong opposition by Venezuela. The project was aborted in 2000 on the grounds that the planned project was no longer economically feasible. However, it was also clear that political pressure was exerted on the company by the Venezuelan government.

 (vi) From 2004 to 2014, political and economic cooperation improved between the two countries especially with the Venezuelan decision not to object to most foreign investments in western Essequibo, the implementation of the Petro-Caribe agreement and the sale of Guyana’s rice to Venezuela. In the period of the Chavez presidency, the territorial claim was downplayed by Venezuela and emphasis was placed on closer cooperation activities with Guyana.

 (vii) Venezuela’s military has also from time to time intruded into Guyana’s territorial and air and maritime space, and at least on one occasion a Venezuelan military unit enter Guyana’s territory and destroyed Guyanese mining property and equipment. Also, in another intrusion, a Guyanese man was shot dead.

 (viii) More recently, in 2013, a seismic survey ship contracted by Guyana was seized by the Venezuelan navy in Guyana’s waters in the Atlantic Ocean and held under arrest in Venezuela.

 (ix) Then in March 2015, Venezuela objected to an Exxon-Mobil oil rig drilling in Guyana’s continental shelf and making a frivolous claim to Guyana’s maritime space. And soon after Exxon-Mobil announced that it discovered a presence of huge quantities of hydrocarbon resources, the Venezuelan president issued a decree claiming sovereignty over almost all of Guyana’s continental shelf.



  1. Boundary disputes between nations tend to be long and bitter. Boundaries change through diplomatic, adjudicative or international institutional procedures or use of armed force. Solutions through peaceful means take time to be accepted and it is still a hope that settlements, once arrived at, are permanent and final. The present case is illustrative of the problem of settlement of international disputes. For nearly sixty years, in the nineteenth century, Britain and Venezuela wrangled over what was then referred to as the Anglo Venezuelan boundary dispute. The arbitration settlement reached in 1899 lasted just over another sixty years when the present controversy arose.


  1. Guyana’s position on the controversy arising out of the Venezuelan claim has been based entirely on the legal documentation pertaining to the issue, most importantly upon the award of the arbitration tribunal of 1899. Since the Protocol of Port of Spain lapsed in 1982, the Guyana government put into effect a concerted programme of action in order to provide an effective counter to Venezuelan multifaceted aggression. Its aim was to enlighten the domestic and international community as to the reality of the situation. In this regard, the government was able to mobilise public opinion at home by way of the media and by public meetings. At the international level, Guyana’s position has received strong statements of support from the Commonwealth Heads of Government, the Caricom group of countries, and from other friendly countries on an individual basis.


  1. Yet there are certain realities which pertain to the support which Guyana’s position has attracted. Despite the numerical size of the Commonwealth and Caricom groups, the response by those member states has been based upon the legal and moral principles related to the Venezuelan claim. It would seem as though there exists another perspective in other quarters, and that perspective is largely informed by the nuances of the issue in a hemispheric context.
  2. Within the Caribbean, Caricom countries are already supportive and the group’s resolutions prescribe collective support on issues of territorial integrity, despite the reservations and perceived domestic constraints of some member states. The Canadian position is synonymous with that of the Commonwealth. In effect, that leaves the Latin American countries and, of course, the United States of America, the central figure in terms of the application of pressure within the hemisphere.


  1. The preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity is, and will continue to be, central to the conduct of our foreign policy. Moreover, the territorial claims of Venezuela, in addition to that of Suriname, give a real determination in the evolution of that foreign policy. The strategy, therefore, is clear and unchanging — the maintenance of the land area acquired at independence. The supporting tactics then have to take account of the prevailing and changing circumstances. In the past, these have been substantially influenced by the degree of activation of the respective territorial claims from the two neighbouring claimants. Thus the initiatives have been less activist than responsive.
  2. The controversy arising out of the Venezuelan claims must not be regarded as a “dispute” since Guyana recognizes that the 1899 award gave a full, perfect and final settlement to the border dispute which existed up to that time. This full, perfect and final settlement of the arbitral award of 1899, accepted by all the parties, is now challenged by one. From the Guyana perspective, there is no dispute. Moreover, while there are no Guyanese counter-claims, Guyana appreciates that the historical evidence cannot rule out such claims in the future. Secondly, Guyana does not recognize any claim to its territory by Venezuela, but only agrees, according to the Geneva Agreement, that a controversy exists over the Venezuelan contention of the nullity of the award.
  3. The physical military disparities with Venezuela have been quite evident. This military preponderance of Venezuela, in addition to what appeared as a resource-rich economy, has posed a real threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity.
  4. Guyana’s economic problems put pressures on the expansion of its military. Despite this, Guyana’s demonstrated efforts to contain, or to neutralise the Venezuelan claims and threats, through its diplomatic achievement internationally, have been recognised. This diplomatic accomplishment ought not to lead Guyana to seek as a continuing tactic to “talk out” the so-called dispute, even though diplomacy may be the art of postponing decisions so as to avoid action. Some leading diplomats in the pre-1992 period were of the view that, as was the case of the Protocol of Port of Spain, Guyana should promote a breathing space, as opposed to the ultimate —a definitive settlement in the near future.


  1. Sustaining a diplomatic exercise exclusive to the boundary issue appears, in present circumstances, to be more to Venezuela’s advantage. Guyana must get back to the frontal and bilateral approach. The reasons for rejecting “negotiation” on the issue in the context of the Geneva Agreement should not be extended to “negotiation” as a means in the wider bilateral relationship. In actual fact, Venezuelan acts of political and economic aggression set in motion the balkanisation of Guyana threatening to sever its territorial compactness. In another thirty years or so, should Venezuela maintain this political and economic action, the centrifugal tendencies would be much stronger. Such tendencies will continue to hamper rapid economic progress in the western Essequibo, which is seen as one of the main objectives of Guyana’s western neighbour. Thus, to put undue pressure on Guyana, Venezuela, really, has no cause to reach any agreement on the boundary issue.


  1. Both Guyana and Venezuela have accepted a referral of the issue to the UN Secretary General of the United Nations, as dictated by Article 4(2) of the Geneva Agreement. By doing so, an equally interminable diplomatic process was opened. The Secretary General initiated the Good Offices process twenty-five years ago but this, to date, has not advanced the process of reaching a solution. The Secretary General, it can be assumed, at some indeterminable time, can proceed to recommend one or another of the means of pacific settlement prescribed in Article 33 of the United Nations Charter. He will do so until agreement or exhaustion of the means has been reached. It is likely that he will exclude initially the two means upon which disagreement has already been conceded: negotiation and judicial settlement, and may well begin by recommending “enquiry.” For the sake of argument, if the means of enquiry were accepted, implementation can well run into years before resolution or failure is reached. The parties may than be exhorted to move on to, say, mediation, which will open another long winded process. What then happens should all the means for pacific settlement fail to provide a solution? What should Guyana do to prevent this systematic erosion of its territorial integrity through even a sincere conformity with the Geneva Agreement? Guyana has to recognize that, on the one hand, it may not be exposed to a decisive and surgical disintegration of Guyana’s territorial unity through military action. On the other hand, the country may face an equally lethal process of disintegration through calculated encroachments into its territorial fabric and inducements to the people in the area and beyond. If Venezuelan politicians are shrewd enough, and there is no reason to be complacent about them, this is as viable an option to pursue and thus avoiding the grave risks of international censure for military escapade.
  2. The means for pursuing such an option can vary considerably. They will obviously follow the traditional pattern of diplomatic and, in particular, cultural, educational and social exchange. They are not, as noted earlier, exhaustive either by time or specifications. Continuity and variety are presumed; less traditional activities can also be pursued — some way of disabusing the Venezuelan obsession that Essequibo is Venezuelan. Wariness of Venezuelan type “joint development” will have to be presumed. In the pre-1992 period, there existed a strong view that some interim or short term accommodation must be sought so as to permit development in the Essequibo including the building of hydroelectric projects. This development, if eventually pursued, will certainly require international private or public investment, and will also enforce the valuable foreign policy support which can be termed “resource diplomacy.”
  3. It is well contended how minimal is the financial interest Guyana can actually channel into real diplomatic support. The international support which Guyana has cultivated so far is based essentially on principle and admiration for a small, developing country charting its own path towards economic development. But principle and admiration cannot forever keep an aggressor nation at bay. Guyana should not overlook or underestimate the effectiveness of the considerable respect and admiration for Venezuela in international and, particularly in third world circles, despite the land grabbing predilection. It will be recalled, that in spite of Venezuela’s prominent support in 1982 for Argentina on the Malvinas (Falklands) issue, British financial circles readily sought to assist Venezuela in its economic and financial problems. The solidarity of British financial interest and investment in Venezuela was a determining factor in providing economic support, rather than the memory of Venezuela’s political and diplomatic support for Argentina. Generally, contrary to most early predictions, there was also far less political fall out between the United Kingdom and Latin America in the post Malvinas period and the situation.

Actually, the Guyana government of that period understood the British economic position vis-à-vis Venezuela. Interestingly, when the war over the Malvinas (Falklands) broke out, the Guyana government expressed strong support for the United Kingdom, but on March 1, 1985, President Forbes Burnham in an interview published in the Venezuelan newspaper, El Nacional, stated a changed position: “In Lima, Peru, I think it was in 1975, at a meeting of Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers, we supported the right of ownership that Argentina had to the Falkland Islands. And that position, we have retained. When the war between Britain and Argentina took place . . ., our position was that we opposed Argentina’s using force. That is all. Subsequently, when the matter came up for discussion in the United Nations General Assembly, Britain was flabbergasted to find that we were on the side of Argentina’s right. You must distinguish between the right and attempts to exercise that right by force.”

  1. Overall, the preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity in the face of a real threat, though with changing dimensions, will remain the supreme national interest in the foreseeable future.
  2. At the end of 2014, the Guyana government stated that it was no longer interested in the continuation of the UN Good Offices process since it has proven to be unproductive and indicated it would propose to the Secretary General that the issue should be presented to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On the other hand, Venezuela wants a continuation of the Good Offices process and does not support recourse to the ICJ. (However, the Guyana government has to bear in mind that the onus is on Venezuela to present its case of the nullity of the 1899 award to an international court. In reality, Guyana does not have to do so since it maintains that the border dispute was already settled in 1899; that the award is legally binding; and that it does not recognise any territorial claim to any part of its sovereign territory.)


  1. The fundamental aspects affecting the Guyana-Venezuela relationship can be placed in two categories — negative and positive from the Guyana standpoint. There are three negative factors:


(i) It should be considered obvious that Guyana would find it difficult to stand up to the economic and military potential of Venezuela without external support. Venezuela is the sixth largest country in South America in area and fifth in terms of population. It has enormous natural resources. In petroleum, it is estimated that the reserves total 700 billion barrels, with the total proven being 297 billion barrels. A significant part of the petroleum resources are in the states near or bordering the Essequibo, e.g., in the Orinoco basin, Monagas, Guarico and Anzoategui. Also in the border states are iron ore deposits, 60 percent pure, estimated at 1,800,000 tons; gold, gems, diamonds and various minerals such as manganese, nickel, vanadium, chrome, lead, zinc, copper, bauxite, phosphate and asbestos. In addition, the Orinoco and its tributaries possess massive hydroelectric resources, with the Caroni potential being 10.5 million kilowatts.

(ii) Guyana has virtually no guarantors to defend its territorial integrity. Guyana’s historic allies (in the Caribbean) are small and some distance from the possible battlefield, or (in Africa and Asia) too far away. Representatives of a number of great power countries participated in the arbitration settlement but this does not by itself bind those countries to guarantee the settlement after it was challenged by Venezuela. Venezuela on the other hand has an advantage because of its early start in national self determination from the 1820s to build solidarity with other Latin American countries under the Inter American system, the OAS and, specifically, the Inter American Treaty for Reciprocal Assistance.

(iii) The socio economic situation in each country has all the ingredients for misunderstanding and conflict. There is a clash of culture and ideology, which finds expression both in the highest institutions of Venezuelan political life and in the official relations with Guyana. The lack of contact and empathy between the two peoples, partly the result of the policy of the former colonial powers, accentuates the difficulties in cooperation. It must also be understood that Latin, hence Venezuelan, emotionalism about “patria” represents an important factor in Latin conceptualizations about nationhood. Thus the continued existence of economic problems always presents an opportunity to the Venezuelan government to resort to the traditional ploy of seeking external issues that evoke emotional patriotism to divert attention from domestic pressures.

  1. On the positive side there are also three factors which favour Guyana directly or obstruct an aggressive Venezuela in pursuit of its claim through violence:

(i) There is the ecological determinant of the land area under claim. The nature of the terrain, comprising dense tropical forests and the closeness and steepness of the hills and mountains and the un-navigable rivers, impeded European colonial settlement from the seventeenth century onwards. It would certainly be a fundamental deterrent to an invader from the west.

(ii) This first consideration leads to the second positive element in the type of war chosen by the aggressor — air, sea or land. The invader could conceivably land forces and control some areas, but unlike Ankoko, he would be operating far from base, without assured means of communication and supply.

(iii) The third factor in Guyana’s favour is the question of possession. Guyana is in the eyes of the international community in legal and political control of the area under claim. The status quo power is to Guyana’s advantage. Guyana can contend that the affair has long been settled, that there is no border dispute, and what Guyanese are engaged on is the pursuit of a policy of stability and defense. Guyana may need to defend its views only when attacks, either verbal or written, are made.


  1. The policy Guyana may wish to pursue in dealing with the Venezuelan threat may be set out in the following long term and short term objectives.

The long term objectives are:

  1. a) The security of the borders devolved to the new state at the time of independence, and internationally recognised;
  2. b) The achievement of a final settlement of the dispute with Venezuela.

The short term objectives are:

  1. a) The maintenance of the territorial status quo pending the resolution of the problem;
  2. b) The elimination of the immediate threat to the security and territorial integrity of Guyana;
  3. c) Bringing an end to the continued military, economic, political and diplomatic harassment of Guyana — the armed incursions, airspace and marine violations, subversion and interference with the country’s economic development;
  4. d) Securing the withdrawal of the Venezuelan military forces from the Guyana section of Ankoko Island, illegally occupied since 1966.


  1. Over the years Guyana has achieved a remarkable degree of success in its diplomatic efforts regarding the border issue with Venezuela. As a result of these efforts Guyana has been able to secure the outright support for the preservation of its territorial integrity from many of its foreign friends. There are still others who would like to see the matter resolved peacefully through negotiation. China falls in this category, obviously as a result of its own border problems with Russia and India. The response of the international community and perhaps also the outcome of the Malvinas war in the early 1980s have, without doubt, served as a restraining influence upon Venezuela not to pursue a military option.
  2. Guyana must continue efforts at closer cooperation with Brazil and Columbia, and to counteract Venezuelan efforts to “purchase” the sympathy of some Caricom countries. Guyana also has to pursue its relationship with the United States government in a manner designed to encourage it to pressure Venezuela to accept the finality of the 1899 award.
  3. Another important factor that will contribute to Guyana’s policy calculations is the fact that so far, any new President of Venezuela is bound to a strongly nationalist posture and, consequently, is tied to a hard line position against Guyana in any future negotiations. Guyana has had overall success of its policies over the years in weakening the position of Venezuela internationally. This has created greater doubts in the minds of the Venezuelan government about its ability to pursue a successful claim to Guyana’s territory. Such a situation can lead a Venezuelan President, who had taken a strong position in his election campaign, to adopt a posture of proud national obstinacy to accept as a peaceful settlement nothing less than all of Guyana’s territory under claim.
  4. The resulting impasse (as the search for a “practical” settlement in Venezuelan terms is frustrated) can only serve to heighten tensions, particularly within a restive society as Venezuela appears to becoming. This restiveness is apparently being transmitted to the military which has a strong influence on the Venezuelan government.
  5. On the other hand, the optimist can see positive signs leading to a real improvement in Guyana’s relations with Venezuela. There appears to be a general feeling of satisfaction in Venezuela that the choice of means of peaceful settlement, within the context of the Geneva Agreement, is now in the hands of the UN Secretary General. Despite this, a great proportion of the population seemed to have “forgotten” this fact, and easily fall prey to politicians’ demands for Venezuela to seize the western Essequibo by military force. Such a position goes against the grain of their government’s agreement to put the matter into the hands of the UN Secretary General.
  6. With these developments, a vacuum is being created which could be filled in the course of normal bilateral relations with positive or negative actions. Guyana must step up the process of active bilateral cooperation.
  7. Guyana must also work to influence opinion in Venezuela itself for the withdrawal of the claim to western Essequibo. Some media reports from Venezuela indicate that the Venezuelan government has reservations that it can ever achieve what it is claiming. The late President Hugo Chavez himself has stated that a “practical settlement” means obtaining at least a part of the territory. He also admitted that the border issue was raised in 1962 as part of the “imperialist” plan to remove the pro-socialist government of Guyana of that period.


  1. The suggestions and recommendations, given below, though essentially of an economic nature, nevertheless have an ultimate political dimension. Furthermore while the implementation of any or all of them would not guarantee the preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity, it is believed that the overall effect would be to dissuade or restrain any precipitate action by Venezuela.
  2. At the moment, the Essequibo region is a large sprawling area mostly undeveloped and sparsely populated. It is suggested therefore that the Guyana government, as a matter of policy should give a high priority to the development of the region. This includes the relocation of people from the urban areas for their direct involvement in agriculture and industry in the interior. At the same time resource diplomacy should be actually pursued to encourage mineral exploration, forestry and agricultural development particularly through joint ventures with foreign governments and companies.


  1. Because of the sheer size of the area being dealt with, government programmes for large-scale development would obviously have to be of a long-term nature. Furthermore, it is accepted that many of the infrastructural works large scale development would ultimately require to be executed by government agencies, would now be beyond the financial reach of the government.
  2. In the circumstances the following suggestions are made:

(a) The preparation and implementation of a comprehensive economic development plan for western Essequibo must be regarded as a priority. Implementation of this strategy is urgent and vital for the long term security of western Essequibo. Numerous media reports, many originating in Venezuela from time to time, refer to the area as uninhabited jungle tracks or no man’s land. While this may be a characteristic feature of other South American border and territorial disputes — a factor which prompts the original claims — the record of development in the area should be publicised. Nevertheless, it can be asserted that if western Essequibo were fully settled and developed with a larger population, the outrageous claim would not have been made. Emphasis should be given in the plan to establish sites adjacent to the actual Guyana Venezuela boundary and especially the North West District, the area strategically controlling the Orinoco Basin. At the same time, a policy to “humanise” the frontier areas, through land development schemes, should be drafted and implemented. Such settlements will promote security and also provide logistic support, including food supplies, to Guyana’s military forces. While the government encourages more civilian settlements in the frontier area, it must, at the same time, seek to upgrade the quality of life in the border areas since it is necessary to demonstrate to the local population that loyalty to Guyana is also to their personal advantage, and that a better life is attainable in Guyana. Consideration should be given to attracting skilled immigrants into this area. Re-migrants should also be granted lucrative packages to settle in this area.

(b) It is highly recommended that priority should be given to Guyana-Brazil road project, i.e., from Lethem to Georgetown. This international highway once completed, would hold great economic and political significance to the territorial claim. The political benefits to Guyana would be substantial. The major regional power, Brazil, which participates in its construction, would insure its safety and that of the surrounding territory from attack. The highway would help strengthen Guyana’s title to the Essequibo, thereby further minimising Venezuela’s chances to appropriate it.

(c) Guyana must continue to promote, on a selective basis, foreign investment in resource development in western Essequibo.

(d) The government should actively encourage the private sector to get involved in agriculture and other industries in the area. The government itself should seek joint ventures with foreign firms to exploit the vast resources in the area. The size of holdings in the area should be large enough to make them attractive to the private sector and to persons who would have had some training already in agricultural and other skills. Leases should be for a minimum of twenty-five years with the usual provision about beneficial occupation.

(e) To make the foregoing idea attractive to both the local and foreign entrepreneurs, consideration should be given to making a part, if not the whole area, a special economic zone. Within such a zone, entrepreneurs would be given special tax concessions and foreign currency facilities and special concessions for the use of state lands, etc., on condition that the greater part of what is produced would be for export.

(f) Information materials on Guyana should be published in international trade and industry journals inviting foreign participation in the development of the western Essequibo in particular.

  1. The idea of making the Essequibo region or part of it an economic zone with special investment and other benefits would call for a detailed study by Guyana’s economic, sociological and other experts. But it is believed that these schemes, if well coordinated and supervised by a competent regional administration, would have almost unlimited possibilities in the long term and a number of immediate (short term) advantages. Among these are:

(i) An attractive investment climate would induce the expansion and development of industries which are already operating in the region (timber, mining, quarrying, etc.). It would attract new investment.

(ii) There would be new and increased opportunities for employment which would ease the unemployment situation in urban areas.

(iii) There would be a gradual but definite improvement of the national economy.

(iv) Populating and developing the area would signal Guyana’s determination to hold on to territory which is traditionally and legally Guyanese.


  1. Current steps being taken to reduce tensions with Venezuela should be continued and the joint commissions must step up their work.
  2. It was no surprise that, when the border controversy was about to be submitted the UN Secretary General, Venezuela rejected judicial procedures for settlement. In making the proposal, Guyana applied an excellent tactic to force Venezuela to retreat from its age long preference for negotiations and to thus implicitly admit publicly that there is no legal justification for its claim. This move revealed the gaps in Venezuela’s decision-making armoury and the incoherence of its foreign policy approach. The point must be stressed that the UN Secretary General is not a mediator and that his role is essentially that of an intermediary for the selection of settlement procedures.
  3. Guyana must also take steps to deter and persuade hostile elements in the Venezuelan military from pursuing the course of threats and harassment. The strategy of deterrence could be examined from both political and psychological viewpoints. The former would involve preparation for any military action, by the assembly of a strong defensive military capability. The classic idea of this strategy is to pose to the potential aggressor heavy material costs and damage far outweighing the advantage he would secure if the act of aggression is successful. If military threats are made against Guyana, consideration may be given to strengthen national military and paramilitary forces with Commonwealth or United Nations peace-making forces.


  1. The psychological aspect of deterrence constitutes making use of the international media to serve the national objective. It should be noted that international public relations is a highly specialist function. It is an area in which professional formation of Guyanese personnel should be developed. In the 1980s, the Venezuelan claim earned wide publicity at a time when there were severe international crises. However, the press coverage generally showed a bias against Guyana. Mention was made of western Essequibo as a chunk of jungle or “no man’s land” inhabited by a handful of Amerindians. Venezuela was described as the oil rich state without economic problems, and Guyana as poor and impoverished with either a tiny defence force or utterly defenceless. One writer claimed that Venezuela was the wronged party because that country had no say in the establishment of the rules of the Paris arbitration tribunal. With respect to the Protocol of Port of Spain, he suggested, inter alia, “if Venezuela agreed to a twelve year moratorium it must mean that Venezuela has not been unreasonable or it would not have agreed to it in the first place.”
  2. From a Venezuelan philosophical perspective, much play has been made of Bolivar’s thoughts on Latin American solidarity and integration, and the Venezuelan government’s toleration of Amerindians, as if these ideas are not applicable to Guyana. Guyana’s population is rated a minority in Latin America, with no challenge to the Bolivarian brotherhood.


  1. The use of diplomacy to achieve the desired objective of a lasting solution is as complex as the issue itself. It is indeed a challenge both to the policy planner and to the decision maker. The international situation, which influences national policy and is itself affected by such policy/decisions, does not remain constant and is always in a state of flux. Making assessments on a politically volatile country such as Venezuela is not an easy task. However one with great trepidation may deduce some of the factors influencing Venezuelan thinking and attempt to arrive at some conclusions.
  2. There is also another important factor: the growing influence of Venezuela in OPEC. With this is mind, Guyana must work to influence OPEC states to support its position. Continuing Guyana’s diplomacy among Arab states, particularly within the ambit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is therefore a prime necessity. This has been done, especially from 1997, but it must be stepped up especially at this time.
  3. Guyana’s diplomatic options are significant. For instance at the bilateral level, Brazil will continue to be supportive of Guyana’s efforts to preserve peace and stability in the region. Important Latin American countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Peru should have no difficulty in the maintenance of the territorial status quo. In the Caribbean, Guyana can continue to count on the understanding and solidarity of Guyana’s Caricom partners. While continuing to work within the OAS, Guyana must increase its role in the Association of Caribbean States, the Treaty of Amazonian Cooperation, the Rio Group and UNASUR.
  4. Guyana must also continue consolidating its support. In this regard, it should work to ensure that those nations and international and regional organs that traditionally provide support continue to do so. Guyana must approach the British government to be more pro-active in the issue, since it is also a party to the 1899 arbitral award and the Geneva Agreement. Certain countries of Africa and Asia could be considered Guyana’s natural allies and the Guyana government should keep them fully informed at all times. Countries like Cuba which have given support firmly and publicly in the past, should not be allowed to slide into a neutral stance. Guyana should ensure that Cuba continues to give clear support as in the past. However, it must be borne in mind that with the current close Venezuela-Cuba alliance, Cuba may want to “soften” its support for the Guyana position.
  5. At the regional level, Guyana’s diplomatic efforts must continue in order to seek agreement for the establishment of a Zone of Peace in the Caribbean and of strengthening the operative aspects of the Treaty for Amazonian Cooperation.
  6. At the international level, Guyana should continue the briefing and publicity campaigns at the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Group of 77, the Association of Caribbean States, the Commonwealth and directly to the members of the Non Aligned Movement. In Europe, borders of nation states have changed with each European war down to the present day; the support of European countries in Guyana’s case would add an important dimension in the territorial controversy.
  7. At the UN General Assembly, Guyana must ensure that all member-states understand and support Guyana’s position. Guyana must also continue to support all issues dealing with peaceful settlements of disputes and non-use of force and the prohibition of the occupation of territory by force as in the case of (i) Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territory, and (ii) the division of Cyprus.
  8. Guyana must deepen a dialogue with the United States of America and the Latin American states. In this respect, the following areas must be considered for emphasis:

(a) The initiation of a comprehensive dialogue with the USA

It must be borne in mind that it was the United States that took the side of Venezuela in 1895 and eventually forced both Venezuela and Great Britain to agree to arbitration. The award of 1899 could therefore be regarded as a victory for US diplomacy. Guyana must, in its diplomatic communication with the United States authorities, urge that government’s influence on Venezuela to withdraw its claim to Guyana’s territory. At the same time, Guyana should request the United States to declare its unqualified support for respect for international treaties and the sanctity of borders.

Currently, in the eyes of the USA, the Venezuelan claim and aggressive attitude towards Guyana does not constitute a threat to the peace and security of the region, but the narco-production and trafficking in Latin America, the guerrilla activities in Colombia, and also the current Venezuela-Cuba alliance do.

It seems, therefore, that initiatives can be undertaken at an official level to seek a dialogue with US administration officials. If Guyana is not able to convince the American government of the validity of the Guyana position, then at least the American government can be made aware that its “legitimate” security concerns and strategy in the region run the risk of heightening tensions at other regional levels. Such tensions can foster among smaller regional states the very insecurity which the US strives to avoid. There exist in the hemisphere numerous bilateral boundary problems, and the US should not be insensitive to such a demarche, especially when articulated against the background its own close relations with Caricom. It must be emphasised to US officials that Guyana’s economic development is being directly frustrated by Venezuelan aggressive activities manifested in international economic for a — activities which run directly counter to the American plan to promote economic growth in the Caribbean Basin.

Apart from speaking with the US administration officials, conversations must be initiated with influential members of the US Congress, especially with committee members dealing with the Western Hemisphere, and with those who frame public opinion in the USA.

(b) Maintenance of very good relations with Brazil

Brazil once attracted the hostility of Venezuela. The position is now changed and there are now cordial relations including economic cooperation between the two states. There are some basic factors that will influence Brazil to support Guyana:

(1) Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in the mostly Spanish-speaking Latin America and must therefore, as the odd nation out, cultivate links with English-speaking territories including Guyana.

(2) Brazil has borders with most countries in South America. Many of these have not been fully defined, and the eruption of a border conflict (such as between Guyana and Venezuela) could lead to the eruption of other border conflicts which would affect that country.

(3) Brazil, in terms of size, is now the largest industrial power in Latin America and would not wish to be challenged by an enlarged Venezuela.

(4) Guyana provides a bridgehead for the Caribbean markets and easy access to Roraima State. Brazil actively seeks cooperation with Guyana to assure its accessibility to port facilities on the Guyana coast.

(5) Guyana and Brazil have implemented a bilateral free-trade agreement.

(c) Regular high level contacts with Caricom

High level contacts and information sharing with Caricom Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers will help their citizens to have an innate understanding of Guyana’s border problems. Guyana should also maintain close coordination with Belize, as any concession by Belize to Guatemala could adversely affect the Guyanese position.

It seems that work will have to be continued to further improve Guyana’s image in the English speaking Caribbean countries. Their support for Guyana’s cause has been firm, but this must not be taken for granted. Perhaps the time is opportune to establish a permanent presence in the Eastern Caribbean. Guyana could perhaps upgrade its representation in Trinidad and Tobago from where Barbados, Grenada and the other islands could also be serviced. In the absence of a high-level permanent presence in the region, it would be useful if Guyana appoints a resident ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean to promote and maintain closer ties.

(d) A deepening of the rapprochement process with Suriname

A settlement of Guyana’s maritime boundary with Suriname has effectively removed a huge impediment to its economic development thus reducing the diplomatic pressure on its eastern flank. However, Suriname continues to claim the New River Triangle, but Guyana must assert its ownership to the area not only by a military presence but by civilian settlement. The settlement of the maritime dispute with Suriname has provided a psychological boost for Guyana as it continues to deal with Venezuela, and hopefully this can encourage international pressure on Venezuela to withdraw its claim.

(e) Strengthening relations with specific Latin American countries

Guyana must expand and strengthen relations with Colombia not only for trade but because of that country’s border problems with Venezuela. In addition, there must be an ongoing dialogue and strengthening of relations with Mexico, which has provided strong support for Belize over the years.


  1. Through the effective means of the Internet, information on Guyana position on the border controversy can be effectively disseminated all over the world. At the same time an effective education campaign in Guyana must be carried out, as part of the school curriculum, to inform young Guyanese of the history of the country’s borders. Such education should also embrace the tertiary educational institutions, offices and industrial establishments. Well-produced radio and television programmes can supplement such an activity. Printed, audio and video resources must be prepared and readily available.
  2. Since the Guyana government wants its information to be readily available abroad, efforts must be made to extend the range of radio transmitters to enable broadcasts to reach out into the Caribbean. The expansion of Internet radio and television streaming, with an emphasis on providing information worldwide in an instant, should be seen as a priority.
  3. It is imperative that Guyana implements a deliberate, planned public relations programme overseas to win friends and influence people through the projection of a positive and favourable image of Guyana.
  4. Implicit in all of the above, the promotion of national unity must be seen as a cohesive force for strategy support and tactics implementation. Regular and constructive consultations between the government and the opposition, as well as with organizations representing civil society, will be a necessity.


  1. This compilation presents some strategies for the preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity through the economic development of western Essequibo, the establishment of a form of deterrent capability by highlighting Venezuela’s acts of aggression in the international media, and diplomatic initiatives especially in hemispheric and in international institutions. It is also recommended that efforts should be made for a steady improvement in Guyana’s relations with Venezuela.
  2. The preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity is not a process to be viewed in isolation. It is part of a higher duty towards national unity through patriotism and other more tangible elements of nation building. There is, without doubt, the need for continued vigilance; but no nation can sustain a perpetual state of overt alertness. However, as the strategy is being applied, the government has the duty to commit its energies completely to frustrate Venezuela’s efforts in its unjust claims to Guyana’s sovereign territory.


  1. Arbitration becomes a viable option if we go to the source of the territorial dispute. That would be the attitude of the United Kingdom during the discussions of the modalities for Guyana’s independence. The issue of the latest Venezuelan decree on May 26 is significant. The government of the United Kingdom has to be actively involved in any mechanism or judicial processes to resolve this claim to Guyana’s territorial waters. The Venezuelan land claim is aproxy to the territorial waters that are the principal focus of the Venezuelans.
    Dr.M.Garnet James.

    correction….’ a proxy’

    Milton James

  2. Guyana needs to go to international arbitration that has the capability of making a monetary award for the cost of fighting the frivolous claims of the ex-bus driver and his henchmen. For a “man of the people” he is showing little respect for his neighbours and is acting like a despot. He needs to be brought down to earth with a large cash settlement awarded in favor of Guyana and the issue put to bed with a heartfelt apology from Venezuela. It is indeed a reckless policy to try a land grab in this day and age and both Brazil and the USA would be solidly opposed. Poor old Venezuelanos would not know what hit them and they have enough troubles as it is.

  3. A very constructive and laudable analysis that highlights his diplomatic skills that the government can employ in dealing with the situation.. he has the Credibility, and the professional acumen to be part of any team that will engage in the settlement of this dispute. This was indeed a brilliant piece of work.


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