ORIGINS OF THE BORDER DISPUTE WITH VENEZUELA
When Britain gained formal control over what is now Guyana in
1814, it also became involved in one of Latin America's most
persistent border disputes. At the London Convention of 1814, the
Dutch surrendered the United Colony of Demerara and Essequibo and
Berbice to the British. Although Spain still claimed the region,
the Spanish did not contest the treaty because they were
preoccupied with their own colonies' struggles for independence. In
1835 the British government asked German explorer Robert Hermann
Schomburgk to map British Guiana and mark its boundaries. As
ordered by the British authorities, Schomburgk began British
Guiana's western boundary with Venezuela at the mouth of the
Orinoco River. A map of the British colony was published in 1840.
Venezuela protested, claiming the entire area west of the Essequibo
River. Negotiations between Britain and Venezuela over the boundary
began, but the two nations could reach no compromise. In 1850 both
agreed not to occupy the disputed zone.
The discovery of gold in the contested area in the late 1850s
reignited the dispute. British settlers moved into the region and
the British Guiana Mining Company was formed to mine the deposits.
Over the years, Venezuela made repeated protests and proposed
arbitration, but the British government was uninterested. Venezuela
finally broke diplomatic relations with Britain in 1887 and
appealed to the United States for help. The British at first
rebuffed the United States government's suggestion of arbitration,
but when President Grover Cleveland threatened to intervene
according to the Monroe Doctrine, Britain agreed to let an
international tribunal arbitrate the boundary in 1897.
For two years, the tribunal consisting of two Britons, two
Americans, and a Russian studied the case. Their three-to-two
decision, handed down in 1899, awarded 94 percent of the disputed
territory to British Guiana. Venezuela received only the mouth of
the Orinoco River and a short stretch of the Atlantic coastline
just to the east. Although Venezuela was unhappy with the decision,
a commission surveyed a new border in accordance with the award,
and both sides accepted the boundary in 1905. The issue was
considered settled for the next half-century
(see Relations with Venezuela
, ch. 4;
, ch. 5).
Data as of January 1992