Venezuela Table of Contents
These two neighbors shared many points in common. Both were large South American states with security concerns that encompassed the Caribbean area as well. Both have functioned under representative democratic systems for decades. Associated under the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of New Granada, both nations could point to Bolívar as their liberator (see Spanish Colonial Life , ch. 1). The disparities between Venezuela and Colombia, however, have contributed to a fluctuating undercurrent of tension over the years.
The most visible irritant in the relationship was the dispute over the boundary demarcation in the Golfo de Venezuela (Golfo de Guajira as the Colombian refer to it as--see fig. 9). The roots of the boundary maritime issue stretch back to colonial times. The borders of the nations that emerged from the wars for independence were not clearly defined. As these nations grew, disputes became unavoidable. In 1881 Venezuela and Colombia appealed to King Alfonso XII of Spain to arbitrate their conflicting claims. Venezuela rejected the eventual 1891 arbitration decision because of a disagreement over the location of the source of the Río Oro. Fifty years later, the two nations signed a treaty that defined the border along the Península de la Guajira. This 1941 treaty, however, has been criticized by many Venezuelans for granting too much territory to Colombia. This attitude has hardened the stance of the armed forces with regard to the Golfo de Venezuela; it has also rendered more tentative the attempts of subsequent governments to negotiate the boundary in the gulf. Moreover, the development of oil resources in the area and the expectation of further expansion also raised the stakes involved in a potential resolution.
After an abortive effort in the early 1970s and an adamant refusal by Venezuela to submit the dispute to international arbitration, the two governments announced in 1981 a draft treaty designated the Hypothesis of Caraballeda. When President Luis Herrera Campins's foreign minister presented the draft to representatives of the officer corps, however, he received an extremely negative reaction. Opposition to the treaty quickly spread, forcing the government to withdraw from further negotiations with the Colombians. There have been no formal talks dedicated to the maritime boundary since that time.
In the mid- to late 1980s, Caracas and Bogotá rose above their diplomatic failure on the boundary issue to effect greater cooperation on security issues. In January 1988, the interior ministers of both countries met in the Venezuelan border town of San Antonio de Táchira. The meeting produced an agreement to increase the military presence on both sides of the border and to expand cooperation in such areas as counternarcotics and counterinsurgency. The movement toward cooperation grew out of a shared realization that Colombia's internal security problems-- namely drug trafficking and insurgency--were spilling over the border. On several occasions in the late 1980s, Colombian guerrillas attacked posts manned by the Venezuelan Armed Forces of Cooperation (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperación--Fac)--also known as the National Guard. Drug trafficking activity, always attended by increased levels of violence, also picked up.
Venezuelans generally have tended to view Colombia as a violent and unstable country whose problems and people washed over the border into more peaceful and prosperous Venezuela. News of attacks on border posts, kidnappings of wealthy Venezuelan ranchers by Colombian guerrillas, and drug seizures during transshipment have reinforced this conception. Another issue, Colombian undocumentados (undoumented or illegal aliens), underscored for Venezuelans the disparities in both internal security and economic development between themselves and their neighbors. Estimates of the number of illegal Colombians in Venezuela varied, but most ran in the hundreds of thousands (see Migration , ch. 2). Although some Venezuelans saw Colombians as a threat to law and order, their major impact was economic. During the boom years of the Venezuelan oil economy, the Colombian immigration issue constituted a minor irritant. As the economy constricted during the 1980s, however, Venezuelans grew more resentful of the Colombian presence. Nevertheless, it was highly unlikely that this problem, even in combination with the Golfo de Venezuela dispute, would provoke active hostilities between the two countries.
Data as of December 1990
Venezuela Table of Contents