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Guyana-Venezuela Dispute

During the 1800s, Venezuela and British Guiana both laid claim to a large tract (five-eighths of present-day Guyana) between the Essequibo River and the mouth of the Orinoco River (see Origins of the Border Dispute with Venezuela , ch. 1). In 1899 a court of arbitration awarded more than 90 percent of the disputed area to British Guiana, and the matter appeared to be settled. In the early 1960s, however, Venezuela reasserted its claim to the disputed territory (see Relations with Venezuela , ch. 4). In 1966 a commission was established to negotiate a settlement, but border incidents repeatedly interrupted its work. On October 12, 1966, Guyana discovered that Venezuelan military and civilian personnel had occupied the Guyanese half of Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River. The Venezuelans had begun developing an airfield and mining facilities on the island. Prime Minister Burnham protested the occupation and demanded Venezuela's complete withdrawal and the removal of the facilities. Dismissing the protest, Venezuela countercharged that Ankoko Island had always been Venezuelan territory. With Guyana unable to force a Venezuelan withdrawal, Ankoko Island remained occupied, and sporadic gunfire was exchanged by between Guyanese and Venezuelan military outposts.

The Ankoko Island incident was followed in July 1968 by Venezuela's extension of its territorial waters to twelve nautical miles off its coast including the disputed region. Because Guyana claimed only a three-nautical-mile limit, Venezuela's decree in effect established a claim over coastal waters from three to twelve nautical miles off Guyana's western coast. Guyana immediately condemned the Venezuelan decree, and Britain voiced its concern to the Venezuelan ambassador in London. Political sparring continued for six months until the incident was overshadowed by new events.

On January 4, 1969, Prime Minister Burnham reported that disturbances had occurred in the Rupununi region of southern Guyana. The historically independent-minded ranchers of the Rupununi's savannahs had unsuccessfully attempted a secessionist revolt. The police station in Lethem, the major government post in the region, had been attacked on January 2. Four policemen and one civilian employee of the police had been killed. The insurgents then seized and blocked most area airstrips. The airstrip at Manari, eight kilometers from Lethem, was left open, apparently for the insurgents' own use. Responding quickly, the Guyanese government flew police and GDF forces to Manari. Surprised by the rapid government action, the insurgents fled to Venezuela and order was restored.

The Guyanese government charged that a captured insurgent claimed the ranchers had developed a plan in December 1968 to create a separate state with Venezuelan aid. Venezuela allegedly transported the insurgents to and from training camps in Venezuela.

After Guyana put down the rebellion, the insurgents took refuge in Venezuelan border towns. Venezuela denied any wrongdoing and declared the insurgents Venezuelan citizens because they had inhabited land claimed by Venezuela. The new citizens were promised land and jobs by the Venezuelan government. Guyana bitterly protested the Venezuelan actions.

The troubled peace along the border was again shattered in February 1970 when Guyanese and Venezuelan forces skirmished for several days. Machine guns and mortars were used during the three days of fighting, which involved Venezuelan troops on Ankoko Island and Guyanese troops at a nearby outpost. On March 3, Venezuela closed the border.

Throughout the troubled period, the border commission had continued to meet. The commission's four-year term expired in early 1970 with the dispute unresolved. Nonetheless, on June 18, 1970, the governments of Venezuela, Britain, and Guyana signed the Protocol of Port-of-Spain. This protocol, which supplemented the 1899 agreement, placed a twelve-year moratorium on the border dispute. The protocol provided for continued discussions, a suspension of territorial claims, and automatic renewal of the protocol if it remained uncontested after the twelve years. In 1981 Venezuela announced that it would not renew the protocol.

Relations between Guyana and Venezuela slowly improved throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In October 1990, the GDF and the Venezuelan Army signed a protocol establishing the framework for improved relations. The protocol covered cooperation in training, sports, and culture, and would remain in force for an indefinite period. The document was a revision of a protocol signed in the 1980s and created a context for future discussions. Protocol signatories were the GDF's acting chief of staff, Brigadier Joe Singh, and Venezuelan army commander Carlos Peņaloza.

Data as of January 1992

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