The referendum in Venezuela

Carla Barchini, Fragile, Mixed technique on wood, 106 x 156 cm, 2018


On Sunday, December 3, more than 10 million Venezuelans voted affirmatively in the Consultative Referendum for which they were called.

The reason? Reaffirm Venezuela's historic claim over a territory, Esequibo, which was part of its borders when it declared its independence from Spain.

A court set up by England and the USA decided in 1899 that this territory should pass into the hands of the former British Guiana, a historical fraud on which its heirs in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana have been relying so as not to seek a peaceful and negotiated resolution of this historical spoilage.

So that inside and outside Venezuela the political and historical causes of this controversy can be understood, we will summarize here some 200 years of history, using several of the arguments with which the Venezuelan people were made aware and invited to vote.

Article 71 of the Venezuelan Constitution is very clear: “Matters of special national importance may be submitted to a consultative referendum”.

Why is the referendum on December 3rd so special? Because the people of Venezuela were called to reaffirm that the territory located to the left of the Esequibo River (marked in red) has belonged to them since their independence in 1811. We are talking about an area of ​​159.542 km² with incalculable riches that the current Cooperative Republic of Guyana ( former English colony purchased from the Dutch), intends to steal from Venezuela with support from the USA through the oil company Exxon Mobil.

The map in green is that of the Captaincy General of Venezuela created in 1777 by the Spanish crown. As you can see, the aforementioned map unequivocally includes the Esequibo territory. When declaring its independence on July 5, 1811, the territory of the new republic of Venezuela that was born became the same as that of that captaincy in accordance with the international legal precept of uti possidetis iuris, which “(…) recognizes and accepts as international borders, at the date of colonial succession, both the old administrative delimitations established within the same colonial empire and the borders already established between colonies belonging to two different colonial empires”.

Luckily, the historical truth, beyond indisputable legal interpretations, manages to be stubbornly more precise. The so-called “Gran Colombia”, which united the current republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela, was created in 1819, first joining New Granada (Colombia) and Venezuela. Its first Constitution, the so-called “Fundamental Law of the Union of the Peoples of Colombia” of August 30, 1821, clearly states: “The territory of Colombia is the same as that which comprised the former viceroyalty of New Granada and the Captaincy General of Venezuela.”

In 1823, being already integrated by the four countries mentioned above or their territorial equivalents, Gran Colombia approved the Organic Law for the creation of its Navy, in which Article 1 reads, in all letters: “The maritime limits of the Republic of Colombia are in the Atlantic Sea to the east the mouth of the Esequibo River which divides it from Dutch Guiana, and to the west that of the Culebras River which separates it from Nicaragua, and in the Pacific to the North the tip of Punica which divides it from Guatemala, and to the south the mouth of the Tumbes River into the sea that separates it from Peru."

In 1824, England recognized the government of Gran Colombia without questioning even one millimeter of its territorial limits. From this time until the territorial dispossession in 1899, there was no real fact that explained or “justified” this theft. For example, it is known that Bolivia unfairly lost its access to the Pacific Ocean when it faced Chile in the so-called War of the Pacific (1879-1883). In Venezuela, absolutely nothing even remotely similar happened. The attempt to steal this territory materialized through legal fraud.

Already in 1822, shortly before England recognized the State of Gran Colombia and its borders, the Foreign Minister, José Rafael Revenga, on instructions from Bolívar, had to protest to England about the continuous invasions of English settlers into Venezuelan territory: “The settlers of Demerara and Berbice have usurped a large portion of land that according to them belongs to us on the west side of the Esequibo River. It is absolutely essential that said colonists either place themselves under the jurisdiction and obedience of our laws, or withdraw to their former possessions.”

With the end of Gran Colombia in 1831, Venezuela, as a separate republic and, therefore, less strong to face English aggression, continued to suffer violations of its Esequibo territory, to the point of breaking diplomatic relations with England in 1887.

The opportunity was seized by the USA, which, thanks to its imperial ambitions and the Monroe Doctrine (“America for the Americans”), relied on a naive and ill-informed Venezuelan oligarchy, which forced it to accept, through pressure, the appointment of an arbitration court that would be in charge of to determine the dividing line between Venezuela and British Guiana without the participation of any Venezuelan. The court was made up of five members: two Americans representing Venezuela, two Englishmen on the British side and a fifth Russian arbitrator who was a personal friend of the Queen of England. More “fair and balanced” could not be asked for.

This is how, on October 3, 1899, in the city of Paris, this “impartial” court approved the evil so-called “Paris Arbitration Award” in which Venezuela's historical rights over the Esequibo were ignored.

Four days later, on October 7, the president of Venezuela, Ignácio Andrade, protested against the Arbitral Award, in what would be the first of repeated complaints that Venezuela would make in what remained of the XNUMXth century, plus all those that would follow during the first half of the XNUMXth century, going through two world wars.

All these convulsions that humanity went through, plus the effects of time, seemed to dilute the Venezuelan complaint until a great revelation appeared in 1949. Rivaling the best scripts in suspense films, a protagonist of the facts, with knowledge of the facts, reveals to the world that the Paris Arbitration Award had been a montage constructed by England and the USA, just as Venezuela had been denouncing since the first time.

In 1949, posthumously and by the express will of its author, The American Journal of International Law (Vol. 43, No. 3, New York July 1949, pp. 523-530) publishes a Memorandum 1944 by American lawyer Severo Mallet-Prevost,[1] who was appointed by the US to defend the Venezuelan side in the evil called “Paris Arbitration Award”. In this Memorandum, Mallet reveals irregularities that demonstrated that the Report was flawed. Among other anomalies, it reports that the judge on the British side, Lord Collins, who was critical of “the pretensions” of his country and gave the impression of leaning “towards Venezuela”, changed his opinion some time after be visited by Russian referee Fiodor Martens.

He wrote: “I then became convinced, and continue to believe, that during Martens' visit to England pressure had been put, in one way or another, on Collins, so that he would follow that path”. Mallet-Prevost then concludes that the decision adopted “was unfair and deprived [Venezuela] of a very extensive and important territory, over which Great Britain did not, in my opinion, have the slightest shadow of right”.

Having discovered the farce in which the USA remained calculatedly silent, the British continued without admitting the fraud that had been created. The “now naked” British crown no longer had any arguments to evade the issue and something had to be done. Taking advantage, against its will, of the decolonizing winds that began to blow strongly in the 1960s, England, on the eve of granting independence to British Guiana, signed with Venezuela in 1966 the so-called “Geneva Agreement”, the only valid instrument that Venezuela recognizes. to resolve the territorial dispute.

It was signed by the representatives of England and Venezuela, but also by the colonial authority of Guyana, which shortly after receiving independence, inherits responsibility for this matter. This agreement contains two central ideas. The first: “the 1899 arbitration award on the border between Venezuela and British Guiana is null and void”. The second: “any pending dispute between Venezuela, on the one hand, and the United Kingdom and British Guiana on the other (…) must, therefore, be resolved amicably in a way that is acceptable to both parties”.

Venezuela has had more than a century of patient struggle trying to find a peaceful solution to this controversy, first with England and now with the sister Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Its authorities, with honorable exceptions, have adopted a colonialist legacy, refusing to engage in friendly dialogue to find a solution. That is why the National Assembly of Venezuela, unanimously and using its constitutional prerogatives, approved the holding of the Consultative Referendum for December 3rd, not as a sudden aggressive and belligerent attitude against Guyana, which is what repeats falsely to the international media, but on the contrary, as a peaceful and well-thought-out response to the continued violations of international law by the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.

Its authorities have been subordinating themselves since 2015 to certain colonialist agreements with the multinational Exxon Mobil and to non-sovereign pacts with the US government, provocatively and dangerously allowing incursions by troops from the United States Southern Command into their territory, threatening to also carry out movements in the territory claimed by Venezuela. Guyana behaves, according to its statements and actions, as if the Geneva Agreement did not exist and implying, sometimes explicitly, that this controversy has already been resolved with the Paris Arbitration Award, whose null and void nature is indisputable .

Since childhood, girls and boys learn that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. That is why several decades ago the Venezuelan poet Andrés Eloy Blanco, author of the famous poem-song “Paint me little black angels”, he coined a phrase arising from his sensitivity and love for his homeland Venezuela, a phrase that today, tomorrow and always all Venezuelans will chant: The sun of Venezuela is born in the Essequibo! (The Venezuelan sun rises in Esequibo!)

*Anisio Pires He is a professor of sociology at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV).



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