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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Professor Norman Girvan nominated as new UN mediator for the Guyana and Venezuela boundary dispute

(7 October 2009)

Guyana and Venezuela have recently agreed to appoint Norman Girvan, a Jamaican economist, as the new UN representative who will mediate negotiations in their long standing boundary dispute. Professor Girvan, who is also the former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States, will replace Oliver Jackman from Barbados who died in January 2007.

The territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela dates back to the 19th century when the British and Venezuelan governments claimed overlapping territory. At the time, the area under dispute extended for some 130,000 square kilometres but in 1899 an international court of arbitration composed of two American and two British commissioners and a Russian president awarded most of the disputed area – 83,000 square kilometres – to British Guiana. According to the treaty signed in 1897 that established the arbitral tribunal, both countries agreed that the verdict of the arbitration was binding. However, Venezuela has never recognised the results of that arbitration. In 1951, Venezuela questioned the validity of the award after publication of a memorandum from the American consul Sevro Mallet-Prevost seemed to confirm that the arbitration process was not a clean and transparent procedure. The memorandum suggested that the decision was a compromise and the outcome of serious international pressures. In 1962, just before Guyana gained independence from Britain (1966), Venezuela raised the issue of the boundary dispute at the 17th session of the UN General Assembly with the hope of reopening their case. On that occasion, Venezuela reasserted its claim that the Essequibo river is the most natural eastern frontier. The Essequibo region that is claimed by Venezuela constitutes more than half the territory of present Guyana.

Despite the long standing disagreement over their common boundary, Venezuela and Guyana have managed to develop good economic and diplomatic relations. In 1983 the two states requested the UN Secretary-General act as mediator in the boundary dispute. They have now agreed to nominate Professor Girvan as the new mediator and later this month the two states will put his name forward to the UN in New York where Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is expected to approve the nomination.

Sources: ‘Venezuela, Guyana Agree on Mediator to End Historic Border Dispute' Christian Völkel, IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, 5 October 2009; 'Guyana, Venezuela to chose new UN mediator, seek solution to border dispute’ The Canadian Press, 3 October 2009; ‘Guyana opposition hails new mediator in Venezuela border dispute’ EFE News Service, 2 October 2009; Pettiford, L. ‘Guyana-Venezuela’ in Calvert, E. (ed) Border and Territorial Disputes of the World, Fourth Edition London: John Harper Publishing, 2004. p. 117.