- Norberto Paredes @norbertparedes
- BBC World News
Since Hugo Chávez assumed the presidency of Venezuela in 1999, relations between the United States and the South American country have been strained.
But it was not always so. For much of the 20th century, Venezuela was one of the United States’ greatest allies in Latin America, and this close relationship made it the largest supplier of oil to the world superpower for a short time in the United States. 1990s. Today, this position is held by Canada.
He has also helped Venezuelan companies like Citgo succeed in the United States and the United States, like ExxonMobil, make big money in Venezuela.
But exactly a century earlier, in 1895, the alliance between the two countries perhaps reached one of its highest peaks, when the United States faced the then superpower, the United Kingdom, in favor Venezuelan interests and the rejection of European imperialism.
Under the Monroe Doctrine, attributed to former US President James Monroe, who called for an “America for Americans,” the United States intervened in the border dispute between English Guyana (now Guyana) and Venezuela.
It was one of the rare times in history when the “special relationship” between the two Anglo-Saxon powers was severed. And the reason was Venezuela.
The button of discord
With 159,500 square kilometers rich in natural resources, Essequibo has been for centuries at the center of a historic land dispute.
It was initially controlled by the Spanish and Dutch Empires, which would later cede it to the British.
According to a US State Department document, the dispute between Caracas and London officially began in 1841, when the Venezuelan government denounced an alleged British incursion into Venezuelan soil.
In 1814, the United Kingdom had acquired English Guiana by a treaty with the Netherlands, but the pact did not define the western border of the territory and therefore the British explorer appointed Robert Schomburgk in 1840 to determine this limit.
Shortly after, the so-called “Schomburgk Line” was inaugurated, a controversial route that claimed nearly 80,000 additional square kilometers, an area twice the size of the state of Rio de Janeiro.
At the same time, Venezuela – using boundaries established at the time of its independence – ensured that its border extended east of the Essequibo River, thus claiming two-thirds of the then British colony.
But the border did not stop there. Years later, when gold was discovered in the disputed area, the UK sought to expand the border further, adding 85,000 square kilometers to its colony.
For Venezuela, it was the last straw. His government then decided to sever relations with London and seek the help of the United States, asking the superpower to put into practice the Monroe Doctrine, which, since 1823, established that any European attempt to interfere with states rulers of the Americas would be seen as a sign of “will”. hostile ”against Washington.
The United States responded by expressing concern, but initially did little to facilitate a solution to the conflict.
But after Venezuelan insistence and pressure from then-United States President Grover Cleveland and his former ambassador to Caracas in January 1895, the United States House of Representatives proposed Resolution 252 to Congress, recommending that the dispute be resolved in international arbitration.
Cleveland previously said in a controversial statement that the border line at Essequibo had been widened “in a mysterious way”.
The struggle for influence in Latin America
Besides the Essequibo issue, the US intervention took place as part of a struggle between Washington and London to keep Latin America in its spheres of influence.
“A kind of gradual transition between British and American rule was already underway. At that time, Britain was still much more influential than the United States in Latin America,” says Benjamin Coates, professor of history at the Wake Forest University North Carolina (USA), BBC News Mundo, the Spanish news service of the BBC.
“And that was so at least until the end of World War I or even shortly after,” he adds.
At the end of the 19th century, the division of Africa was also waged and, according to Coates, the United States feared that the European powers would try to divide Latin America in the same way they did with the African continent.
The decision to defend Venezuela was also a political decision. Between 1893 and 1897, the United States was in a major economic depression and one of the criticisms of opposition to President Cleveland was that he was not promoting his country as a power.
For Coates, the irony of the matter is that Cleveland was in fact “one of the most anti-imperialist presidents” the United States has ever had.
“He wasn’t necessarily trying to exert some kind of US imperial control over South America, but he wanted to prevent the British from expanding further,” the expert said.
Fire Test for the Monroe Doctrine
Historian Matthew Pinsker of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania (USA) explains that the Monroe Doctrine has been, since its inception and for more than 70 years, “more honored in its violation than in reality”.
But the Essequibo dispute changed that dynamic.
“The United States got involved in part because a former United States Ambassador to Venezuela was lobbying on behalf of Venezuelans. Thirty years have passed since the end of the civil war and the country was stronger and more determined to project power. “There was also hope that the United States would become a world power,” Pinsker told BBC News Mundo.
Indeed, writer, lawyer and former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Scruggs played a key role in the campaign to help the country by publishing a controversial pamphlet called British attacks in Venezuela; or The Monroe doctrine on trial (British attacks in Venezuela; or The Monroe doctrine on trial, in free translation into Portuguese).
Winds of war
Although annoyed by the US intervention, the UK was too distracted by several conflicts it faced around the world, particularly in South Africa, to focus on this issue.
However, former British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury responded to American pressure by claiming that the Monroe Doctrine was not valid as international law.
But Cleveland didn’t give his arm to clap and that response infuriated him.
On December 17, 1895, at a special session of the United States Congress, the President called for the creation of a commission whose task would be to thoroughly investigate the boundaries of the nations in dispute and proposed that the conclusions of this commission is executed “in any case”.
The proposal was approved unanimously and rumors of war with the United Kingdom began to circulate in the American press.
London knew that it could not enter a new war with the United States and ended up agreeing to intervention in its former colony.
Thus the United States, representing Venezuela and the United Kingdom, signed on February 2, 1897 a treaty in Washington to submit the controversy to international arbitration.
Venezuela was convinced that justice would be on its side, but the commission ended up ruling on October 3, 1899 in favor of the United Kingdom, establishing the “Schomburgk line” as the border between the two territories.
An unresolved dispute
The controversial decision is now known as the “Paris arbitration award”.
“The American-dominated arbitration panel ended up ceding most of the disputed territory to the British. Mediation showed the strength of the United States in Latin America and was also a tipping point for Anglo-American relations on the path of “special relations”. “between the two countries”, explains Pinsker.
Historian Benjamin Coates says he thinks Venezuela has succeeded in getting the United States to step in and help them, but regrets that once Washington entered the fray, “he completely ignored Venezuelan interests “.
Much later, in the 1950s, evidence emerged that spoke of the complicity between the British delegates and the Russian judge at this Paris tribunal, whose vote was decisive for the decision against Venezuela.
In response to these revelations, in 1962, Venezuela denounced the sentence as “null and void” and reactivated the claim to the territory before the United Nations (UN).
After the Venezuelan denunciation, the Geneva Accord was signed, according to which the area is controlled by Guyana, although its sovereignty is claimed by Venezuela.
The agreement, which was temporary, provided for a period of four years to resolve the dispute.
However, its guidelines remain in effect and the dispute over Esequiba territory continues.
But Venezuela no longer has Washington’s backing, and its dreams of controlling a region rich in natural resources seem to have faded, for now.
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