GUYANA: Venezuela Border: The Dean Rusk to President John Kennedy revelation – By Geoffrey Da Silva 

Map of Guyana – Disputed Area being claimed by Venezuela

This should put an end to contention that there is a legitimate controversy about Essequibo

In letters to the Editor dated September 18 and 27 and October 19 and 21 of 2020, I explored Venezuela’s unjustified and imperialist claim of the Essequibo and its coastal waters.

What is the origin of that claim? Why was the official claim made in1962, sixty-three years after the Paris Arbitral Award of 1899 confirmed that the border between Guyana and Venezuela is “complete, perfect and final”? Why was a claim not made in 1920, 1930, 1940 or 1950 or any other year before 1962?      

The answer is in a recently released July 12, 1962 Secret Memo from the then USA Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, to the President of the USA John F. Kennedy. The Memo is in The National Security Archive in the Gelman Library at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., USA. (See guiana-1964. It is Document 8 – Secretary of State)

The Dean Rusk Memo to John F. Kennedy outlined an “Action Program for British Guiana” that included on page 25 the following: “Contingency Plan A. Discussion “Should the program described above fail completely, there are other actions which could be taken to hamper or prevent a communist takeover in British Guiana. The Venezuelan and Brazilian claims are considered to be weak and neither country desires to take over the coastal strip on which British Guiana’s population and its problems are located.”  “B. Diplomatic 1. Encourage Venezuela and possibly Brazil to pursue their territorial claims. This could result in an indefinite delay of independence.”

Now we have the confirmation why the USA did not take a public position for or against Venezuela’s hostile action against Guyana in 1962, although Secretary Dean Rusk considered Venezuela’s claim to be weak.

The reason was that the Cold War was heating up between the USA and the Soviet Union in Latin America where the USA-aligned rich and upper middle classes were being seriously challenged by left-centre forces. In 1959, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro overthrew the USA-backed Batista dictatorship. In 1961, the USA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was defeated. That year, Castro declared for socialism and allied with the Soviet Union. Then, there was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that took the world to the brink of nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union.

In Venezuela, political support for the 1959-1964 USA-aligned Betancourt government was declining after its main partner left the coalition, and two Cuban-backed guerilla armies had launched an insurrection to overthrow his government.

Venezuela was where USA companies had their largest investments in Latin America, especially in the oil and mineral sectors. In 1961, to protect USA investments and to defeat the growing influence of Cuba and the left-centre forces in Latin America, President John F. Kennedy visited Venezuela and launched the US$20 Billion Alliance for Progress (AFP) to support land reform, to deepen democracy, to develop industry and agriculture and to increase the incomes of the peoples.

It can be assumed that President Kennedy discussed with President Betancourt in Caracas the situation in British Guiana where the left-leaning People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had won democratic elections in 1953, 1957 and 1961, and had established close relations with Cuba. In response, the USA government financed disturbances in 1962 and 1963 to destabilize and remove Premier Jagan’s government to prevent the possibility of ‘a second Cuba’ under an independent government led by Jagan. The destabilization activities are also recorded in recently released Secret documents in the The National Security Archive in Washington D.C.

This Rusk to Kennedy revelation should put an end to the contention that there is a legitimate dispute or controversy about the Essequibo. We need to publish this information throughout Guyana, in Venezuela and across the world.

Maduro, the Chavistas and other left-centre political parties must stop the bullying tactics and follow the lead of the late President Hugo Chavez who, in 2005, 2007 and 2008, on television and on radio, courageously and honestly told the truth about the Essequibo to the Venezuelan people. He explained that in 1962 the USA had pressured the Romulo Betancourt Venezuelan administration to use Essequibo as a platform to destabilize the left-wing government of Cheddi Jagan. He also stated that Venezuela was also encouraged to overthrow Forbes Burnham, a left-wing leader. Once, at a press conference in Venezuela Chavez declared, “Do you expect us to denounce Guyana? When has Guyana snatched the Essequibo from us?” The 1962 Rusk to Kennedy Memo validates Chavez’s statement.

However, we Guyanese must not use this revelation as a ‘feral blast’ to publicly embarrass or challenge the USA. We have to follow the principle that we first give respect to get respect. We understand that, at the time of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union, there were fundamental differences and conflicts over how to foster human development around the world.

Now, it is in Guyana’s best interests to expand and deepen our relationship with the USA to become better friends and allies. Guyana’s territorial / maritime integrity and sovereignty is being enhanced by the recent agreements with the USA on satellite surveillance of our exclusive Economic Zone, on narcotics interdiction and on expanded trade and investment.

In contrast to the early 1960s, the USA and Guyana are building a new mutually beneficial relationship where both countries commit to be balanced and fair about each other’s legitimate concerns, interests and aspirations. However, we will not make or accept any kinds of demands that will compromise the defense of our Essequibo.

Therefore, the coincidence of USA and Guyana interests means that the USA will have to persuade the USA-aligned right-centre forces in Venezuela to discontinue their aggressive and warlike actions to claim sovereignty over the Essequibo.

In addition to supporting the legitimacy of the hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the 1899 Arbitral Award, Guyana has to prioritize with our key allies (the USA, CARICOM, Brazil, the European Union, the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement) how the left-centre and right-centre forces in Venezuela must be persuaded to turn away from bullying tactics against Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Geoffrey Da Silva

Former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/30/2021 at 1:18 pm

    Gerry wrote:

    Countries have permanent interests, NOT permanent friends. Thus in 1962 Venezuela and the US were best of friends, Now in 2021 Venezuela and the US are the worst of enemies.

    • Georgy Porgy  On 01/30/2021 at 1:29 pm

      Old habits die hard. Think back to March 2020 in Guyana and whose one of our neighbours.

  • brandli62  On 01/30/2021 at 2:52 pm

    This is an insightful account of the border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela by Ambassador Da Silva. Of particular interest is the revelation that Hugo Chavez, the revered leader of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, had little interest in pursuing the Essequibo issue as evidenced by his comments: “Do you expect us to denounce Guyana? When has Guyana snatched the Essequibo from us?”
    The bottom line from my perspective is the Guyana is right in pursuing the ICJ track as outline by the Secretary General of the United Nations to validated the 1899 Arbitration Agreement between the United Kingdom and Venezuela. Given the fact that Venezuela never had a physical presence in the Essequibo territories, while Guyana can claim well over 250 years of presence and economic activities will be very compelling in any decision. Unfortunately, it will take at least 3 years or more for the ICJ to come to a verdict. In the mean time, Venezuela will try to intimidate Guyana by seizing fishing boats and discouraging any other activities in the maritime areas of the coast west of the mouth of the Essequibo. Guyana has not navy that could act as a credible deterrent to sanction or counteract the Venezuelans activities in its waters. The only help I can see is to get the US and possibly French involved in assisting the Guyanese coast guard in patrolling its maritime boards to the west. Neither China, Russia or Cuba will be sticking out their necks. They all have huge oil interests in Venezuela and are activity supporting the Madura regime, which would collapse otherwise.

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