Subsequent to the Arbitral Award of 1899 that fixed the border between Venezuela and Guyana, between 1900 and 1904 a joint survey team physically demarcated that border which was accepted by all parties concerned as attested by a map signed on January 7, 1905 by two commissioners each from the British and Venezuelan sides. At the confluence of the Wenamu and Cuyuni Rivers, the island of Ankoko had been divided into two with the eastern half belonging to Guyana and the western to Venezuela. The physical markers were made of bullet wood posts driven into the ground and buttressed by stones from the river. This border was respected until October 12th, 1966, a mere five months after we became independent, after Venezuelan troops moved across the border, occupied our half of the island, and constructed an airstrip.
While there were protests made by the Guyanese Government to Venezuela, ignoring demands by the Opposition PPP, the Government followed advice by the US and did not raise the Venezuelan invasion and annexation of its territory to the UN Security Council. Since then, there have been a series of further violations against the Geneva Agreement, which had been negotiated between Britain (along with its colony Guyana) and Venezuela just before independence, on February 17, 1966. According to Art 5 (2) of the agreement, “No new claim or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in those territories shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force, nor shall any claim whatsoever be asserted otherwise than in the Mixed Commission while that Commission is in being.” The “Mixed Commission” referred to had been established pursuant to the same agreement.
Annexation, in international law, “is the forcible acquisition and assertion of legal title over one state’s territory by another state, usually following the military occupation of the territory” and this is what Venezuela has done to our half of Ankoko since 1966. In current international law, annexation is held to be an illegal act. Key developments towards this position in the 20th century include the 1907 Porter Convention, the 1920 Covenant of the League of Nations, and the 1928 Kellog-Briand Pact culminating in UN Charter Article 2:4 – “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” It does not matter that Venezuela has never formally announced its annexation, its actions since 1966 have conclusively demonstrated the de facto nature of the annexation. Under international law and the provisions of international humanitarian law, Ankoko should be referred to as “occupied and illegally annexed”.
Back in 1970 when the Guyana Government was negotiating the Treaty of Port of Spain with Venezuela which would place a moratorium on the controversy, historian Odeen Ishmael has written: At the time, according to Guyanese Minister of State Shridath Ramphal, the Venezuelans contended that their claim to the eastern half of the island was based not so much on their contention of the nullity of the Arbitral Award of 1899, but on their occupation and use over the years.
As he stated in a letter of June 6, 1970, to Guyana’s Ambassador in Washington, Rahman Gajraj, “They make it clear to us that politically they cannot withdraw from the eastern half of the island at this stage and the result is a ‘live and let live’ arrangement. We have made it clear that we shall continue to demand their withdrawal and that the Protocol in no way inhibits us from doing so. They understand this.”
Against the background of Maduro’s present bellicosity, we must once again make this demand – this time to the UN Security Council where we now have a seat. We have to seize the initiative – away from our defensive reactions to Maduro’s manoeuvres. What we suggest is we mount an international campaign to have Venezuela return the half of Ankoko it seized in 1966.