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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rivers make bad borders - Why Venezuela can't claim land all the way to the Essequibo River

I recently learned in my political geography class that rivers make bad borders. Time tends to homogenize people on both sides of a river. Settlement patters tend to be the same on both sides of a river as well. Rivers breed commonality. The exception would exist in the a case in which the river is so wide that it's not very easy to cross at all, but those are extreme circumstances. On the opposite side of the spectrum, mountains are great borders, so great in fact that they make trade too difficult sometimes. If you sprinkle different groups of people amongst the valleys of a mountain range, chances are that the passage of many years will not make it likely for these groups to integrate and share technology or ideas. This is of course subject to exact local conditions. Small kingdoms or countries are more likely to survive high in the mountains than on a river.

Let's apply this to Guyana. Since it is likely for the same type of people to be on both sides of a river, why (barring extraordinary circumstances) would one country have claim to one side and another have claim to the other bank based on historical claims?

The Dutch settled the Essequibo river valley and surround territories on both banks. They didn't stay to one bank of the river and surrender the other bank to the Spanish who were very far away. The river was the highway and the Dutch built on both sides.

If the Spanish were solidly in control of the Orinoco and the Dutch were in control of the Essequibo, and the Pomeroon, the disputed territory should not extend from the Guyana-Venezuela border ALL THE WAY to the Essequibo river. Rather, There should be a buffer designation that delimits the areas of unquestioned control surrounding the major settled waterways. The question that remains is how the land far from the major settled waterways should be divided.

A disputed claim that extends all the way to the Essequibo River represents an extreme claim that Venezuela had, knowing that in arbitration it would be whittled down through the negotiation process. Likewise, Britain's extreme claim went almost all the way to the Orinoco Delta and included quite a chunk of the interior of Venezuela. Venezuela's repetitive 20th century disputations concerning the Essequibo Territory has no real basis as it is charted on their maps. Any human geographer can look at the situation and see the absurdity of that claim, especially in a historical context.

The whole area surrounding the Essequibo and Pomeroon Rivers was ceded by the Netherlands to the British. It's the area peripheral to these core areas that WAS in question before borders were finally agreed upon. Any line drawn between the Orinoco Delta and Essequibo Rivers would fall more or less close to where the border already is today....give or take.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

J C it is worth while bearing in mind that this border issue between Guyana and Venezuela was settled in 1899. There are no clauses in the will of the almighty that set out parameters in terms of where one Copuntry should end and another should begin. This is a function of wars, discussion, arbitration if necessary, and of course agreements. Regardless of how we choose to demarcate borders, an unjust claim to territory remains an unjust claim to territory.

The same kind of people do not live on each side of the Guyana/Venezuelan Border, I know because I lived there for years. There is a racial element to this dispute that is disgustingly ignored because of where examination of it might lead. Still, your posts is interesting.

JC said...

Dear anonymous:

I would like to clarify my statement and maybe you could calrify yours.

You are very right in that people on the either side of the Guyana-Venezuela Border are different. I never said that they were the same or similar.

My point is that people on either side of a RIVER are likely to be similar.

It is the area BETWEEN the rivers that is likely to be a natural border.

One river system is likely to have people whoare different from those of another distance river system.

The Guyana-Venezuela border roughly divides the territory by river drainage systems..mostly.

You're right, the issue was settled long ago and it shouldn't have been dredged up again by Venezuela as it has.

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Anonymous said...

The Guyana-Venezuela border roughly divides the territory by river drainage systems..mostly

Actually there are lengthy demarkations that comprise of imaginary lines situated between concrete markers miles and miles apart. In the Amakura region, in the upper Mazaruni Region, and at a point that branches off the Acarabisi. I once had the unenviable task of locating the concrete landmark that delineated a point on the bank of the Amakura river between the two countries, and it took days to locate it in the dense and unsympathetic foliage native to the amazonian rain forest. This of course does not invalidate your point waterways being the main feature of demarkations.

But your point is takes as regards the people who live on either side of the rivers. And the fact that they had been living there for eons prior to the struggle of European Nations to exert control of those territories generated my comment about the historical allocation of boundaries between nations.

One of the most telling pieces of evidence that impeaches the claim of the Venezuelans to historical rights to that territory is the absence of spanish bookmarks on the topography in contrast to that of the British, French and Dutch, Not necessarily in that order. Throughout the 55000 square miles or so claimed by the Venoes, no traces of their presence can be found among the historical names of immovable landmarks like rivers and mountains and so on. In contrast, traces of the Dutch, British and French litter the landscape.

Anonymous said...

This is obe of the worst arguments I have heard. You say rivers make bad borders, and you give that reason to explain why Venezuela shouldn't claim the land west of the Essequibo river... Well then why the border between Guyana and Suriname is the Courantyne river? Why the border between Suriname and French Guiana is the Maroni river? The truth is that rivers have always been used as natural borders, especially in the case of the Guianas. And the truth is that the Dutch didn't have any title to go beyond the Essequibo river. But that is something the guyanese governmeng will never teach you at the school, right?