In the past month, Venezuela has been deploying troops along the border between Guyana and Venezuela, conducting military exercises that Guyanese President David Granger called “a very offensive and aggressive course”. While Venezuela has claimed that its the actions have no threatening implications, border conflict in the past over the resource-rich land has led many to believe that the militaristic behaviors are meant to assert an unwanted Venezuelan presence on Guyan soil .
In May, US-led Exxon Mobil discoveries of offshore oil deposits posed a potentially transformative windfall for Guyana’s struggling economy. The resources were said to be worth billions of dollars and twelve times the value of Guyana’s current GDP . However, the discovery also reignited Venezuela’s long-standing goal to “reclaim” the Essequibo region, carved out from Venezuela by the imperial British in 1898 .
After acquiring the colony of Guiana in 1814, Britain dictated boundaries under the Schomburgk Line, which enlarged British territory by an additional 30,000 square miles, and which encroached on territory that Venezuela had claimed since its independence in 1811. The discovery of gold in the disputed region prompted Britain to claim an additional 33,000 square miles west of the Schomburgk Line. Hoping for U.S. sympathy, Venezuela appealed to the United States under the Monroe Doctrine, but in vain; the U.S. arbitrated that the Schomburgk Line become the internationally-recognized border . Since Guyana’s independence in 1966, Venezuela has been looking for the opportunity to reclaim territory that comprises two-thirds of Guyana. Guyana’s many inner problems–high inflation, a tenuous economy–have magnified the importance of resolving border conflict and capitalizing on the benefits of its resource-rich territory.
Border conflict is not a new concept. With the recent overall market boom in the oil industry, many smaller states emerging from imperial control have built their economies on natural resource demand and have been confronted by issues of territorial claim. The nature of these conflicts–prevalent in The Middle East, in Latin America, and many other regions–takes root in their colonial origin. The effects of pre-20th century imperialism on nation-states today drives home the idea that global impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting.
by Alex Small ’19