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I have found that on this side of the aisle, there is a strategic academic orthodoxy on the subject of Venezuela’s territorial claim to 70% of land owned by Guyana which was accorded and settled twice in two agreements settled per international law and conventions. In my estimation, there appears to be the subtle careful under-education on this matter steeped in high nationalism, for good cause. Hence, it has resulted in a dearth of information insofar as formal education on the subject captioned above is concerned.
I get the reason for this. Territorial claims are extremely sensitive matters that evoke deep visceral national emotions and outpourings. As well as that, there is the need to always consider public pronouncements, information and education campaigns that surround these matters, lest there is inadvertent support, justification and the buttressing of the enemy’s case. In this, perhaps the entire story is not told. For me, I would prefer all the facts with the enemy’s facts being debunked with precision. I do believe, there should an attempt to tell more of the story, so citizens can be fully educated on the matter to counter Venezuela’s delusional fables, myths and legends. In service of this interest, I embarked on a personal mission to gather the information that would provide a panoramic view of the issue.
Allow me to be clear, I have uncovered nothing to shake, nay, disturb the foundation of Guyana’s legal right to every inch of its 214, 969 square kilometers of land.
THE DANGERS OF UNDER-EDUCATION
It is not possible to document the catalog of new information that has been brought to my attention in this brief column but it would be very remiss of me if there is no mention of the eureka moment which was experienced when I learned of how deep the claim lies in the national consciousness of Venezuelans. On the other hand, a large swathe of the Guyanese public, especially on the coast, is of the view that this claim is a fleeting skirmish that raises its head from time to time and maybe there is no real national seriousness on the matter from Venezuela’s side. In addition, some are of the view that it is a mere ritual. They claim, they get aggressive, we sing national songs, the Tradewinds’ ‘Not a Blade of grass’ gets its moment of fame and we do this again at some time. A cursory glance at the issue from Caracas’s side, albeit erroneous, would reveal the extreme contrary.
It appears this claim seems to reach the levels of the passions seen in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In all my years of formal education on the subject of this controversy from primary to tertiary, I was never exposed this notion. Every political party and political gathering of consequence in Venezuela, utilizes this issue to advance political objectives. All leaders of national standing vow to reconquer the Essequibo and the Zona en Reclamación teems with the possibility to catapult any leader who achieves this conquest to the Latin American heroism that probably parallels Simon Bolivar. It is the one issue that galvanizes Venezuelans.
The erroneous view that Venezuela was robbed of its territory is banged into the heads of every citizen from birth and it evokes deep-seated visceral nationalism, the likes of which has not been matched by the Guyanese population. Maybe, some are not that passionate because they have not been briefed on how frighteningly delusional they are over this claim. In this, the danger lies because when any government of Guyana attempts to do national organization over the issue, efforts are stymied by the lack of interest from the populace. Now, I understand why Dr. Cheddi Jagan objected to the signing of the Geneva Agreement. Now I fully grasp why Forbes Burnham was intent on some semblance of militarization. I now fully appreciate why Desmond Hoyte was exhausted over the issue and why David Arthur Granger was seeking to resuscitate the people’s militia and swiftly move to the ICJ when the first discovery of oil was announced.
THE CLAIM IS WAY BEYOND 1899
In our history classes, patriotism was blended with academia. We were taught that the ridiculous claims start with the 1899 award. I never knew that the derangement began, from a historical standpoint, as far back as the Spanish colonization of the Western Hemisphere where the Pope divided the world into two by issuing the Papal Bull which formed the basis for the Inter Catera (1493) and subsequently, the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). While this information was captured in curricula of the various schools I attended, it was never taught in the context of the naked bully-ism by Venezuela. My research took me to Cedric Joseph’s ‘The Venezuela-Guyana Boundary Arbitration of 1899: An Appraisal: Part 1’ (Caribbean Studies, Vol. 10, No.2 (July. 1970). I never conceived that the Dutch had the problem, the English had the problem and we inherited the problem because the Spanish insisted that discovery meant settlement and this has been seized upon by the successive regimes in Venezuela. I had no clue that Spanish King Carlos III issued a Royal Decree in 1771 which demanded territory for Spain that covers the land which presently encompasses Guyana. The Treaty of Munster is hardly featured at the primary and secondary levels.
In my estimation, there needs to be comprehensive review of all curricula related to Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory by a Commission on education over Venezuela’s territorial claim.