Lord Salisbury to Sir Julian Pauncefote .
November 26, 1895 .
Sir, In my preceding despatch of to-day’s date I have replied only to the latter portion of Mr. Olney’s despatch of the 20th July last, which treats of the application of the Monroe doctrine to the question of the boundary dispute between Venezuela and the colony of British Guiana. But it seems desirable, in order to remove some evident misapprehensions as to the main features of the question, that the statement of it contained in the earlier portion of Mr. Olney’s despatch should not be left without reply. Such a course will be the more convenient, because, in consequence of the suspension of diplomatic relations, [Page 568] I shall not have the opportunity of setting right misconceptions of this kind in the ordinary way in a despatch addressed to the Venezuelan Government itself.
Her Majesty’s Government, while they have never avoided or declined argument on the subject with the Government of Venezuela, have always held that the question was one which had no direct bearing on the material interests of any other country, and have consequently refrained hitherto from presenting any detailed statement of their case either to the United States or to other foreign Governments.
It is, perhaps, a natural consequence of this circumstance that Mr. Olney’s narration of what has passed bears the impress of being mainly, if not entirely, founded on ex parte statements emanating from Venezuela, and gives, in the opinion of Her Majesty’s Government, an erroneous view of many material facts.
Mr. Olney commences his observations by remarking that “the dispute is of ancient date, and began at least as early as the time when Great Britain acquired by the Treaty with the Netherlands in 1814 the establishments of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice. From that time to the present the dividing line between these establishments, now called British Guiana, and Venezuela has never ceased to be subject of contention.”
This statement is founded on misconception. The dispute on the subject of the frontier did not, in fact, commence till after the year 1840.
The title of Great Britain to the territory in question is derived, in the first place, from conquest and military occupation of the Dutch settlements in 1796. Both on this occasion, and at the time of a previous occupation of those settlements in 1781, the British authorities marked the western boundary of their possessions as beginning some distance up the Orinoco beyond Point Barima, in accordance with the limits claimed and actually held by the Dutch, and this has always since remained the frontier claimed by Great Britain. The definite cession of the Dutch settlements to England was, as Mr. Olney states, placed on record by the Treaty of 1814, and although the Spanish Government were parties to the negotiations which led to that Treaty, they did not at any stage of them raise objection to the frontiers claimed by Great Britain, though these were perfectly well known to them. At that time the Government of Venezuela had not been recognized even by the United States, though the province was already in revolt against the Spanish Government, and had declared its independence. No question of frontier was raised with Great Britain either by it or by the Government of the United States of Colombia, in which it became merged in 1819. That Government, indeed, on repeated occasions, acknowledged its indebtedness to Great Britain for her friendly attitude. When in 1830 the Republic of Venezuela assumed a separate existence its Government was equally warm in its expressions of gratitude and friendship, and there was not at the time any indication of an intention to raise such claims as have been urged by it during the latter portion of this century.
It is true, as stated by Mr. Olney, that, in the Venezuelan Constitution of 1830, Article 5 lays down that “the territory of Venezuela comprises all that which previously to the political changes of 1810 was denominated the Captaincy-General of Venezuela.” Similar declarations had been made in the fundamental laws promulgated in 1819 and 1821.
I need not point out that a declaration of this kind made by a newly self-constituted State can have no valid force as against international [Page 569] arrangements previously concluded by the nation from which it has separated itself.
But the present difficulty would never have arisen if the Government of Venezuela had been content to claim only those territories which could be proved or even reasonably asserted to have been practically in the possession and under the effective jurisdiction of the Captaincy-General of Venezuela.
There is no authoritative statement by the Spanish Government of those territories, for a Decree which the Venezuelan Government allege to have been issued by the King of Spain in 1768, describing the Province of Guiana as bordered on the south by the Amazon and on the east by the Atlantic, certainly cannot be regarded as such. It absolutely ignores the Dutch settlements, which not only existed in fact, but had been formally recognized by the Treaty of Munster of 1648, and it would, if now considered valid, transfer to Venezuela the whole of the British, Dutch, and French Guianas, and an enormous tract of territory belonging to Brazil.
But of the territories claimed and actually occupied by the Dutch, which were those acquired from them by Great Britain, there exist the most authentic declarations. In 1759, and again in 1769, the States-General of Holland addressed formal remonstrances to the Court of Madrid against the incursions of the Spaniards into their posts and settlements in the basin of the Cuyuni. In these remonstrances they distinctly claimed all the branches of the Essequibo River, and especially, the Cuyuni River, as lying within Dutch territory. They demanded immediate reparation for the proceedings of the Spaniards and reinstatement of the posts said to have been injured by them, and suggested that a proper delineation between the Colony of Essequibo and the Rio Orinoco should be laid down by authority.
To this claim the Spanish Government never attempted to make any reply. But it is evident from the archives which are preserved in Spain and to which, by the courtesy of the Spanish Government, reference has been made, that the Council of State did not consider that they had the means of rebutting it, and that neither they nor the Governor of Cumana were prepared seriously to maintain the claims which were suggested in reports from his subordinate officer, the Commandant of Guiana. These reports were characterized by the Spanish Ministers as insufficient and unsatisfactory, as “professing to show the Province of Guiana under too favourable a light,” and finally by the Council of State as appearing from other information to be “very improbable.” They form, however, with a map which accompanied them, the evidence on which the Venezuelan Government appear most to rely, though it may be observed that among other documents which have from time to time been produced or referred to by them in the course of the discussions is a Bull of Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which, if it is to be considered as having any present validity, would take from the Government of the United States all title to jurisdiction on the Continent of North America. The fundamental principle underlying the Venezuelan argument is, in fact, that, inasmuch as Spain was originally entitled of right to the hole of the American Continent, any territory on that Continent which she cannot be shown to have acknowledged in positive and specific terms to have passed to another Power can only have been acquired by wrongful usurpation, and if situated to the north of the Amazon and west of the Atlantic must necessarily belong to Venezuela, as her self-constituted inheritor in those regions. It may reasonably be asked whether Mr. Olney would [Page 570] consent to refer to the arbitration of another Power pretensions raised by the Government of Mexico on such a foundation to large tracts of territory which had long been comprised in the Federation.
The circumstances connected with the marking of what is called the “Schomburgk” line are as follows:—
In 1835 a grant was made by the British Government for the exploration of the interior of the British Colony, and Mr. (afterwards Sir Robert) Schomburgk, who was employed on this service, on his return to the capital of the Colony in July 1839, called the attention of the Government to the necessity for an early demarcation of its boundaries. He was in consequence appointed in November 1840 Special Commissioner for provisionally surveying and delimiting the boundaries of British Guiana, and notice of the appointment was given to the Governments concerned, including that of Venezuela.
The intention of Her Majesty’s Government at that time was, when the work of the Commissioner had been completed, to communicate to the other Governments their views as to the true boundary of the British Colony, and then to settle any details to which those Governments might take objection.
It is important to notice that Sir R. Schomburgk did not discover or invent any new boundaries. He took particular care to fortify himself with the history of the case. He had further, from actual exploration and information obtained from the Indians, and from the evidence of local remains, as at Barima, and local traditions, as on the Cuyuni, fixed the limits of the Dutch possessions, and the zone from which all trace of Spanish influence was absent. On such data he based his reports.
At the very outset of his mission he surveyed Point Barima, where the remains of a Dutch fort still existed, and placed there and at the mouth of the Amacura two boundary posts. At the urgent entreaty of the Venezuelan Government these two posts were afterwards removed, as stated by Mr. Olney, but this concession was made on the distinct understanding that Great Britain did not thereby in any way abandon her claim to that position.
In submitting the maps of his survey, on which he indicated the line which he would propose to Her Majesty’s Government for adoption, Sir R. Schomburgk called attention to the fact that Her Majesty’s Government might justly claim the whole basin of the Cuyuni and Yuruari on the ground that the natural boundary of the Colony included any territory through which flow rivers which fall into the Essequibo. “Upon this principle,” he wrote, “the boundary-line would run from the sources of the Carumani towards the sources of the Cuyuni proper, and from thence towards its far more northern tributaries, the Rivers Iruary (Yuruari) and Iruang (Yuruan), and thus approach the very heart of Venezuelan Guiana.” But, on grounds of complaisance towards Venezuela, he proposed that Great Britain should consent to surrender her claim to a more extended frontier inland in return for the formal recognition of her right to Point Barima. It was on this principle that he drew the boundary-line which has since been called by his name.
Undoubtedly, therefore, Mr. Olney is right when he states that “it seems impossible to treat the Schomburgk line as being the boundary claimed by Great Britain as matter of right, or as anything but a line originating in considerations of convenience and expediency.” The Schomburgk line was in fact a great reduction of the boundary claimed by Great Britain as matter of right, and its proposal originated in a desire to come to a speedy and friendly arrangement with a weaker Power with whom Great Britain was at the time, and desired to remain, in cordial relations.[Page 571]
The following are the main facts of the discussions that ensued with the Venezuelan Government:—
While Mr. Schomburgk was engaged on his survey the Venezuelan Minister in London had urged Her Majesty’s Government to enter into a Treaty of Limits, but received the answer that, if it should be necessary to enter into such a Treaty, a survey was, at any rate, the necessary preliminary, and that this was proceeding.
As soon as Her Majesty’s Government were in possession of Mr. Schomburgk’s reports, the Venezuelan Minister was informed that they were in a position to commence negotiations, and in January 1844, M. Fortique commenced by stating the claim of his Government.
This claim, starting from such obsolete grounds as the original discovery by Spain of the American Continent, and mainly supported by quotations of a more or less vague character from the writings of travellers and geographers, but adducing no substantial evidence of actual conquest or occupation of the territory claimed, demanded the Essequibo itself as the boundary of Venezuela.
A reply was returned by Lord Aberdeen, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, pointing out that it would be impossible to arrive at any agreement if both sides brought forward pretensions of so extreme a character, but stating that the British Government would not imitate M. Fortique in putting forward a claim which it could not be intended seriously to maintain. Lord Aberdeen then proceeded to announce the concessions which, “out of friendly regard to Venezuela,” Her Majesty’s Government were prepared to make, and proposed a line starting from the mouth of the Moroco to the junction of the River Barama with the Waini, thence up the Barama to the point at which that stream approached nearest to the Acarabisi, and thence following Sir R. Schomburgk’s line from the source of the Acarabisi onwards.
A condition was attached to the proffered cession, viz., that the Venezuelan Government should enter into an engagement that no portion of the territory proposed to be ceded should be alienated at any time to a foreign Power, and that the Indian tribes residing in it should be protected from oppression.
No answer to the note was ever received from the Venezuelan Government, and in 1850 Her Majesty’s Government informed Her Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires at Carácas that as the proposal had remained for more than six years unaccepted, it must be considered as having lapsed, and authorized him to make a communication to the Venezuelan Government to that effect.
A report having at the time become current in Venezuela that Great Britain intended to seize Venezuelan Guiana, the British Government distinctly disclaimed such an intention, but inasmuch as the Government of Venezuela subsequently permitted projects to be set on foot for the occupation of Point Barima and certain other positions in dispute, the British Chargé d’Affaires was instructed in June 1850 to call the serious attention of the President and Government of Venezuela to the question, and to declare to them “that, whilst, on the one hand, Great Britain had no intention to occupy or encroach on the disputed territory, she would not, on the other hand, view with indifference aggressions on that territory by Venezuela.”
The Venezuelan Government replied in December of the same year that Venezuela had no intention of occupying or encroaching upon any part of the territory the dominion of which was in dispute, and that orders would be issued to the authorities in Guiana to abstain from taking any steps contrary to this engagement.[Page 572]
This constitutes what has been termed the “Agreement of 1850,” to which the Government of Venezuela have frequently appealed, but which the Venezuelans have repeatedly violated in succeeding years.
Their first acts of this nature consisted in the occupation of fresh positions to the east of their previous settlements, and the founding in 1858 of the town of Nueva Providencia on the right bank of the Yuruari, all previous settlements being on the left bank. The British Government, however, considering that these settlements were so near positions which they had not wished to claim, considering also the difficulty of controlling the movements of mining populations, overlooked this breach of the Agreement.
The Governor of the Colony was in 1857 sent to Caracas to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary, but he found the Venezuelan State in so disturbed a condition that it was impossible to commence negotiations, and eventually he came away without having effected anything.
For the next nineteen years, as stated by Mr. Olney, the civil commotions in Venezuela prevented any resumption of negotiations.
In 1876 it was reported that the Venezuelan Government had, for the second time, broken “the Agreement of 1850” by granting licences to trade and cut wood in Barima and eastward. Later in the same year that Government once more made an overture for the settlement of the boundary. Yarious delays interposed before negotiations actually commenced; and it was not till 1879 that Señor Rojaz began them with a renewal of the claim to the Essequibo as the eastern boundary of Venezuelan Guiana. At the same time he stated that his Government wished “to obtain, by means of a Treaty, a definitive settlement of the question, and was disposed to proceed to the demarcation of the divisional line between the two Guianas in a spirit of conciliation and true friendship towards Her Majesty’s Government.”
In reply to this communication, a note was addressed to Señor Rojaz on the 10th January, 1880, reminding him that the boundary which Her Majesty’s Government claimed, as a matter of strict right on grounds of conquest and concession by Treaty, commenced at a point at the mouth of the Orinoco, westward of Point Barima, that it proceeded thence in a southerly direction to the Imataca Mountains, the line of which it followed to the north-west, passing from thence by the high land of Santa Maria just south of the town of Upata, until it struck a range of hills on the eastern bank of the Caroni River, following these southwards until it struck the great backbone of the Guiana district, the Barima Mountains of British Guiana, and thence southwards to the Pacaraima Mountains. On the other hand, the claim which had been put forward on behalf of Venezuela by General Guzman Blanco in his message to the National Congress of the 20th February, 1877, would involve the surrender of a province now inhabited by 40,000 British subjects, and which had been in the uninterrupted possession of Holland and of Great Britain successively for two centuries. The difference between these two claims being so great, it was pointed out to Señor Rojaz that, in order to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, each party must be prepared to make very considerable concessions to the other, and he was assured that, although the claim of Venezuela to the Essequibo River boundary could not, under any circumstances, be entertained, yet that Her Majesty’s Government were anxious to meet the Venezuelan Government in a spirit of conciliation, and would be willing, in the event of a renewal of negotiations for the general settlement of boundaries, to waive a portion of what they considered to be their [Page 573] strict rights if Venezuela were really disposed to make corresponding concessions on her part.
The Venezuelan Minister replied in February 1881 by proposing a line which commenced on the coast a mile to the north of the Moroco River, and followed certain parallels and meridians inland, bearing a general resemblance to the proposal made by Lord Aberdeen in 1844.
Señor Rojaz’ proposal was referred to the Lieutenant-Governor and Attorney-General of British Guiana, who were then in England, and they presented an elaborate Report, showing that in the thirty-five years which had elapsed since Lord Aberdeen’s proposed concession natives and others had settled in the territory under the belief that they would enjoy the benefits of British rule, and that it was impossible to assent to any such concessions as Señor Rojaz’ line would involve. They, however, proposed an alternative line, which involved considerable reductions of that laid down by Sir R. Schomburgk.
This boundary was proposed to the Venezuelan Government by Lord Granville in September 1881, but no answer was ever returned by that Government to the proposal.
While, however, the Venezuelan Minister constantly stated that the matter was under active consideration, it was found that in the same year a Concession had been given by his Government to General Pulgar, which included a large portion of the territory in dispute. This was the third breach by Venezuela of the Agreement of 1850.
Early in 1884 news arrived of a fourth breach by Venezuela of the Agreement of 1850, through two different grants which covered the whole of the territory in dispute, and as this was followed by actual attempts to settle on the disputed territory, the British Government could no longer remain inactive.
Warning was therefore given to the Venezuelan Government and to the concessionnaries, and a British Magistrate was sent into the threatened district to assert the British rights.
Meanwhile, the negotiations for a settlement of the boundary had continued, but the only replies that could be obtained from Señor Guzman Blanco, the Venezuelan Minister, were proposals for arbitration in different forms, all of which Her Majesty’s Government were compelled to decline as involving a submission to the Arbitrator of the claim advanced by Venezuela in 1844 to all territory up to the left bank of the Essequibo.
As the progress of settlement by British subjects made a decision of some kind absolutely necessary, and as the Venezuelan Government refused to come to any reasonable arrangement, Her Majesty’s Government decided not to repeat the offer of concessions which had not been reciprocated, but to assert their undoubted right to the territory within the Schomburgk line, while still consenting to hold open for further negotiation, and even for arbitration, the unsettled lands between that line and what they considered to be the rightful boundary, as stated in the note to Señor Rojaz of the 10th January, 1880.
The execution of this decision was deferred for a time, owing to the return of Señor Guzman Blanco to London, and the desire of Lord Rosebery, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to settle all pending questions between the two Governments. Mr. Olney is mistaken in supposing that in 1886 “a Treaty was practically agreed upon containing a general arbitration clause, under which the parties might have submitted the boundary dispute to the decision of a third Power, or of several Powers in amity with both.” It is true that General Guzman Blanco proposed that the Commercial Treaty between the two [Page 574] countries should contain a clause of this nature, but it had reference to future disputes only. Her Majesty’s Government have always insisted on a separate discussion of the frontier question, and have considered its settlement to be a necessary preliminary to other arrangements. Lord Rosebery’s proposal made in July 1886 was that the two Governments should agree to consider the territory lying between the boundary-lines respectively proposed in the 8th paragraph of Señor Rojaz’ note of the 21st February, 1881, and in Lord Granville’s note of the 15th September, 1881, as the territory in dispute between the two countries, and that a boundary-line within the limits of this territory should be traced either by an Arbitrator or by a Joint Commission on the basis of an equal division of this territory, due regard being had to natural boundaries.”
Señor Guzman Blanco replied declining the proposal, and repeating that arbitration, on the whole claim of Venezuela, was the only method of solution which he could suggest. This pretension is hardly less exorbitant than would be a refusal by Great Britain to agree to an arbitration on the boundary of British Columbia and Alaska, unless the United States would consent to bring into question one-half of the whole area of the latter territory. He shortly afterwards left England, and as there seemed no hope of arriving at an agreement by further discussions, the Schomburgk line was proclaimed as the irreducible boundary of the Colony in October 1886. It must be borne in mind that in taking this step Her Majesty’s Government did not assert anything approaching their extreme claim, but confined themselves within the limits of what had as early as 1840 been suggested as a concession out of friendly regard and complaisance.
When Señor Guzman Blanco, having returned to Venezuela, announced his intention of erecting a lighthouse at Point Barima, the British Government expressed their readiness to permit this if he would enter into a formal written agreement that its erection would not be held to prejudice their claim to the site.
In the meanwhile, the Venezuelan Government had sent Commissioners into the territory to the east of the Schomburgk line, and on their return two notes were addressed to the British Minister at Caracas, dated respectively the 26th and 31st January, 1887, demanding the evacuation of the whole territory held by Great Britain from the mouth of the Orinoco to the Pomeroon River, and adding that should this not be done by the 20th February, and should the evacuation not be accompanied by the acceptance of arbitration as the means of deciding the pending frontier question, diplomatic relations would be broken off. In pursuance of this decision the British Representative at Caracas received his passports, and relations were declared by the Venezuelan Government to be suspended on the 21st February, 1887.
In December of that year, as a matter of precaution, and in order that the claims of Great Britain beyond the Schomburgk line might not be considered to have been abandoned, a notice was issued by the Governor of British Guiana formally reserving those claims. No steps have, however, at any time been taken by the British authorities to exercise jurisdiction beyond the Schomburgk line, nor to interfere with the proceedings of the Venezuelans in the territory outside of it, although, pending a settlement of the dispute, Great Britain cannot recognize those proceedings as valid, or as conferring any legitimate title.
The question has remained in this position ever since; the bases on which Her Majesty’s Government were prepared to negotiate for its [Page 575] settlement were clearly indicated to the Venezuelan Plenipotentiaries who were successively dispatched to London in 1890, 1891, and 1893 to negotiate for a renewal of diplomatic relations, but as on those occasions the only solutions which the Venezuelan Government professed themselves ready to accept would still have involved the submission to arbitration of the Venezuelan claim to a large portion of the British Colony, no progress has yet been made towards a settlement.
It will be seen from the preceding statement that the Government of Great Britain have from the first held the same view as to the extent of territory which they are entitled to claim as a matter of right. It comprised the coast-line up to the River Amacura, and the whole basin of the Essequibo River and its tributaries. A portion of that claim, however, they have always been willing to waive altogether; in regard to another portion, they have been and continue to be perfectly ready to submit the question of their title to arbitration. As regards the rest, that which lies within the so-called Schomburgk line, they do not consider that the rights of Great Britain are open to question. Even within that line they have, on various occasions, offered to Venezuela considerable concessions as a matter of friendship and conciliation, and for the purpose of securing an amicable settlement of the dispute. If as time has gone on the concessions thus offered diminished in extent, and have now been withdrawn, this has been the necessary consequence of the gradual spread over the country of British settlements, which Her Majesty’s Government cannot in justice to the inhabitants offer to surrender to foreign rule, and the justice of such withdrawal is amply borne out by the researches in the national archives of Holland and Spain, which have furnished further and more convincing evidence in support of the British claims.
The discrepancies in the frontiers assigned to the British colony in various maps published in England, and erroneously assumed to be founded on official information, are easily accounted for by the circumstances which I have mentioned. Her Majesty’s Government cannot, of course, be responsible for such publications made without their authority.
Although the negotiations in 1890, 1891, and 1893 did not lead to any result, Her Majesty’s Government have not abandoned the hope that they may be resumed with better success, and that when the internal politics of Venezuela are settled on a more durable basis than has lately appeared to be the case, her Government may be enabled to adopt a more moderate and conciliatory course in regard to this question than that of their predecessors. Her Majesty’s Government are sincerely desirous of being on friendly relations with Venezuela, and certainly have no design to seize territory that properly belongs to her, or forcibly to extend sovereignty over any portion of her population.
They have, on the contrary, repeatedly expressed their readiness to submit to arbitration the conflicting claims of Great Britain and Venezuela to large tracts of territory which from their auriferous nature are known to be of almost untold value. But they can not consent to entertain, or to submit to the arbitration of another Power or of foreign jurists, however eminent, claims based on the extravagant pretensions of Spanish officials in the last century, and involving the transfer of large numbers of British subjects, who have for many years enjoyed the settled rule of a British Colony, to a nation of different race and language, whose political system is Subject to frequent disturbance, and whose institutions as yet too often afford very inadequate protection to life and property. No issue of this description has ever been [Page 576] involved in the questions which Great Britain and the United States have consented to submit to arbitration, and Her Majesty’s Government are convinced that in similar circumstances the Government of the United States would be equally firm in declining to entertain proposals of such a nature.
Your excellency is authorized to state the substance of this dispatch to Mr. Olney, and to leave him a copy of it if he should desire it.