Venezuela Border Dispute

VenezuelaCarcacus 1900

The U.S. pressured Great Britain to participate in arbitration of the boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. United States officials even went as far as to use a veiled threat of war. The British eventually agreed to participate when they realized how important this matter was to the United States. This was the last major dispute between the U.S. and Britain.


The Venezuelan border dispute began in 1814 when Great Britain acquired British Guiana from the Netherlands. The agreement did not specify the western border of territory with Venezuela. Robert Schomburgk was engaged to be survey the border and he delineated a border that became known as the Schomburgk Line which claimed an additional 30,000 square miles for Guiana from Venezuela.

Venezuela disputed the British line and claimed the actual border was Essequibo River. When gold was discovered in the disputed area Great Britain claimed additional territory. In 1796 the Venezuelans broke diplomatic relations with Britain and appealed to the US citing the Monroe Doctrine to come their aid in the dispute. For 19 years, the US did little but in 1895 the new US Secretary of State Richard Olney sent a strong note to British demanding that the dispute be submitted to arbitration. When the British refused claiming that the US had no standing in the dispute, President Grover Cleveland requested authorization from Congress to appoint a boundary commission and the enforce the results by all means necessary. The British could not take a chance of war with the US and agreed to the commission. The US commission rendered its opinion on October 3, 1899. That opinion recognized the original Schomburgk line, and not the extended area that Great Britain had claimed. The Venezuelans were disappointed but accepted the results. Great Britain also accepted the results. The dispute and its resolution marked an important milestone for the US, it showed that the US was a power to be reckoned with on the world scene. It was also the last dispute between the US and Great Britain.