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As typical neighbours, Venezuela, Colombia and Guyana’s relations have fluctuated between cordiality and hostility; this to a large part due to divergent political allegiances and ideology. In the 1800s, Simon Bolívar conquered a considerable portion of South America, called it Greater Colombia and asserted his Bolivarianist ideology (including Latin American integration). Greater Colombia embraced Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. However, the confederate empire crumbled under separatist wars and Colombia declared its independence in July 20, 1810. On one hand, as the U.S. most stalwart Latin American ally, Colombia share close sympathies with the U.S even ratifying the Defence Cooperative Agreement in 2009 which would initiate military cooperation with the U.S and the establishment of a U.S. military base. On the other, Venezuela continues to vent its anti-Western and anti-globalisation views, even persuading other Latin American countries through its diplomacy to follow same and sever ties with the U.S. Both regard one another as a genuine security threat as Colombia views Venezuela as harbouring rebel forces and arming them with Russian-made sophisticated equipment`- and Venezuela’s reciprocal suspicions of Colombia cooperating with the U.S. for its downfall.
However, economically, both countries are interdependent (which factor has saved their rocky relationship). Venezuela needs Colombian natural gas and dairy as meat, diary and sugar products have soared due to socialist restrictions. And Colombia needs Venezuela’s cheap oil, and state-subsidised merchandise and food. Plus the lowered transport costs greatly facilitate trade with well-developed infrastructure (border crossings). Approximately 80% of Venezuela-Colombia trade occurs via its road networks, creating some 300,000 jobs. Yearly trade between both countries amassed to $7 billion however, with the cooling of relations, trade volumes dropped drastically to only $1 billion around 2009 – the recession year and year in which alliance with the U.S. was signed. In 2015, bilateral trade experienced further contraction as Nicolas Maduro ordered the shutdown of all Venezuela-Colombian open borders and a state of emergency decreed this during the same period that Venezuelans are complaining of rampant crime, corruption and economic failures, laying it on the shoulders of Colombians.
In the 1980s, Colombia’s drug trade prospered, and gang rivalries peaked and erupted as the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and right-wing paramilitary groups clashed. Blood, crime, violence and corruption leads to the displacement of millions of Colombians, many of whom find asylum in neighbouring Venezuela. However, in the 1990s, Colombia suspected Venezuelan collusion with rebels, financing, arming and providing sanctuary for them – which resulted in tensed relations. On the other hand, Venezuelans attribute the heightening of Venezuelan crime rates to Colombian immigration and illegal contraband – this has led to the deportation of thousands of Colombians.
The Venezuela-Colombia territorial dispute was also compounded by marine and submarine tiffs, however, in the 1990s when both governments issued resolutions to conform with the Declarations of San Pedro Alejandrina and Urena which instituted a mediatorial body to tackle the squabble over waters in the Gulf of Venezuela. In 2009, the Chavez government de-commissioned the negotiating committee on the highly contended waters, and imposed limits through a military order which formed four distinct zones in the interest of national security. Colombia reacted by pronouncing a protest and filing a lawsuit against Venezuela to the International Court of Justice. In 2012, the verdict articulated that Colombia maintained its legal jurisdiction over a few islands and 75,000km2 of the disputed territory.
Venezuela-Guyana relations were never cordial since the times of colonial Spain till the turn of the 21st century. Spanish colonizers loyal to the Crown demanded British Guiana’s soil as theirs. After the wars of independence, Venezuela revived the old quarrel initiated by Joaquin Crespo, a Venezuelan dictator in1890s. Crespo claimed a large portion of Britain’s territory along the Guiana-Essequibo River during the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895. The issue was summoned to an international arbitration panel called the Paris Arbitration, which bestowed the lands to Great Britain. In 1962, Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera continued to press his entitlement to over 60% of Guyanese territory, declaring the Paris Arbitration decision ‘null and void.’ As such, the issue returned to the negotiation table.
The Geneva Agreement was signed in 1966, the year of Guyanese independence, between Great Britain and Venezuela in which both promised an agreeable resolution for both parties. In 1970 a Port of Spain Protocol was signed that settled for a 12-year moratorium in 1982, tempers flared again and the UN Secretary dispatched an officer to resolve the longstanding border conflict. Amidst diplomatic tensions, Venezuela has made several allegations against Guyana including being influenced by the U.S to erect surveillance satellites. Nevertheless Guyana has gone ahead , consenting to U.S. military patrol of its waters and leased some of the disputed territory to U.S. oil companies such as Exxon to commence oil exploration and exploitation (a $200 billion contract).
In 2015, the Guyanese government pulls out of the UN Good Officer mediation since no resolution was reached for 25 years, as Maduro demands stoppage of oil drilling. Indeed, the Venezuela-Guyana border dispute has been a problematique for more than 200 years and from the look of things, a definitive resolution seems remote. Venezuela-Guyana bilateral trade earned approx.. $147 million last year. Plus the PetroCaribe agreement stipulates oil purchase for rice barter (a favourable deal for Guyana). However, when relations soured between them over the ancient border dispute, Venezuela made good on its threat to instead purchase Surinamese rice and refused to renew this contract.
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