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In 1876—thirty-two years after the discontinuance of efforts on the part of Great Britain and Venezuela to fix by agreement a line which should divide their possessions—Venezuela was confronted, upon the renewal of negotiations for that purpose, by the following conditions:

The claim by her, of a divisional line, founded upon her conception of strict right, which her powerful opponent had insisted could not in any way be plausibly supported, and which therefore she would in no event accept.

An indefiniteness in the limits claimed by Great Britain—so great that, of two boundary-lines indicated or suggested by her, one had been plainly declared to be “merely a preliminary measure open to future discussion between the Governments of Great Britain and Venezuela,” while the other was distinctly claimed to be based not on any acknowledgment of the republic’s rights, but simply upon generous concessions and a “desire to avoid all 191 cause of serious controversies between the two countries.”

A controversy growing out of this situation impossible of friendly settlement except by such arrangement and accommodation as would satisfy Great Britain, or by a submission of the dispute to arbitration.

A constant danger of such an extension of British settlements in the disputed territory as would necessarily complicate the situation and furnish a convenient pretext for the refusal of any concession respecting the lands containing such settlements.

A continual profession on the part of Great Britain of her present readiness to make benevolent concessions and of her willingness to co-operate in a speedy adjustment, while at the same time neither reducing her pretensions, nor attempting in a conspicuous manner to hasten negotiations to a conclusion.

A tremendous disparity in power and strength between Venezuela and her adversary, which gave her no hope of defending her territory or preventing its annexation to the possessions of Great Britain in case the extremity of force or war was reached.

The renewed negotiations began with a communication dated November 14, 1876, addressed 192 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Venezuela to Lord Derby, then Great Britain’s principal Secretary of State. In this communication the efforts made between the years 1841 and 1844 to establish by agreement a divisional line between the two countries, and their interruption, were referred to, and the earnest desire was expressed that negotiations for that purpose might at once be resumed. The minister suggested no other line than the Essequibo River, but in conclusion declared that the President of Venezuela was led to “hope that the solution of this question, already for so many years delayed, will be a work of very speedy and cordial agreement.”

On the same day that this note was written to Lord Derby, one was also written by the same Venezuelan official to Mr. Fish, then our Secretary of State. After speaking of the United States as “the most powerful and the oldest of the Republics of the new continent, and called on to lend to others its powerful moral support in disputes with European nations,” the minister directs attention to the boundary controversy between Venezuela and Great Britain and the great necessity of bringing it to a speedy termination. He concludes as follows: “But whatever may be the result of the new steps of 193 the Government, it has desired that the American Government might at once take cognizance of them, convinced, as it is, that it will give the subject its kind consideration and take an interest in having due justice done to Venezuela.” A memorandum was inclosed with the note, setting forth the claims of Venezuela touching the boundary location.

This appears to be the first communication addressed to our Government on the subject of a controversy in which we afterward became very seriously concerned.

A short time after the date of these communications, a Venezuelan envoy to Great Britain was appointed; and, on the thirteenth day of February, 1877, he addressed to Lord Derby a note in which, after asserting the right of Venezuela to insist upon the boundary previously claimed by her, he declared the willingness of his government “to settle this long-pending question in the most amicable manner,” and suggested either the acceptance of a boundary-line such as would result from a presentation by both parties of Spanish and Dutch titles, maps, documents, and proofs existing before the advent in South America of either Venezuela or British Guiana, or the adoption of “a conventional line fixed by mutual accord 194 between the Governments of Venezuela and Great Britain after a careful and friendly consideration of the case, keeping in view the documents presented by both sides, solely with the object of reconciling their mutual interests, and to fix a boundary as equitable as possible.” The suggestion is made that the adoption of a divisional line is important “to prevent the occurrence of serious differences in the future, particularly as Guiana is attracting the general attention of the world on account of the immense riches which are daily being discovered there.”

Let us here note that this renewal by Venezuela of her efforts to settle her boundary-line was accompanied by two new features. These, though in themselves entirely independent, became so related to each other, and in their subsequent combination and development they so imperiously affected our Government, that their coincident appearance at this particular stage of the controversy may well strike us as significant. One of these features was the abandonment by Venezuela of her insistence upon a line representing her extreme claims, and which England would not in any contingency accept, thus clearing the field for possible arbitration; and the other was her earnest appeal 195 to us for our friendly aid. Neither should we fail to notice the new and important reference of the Venezuelan envoy to the immense riches being discovered in the disputed territory. Gold beneath soil in controversy does not always hasten the adjustment of uncertain or disputed boundary-lines.

On the twenty-fourth day of March, 1877, Lord Derby informed the Venezuelan envoy that the governor of British Guiana was shortly expected in London, and that he was anxious to await his arrival before taking any steps in the boundary discussion.

After waiting for more than two years for a further answer from the English Government, the Venezuelan representative in London, on the 19th of May, 1879, addressed a note on the subject to Lord Salisbury, who, in the meantime, had succeeded Lord Derby. In this note reference was made to the communication sent to Lord Derby in 1877, to the desire expressed by him to await the arrival of the governor of British Guiana before making reply, and to the fact that the communication mentioned still remained unanswered; and on behalf of Venezuela her representative repeated the alternative proposition made by him in February, 1877, in these words: “The boundary treaty 196 may be based either on the acceptance of the line of strict right as shown by the records, documents, and other authoritative proofs which each party may exhibit, or on the acceptance at once by both Governments of a frontier of accommodation which shall satisfy the respective interests of the two countries”; and he concluded his note as follows:

    If Her Britannic Majesty’s Government should prefer the frontier of accommodation or convenience, then it would be desirable that it should vouchsafe to make a proposition of an arrangement, on the understanding that, in order to obviate future difficulties and to give Great Britain the fullest proof of the consideration and friendship which Venezuela professes for her, my Government would not hesitate to accept a demarcation that should satisfy as far as possible the interests of the Republic.

    At all events, my Lord, something will have to be done to prevent this question from pending any longer.

    Thirty-eight years ago my Government wrote urging Her Majesty’s Government to have the Boundary Treaty concluded, and now this affair is in the same position as in 1841, without any settlement; meanwhile Guiana has become of more importance than it was then, by reason of the large deposits of gold which have been and still are met with in that region.

Now, at the date of this communication England’s most extreme claims were indicated 197 either by the Schomburgk line or by the line which Lord Aberdeen suggested in 1844 as a concession. These were indeed the only lines which Great Britain had thus far presented. When in such circumstances, and with these lines distinctly in mind, the envoy of Venezuela offered to abandon for his country her most extreme claims, and asked that Great Britain should “vouchsafe to make a proposition of an arrangement” upon the basis of a “frontier of accommodation or convenience,” what answer had he a right to expect? Most assuredly he had a right to expect that if Great Britain should prefer to proceed upon the theory of “accommodation or convenience,” she would respond by offering such a reduction of the claims she had already made as would indicate a degree of concession or “accommodation” on her part that should entitle her to expect similar concession from Venezuela.

What was the answer actually made? After a delay of nearly eight months, on the tenth day of January, 1880, Lord Salisbury replied that her Majesty’s Government were of the opinion that to argue the matter on the ground of strict right would involve so many intricate questions that it would be very unlikely to lead to a satisfactory solution of the question, and they would 198 therefore prefer the alternative “of endeavoring to come to an agreement as to the acceptance by the two Governments of a frontier of accommodation which shall satisfy the respective interests of the two countries.”

He then gives a most startling statement of the English Government’s claim, by specifying boundaries which overlap the Schomburgk line and every other line that had been thought of or dreamed of before, declaring that such claim is justified “by virtue of ancient treaties with the aboriginal tribes and of subsequent cessions from Holland.” He sets against this claim, or “on the other hand,” as he says, the fact that the President of Venezuela, in a message dated February 20, 1877, “put forward a claim on the part of Venezuela to the river Essequibo as the boundary to which the Republic was entitled”—thereby giving prejudicial importance to a claim of boundary made by the President of Venezuela three years before, notwithstanding his Lordship was answering a communication in which Venezuela’s present diplomatic representative distinctly proposed “a frontier of accommodation.” His declaration, therefore, that the boundary which was thus put forward by the President of Venezuela would involve “the surrender of a province now inhabited 199 by forty thousand British subjects,” seems quite irrelevant, because such a boundary was not then under consideration; and in passing it may occur to us that the great delay in settling the boundaries between the two countries had given abundant opportunity for such inhabitation as Lord Salisbury suggests. His Lordship having thus built up a contention in which he puts on one side a line which for the sake of pacific accommodation Venezuela no longer proposes to insist upon, and on the other a line for Great Britain so grotesquely extreme as to appear fanciful, soberly observes:

    The difference, therefore, between these two claims is so great that it is clear that, in order to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, each party must be prepared to make considerable concessions to the other; and although the claim of Venezuela to the Essequibo River boundary could not under any circumstances be entertained, I beg leave to assure you that Her Majesty’s Government are anxious to meet the Venezuelan Government in a spirit of conciliation, and would be willing, in the event of a renewal of negotiations for a general settlement of boundaries, to waive a portion of what they consider to be their strict right, if Venezuela is really disposed to make corresponding concessions on her part.

And ignoring entirely the humbly respectful request of the Venezuelan minister that Great 200 Britain would “vouchsafe to make a proposition of an arrangement,” his Lordship thus concludes his communication: “Her Majesty’s Government will therefore be glad to receive, and will undertake to consider in the most friendly spirit, any proposal that the Venezuelan Government may think fit to make for the establishment of a boundary satisfactory to both nations.”

This is diplomacy—of a certain sort. It is a deep and mysterious science; and we probably cannot do better than to confess our inability to understand its intricacies and sinuosities; but at this point we can hardly keep out of mind the methods of the shrewd, sharp trader who demands exorbitant terms, and at the same time invites negotiation, looking for a result abundantly profitable in the large range for dicker which he has created.

An answer was made to Lord Salisbury’s note on the twelfth day of April............
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