Letter by Ambassador Ishmael on the New River Triangle

Published in Stabroek News, Chronicle and Mirror

June 21, 2000

Dear Editor,

Ambassador Cedric Joseph's comments on your June 11 editorial (Letters, June 18) are very informative and they provide a very clear explanation of the historical evolvement of our maritime boundary with Suriname. For this he must be complimented.

We must also remember that our eastern neighbour has made claims to the New River Triangle and maps published by Paramaribo defy convention and show the Traingle as not belonging to Guyana.

It will be recalled that the Arbitral Award of 1899, which defined the boundary between Guyana (then British Guiana) and Venezuela, also described Guyana's southern boundary with Brazil as running "along the ridge of the Akarai Mountains to the source of the Corentin called the Cutara River." The "Cutara" or Cutari River (Kutari River) forms the eastern end of the base of the New River Triangle. However, in recent decades, Suriname has been claiming that the New River, a western tributary of the Corentyne, is actually the boundary river, again defying all geographical norms and historical facts.

Of interest to note is that Brazilian maps, like all maps published in international atlases and other publications, clearly show the Brazil-Guyana boundary stretches to the Cutari River. Actually, Suriname originally agreed that the Cutari River, as the source river of the Corentyne, formed the boundary. Let me explain what happened.

In 1929, after there were reports that oil deposits might be fund in the Corentyne River area, the Dutch Government proposed to the British Government in a letter of August 7, 1929 a treaty to delineate the border between Guyana (then British Guiana) and Suriname (then Dutch Guiana). The Dutch Government mentioned that an important reason for concluding such a treaty was because the Brazilian Government wanted to define its boundaries with Guyana and Suriname and this could only be done if the tri-junction point at which the frontiers of the three countries met was clearly marked. The Brazilians and the British had earlier signed a treaty in 1926 for the demarcation of the frontier between Brazil and Guyana. Article 2 of this treaty stated that: "The British Guiana/Brazil frontier shall lie along the watershed between the Amazon basin and the basins of the Essequibo and Corentyne Rivers as far as the point of junction or convergence of the frontier of the two countries with Dutch Guiana. . ."

The Treaty also stipulated the establishment of a Commission to mark the frontier and the Dutch Government was invited to participate in it. Of interest to note is that the method of determining the point at which the boundaries of the three countries met was suggested by the Dutch Government in a Note of February 27, 1933 to the British Government. In that Note the Dutch proposed that the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana should follow ". . . the path Trombetas-Cutari from its extremity on the Cutari leading over a rock, by Farabee called 'Farogle', till its point of contact with the Brazilian frontier This point of contact will be the tri-junction point. . ."

On April 25, 1935 the Dutch presented the British Foreign Office with a draft of instructions which the Dutch Government suggested should be issued to "the Respective Commissions for the defining of the tri-junction of the boundaries of Surinam, British Guiana and Brazil". The main provisions of the draft (which was accepted without amendment by the British) provided as follows: --

(a) The Commissioners shall proceed to investigate the principal course of the Cutari River so far as the source of the Cutari River.

(b) The longest of the branches of the Cutari River shall be deemed to be its principal course.

Based on these instructions and with the total agreement of the representatives of the three countries, the tri-junction point was fixed in 1936 at the point suggested by the Dutch in their Note of February 27, 1933. The Dutch representative on the commission was Admiral Kayser, and he along with the Brazilian and British Commisioners signed a map showing the tri-junction point at the source of the Cutari River.

Yours sincerely

Odeen Ishmael