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Guiana Highlands

Guiana Highlands

Guiana highlands, the region in northern South America where Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela meet at Mount Roraima at 9,094 feet. Most scholars mark the eastern boundary as the Essequibo River, but others extend the massif along northern Brazil and southern Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. The Highlands occupy almost half of Venezuela. Their waters drain into the Orinoco River on the west and north, into the Essequibo River on the east, and into the Negro and Branco rivers on the south. With elevations from 1,640 to 2,600 feet in most places but from 2,600 to 4,900 feet in others, the Highlands contain commercial amounts of manganese, nickel, bauxite, diamonds, gold, and iron. With some of the largest deposits of high-grade iron ore in the world, they explain Venezuela's development of its most underpopulated and underdeveloped state, Bolívar, and the location of Venezuela's hydroelectric power and iron and steel industries at Ciudad Guayana.

These resources are responsible for the ongoing boundary dispute between Venezuela and Guyana (British Guiana before its independence in 1966). The dispute, only over the easternmost part of the Highlands, but three-fifths of Guyana's territory, dates to the 1840s, when British agents pushed into the zone west of the Essequibo River. The Venezuelan claim rests on the string of missions that were planted in the eighteenth century along the major rivers and streams of the area but were destroyed as the result of the wars of independence and anticlerical measures of republican governments. Guyana's claim and current possession, not recognized by Venezuela, arise from a British presence there since the 1840s and an 1899 arbitration decision in its favor. In 1962 Venezuela presented historical documents with the "inside story" of why it would not abide by this decision.

In the 1990s conflict escalated and the United Nations appointed a Good Officer to mediate a solution. The former Dutch colony of Suriname joined the conflict in 2000 with claims to a potentially oil-rich area of Guyanaís territory. The conflict had not been resolved by the end of 2007, and the United Nations continued to act as a mediator.

The majority of inhabitants in the region are of indigenous and Afro-Guyanese heritage. Though Venezuela has tried to recruit these residents for their cause, many speak English and have been more integrated into Guyana.


For the Venezuelan point of view, see the excellent survey by John V. Lombardi, Venezuela: The Search for Order, the Dream for Progress (1982). For Guyana's side, consult Chaitram Singh, Guyana: Politics in a Plantation Society (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Domínguez, Jorge, et al. Conflictos territoriales y democracia en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno Editores Argentina, 2003.

Márquez, Oscar José. La venezolanidad del Esequibo: Reclamación, desarrollo unilateral, nacionalidad de los esequibanos. Caracas: Libreria Mundial, 2002.

Mondolfi, Edgardo. El Águila y el León: El presidente Benjamin Harrison y la mediación de los Estados Unidos en la controversia de límites entre Venezuela y Gran Bretaña. Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 2000.

Morales, Faustino. Geografía física del territorio en reclamación: Guayana Esequiba. Caracas: Fondo Editorial de la Facultad de Humanidades y Educación, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1999.

Simancas, Francisco, and Elías R. Daniels H. Conflicts and Controversies, Venezuela and Guyana. Paramaribo, Suriname: Cátedra Libre Simón Bolívar, 2004.

                                    Maurice P. Brungardt

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