The Gulf of Venezuela: A case study of historic waters

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

F. V. Garcia-Amador - Committee Chair


On March 16, 1891, the King of Spain, exercising the powers acquired under the treaty of September 14, 1881, handed down an award in arbitration granting to Colombia ownership of the greater part of the Guajira Peninsula, including a segment on the coastline facing the Gulf of Venezuela extending from the "Knolls Loss Frailes" to the western entrance of the Gulf at Cape Chichibacoa, territory which had been under the political control of the Captaincy-General of Venezuela as of 1810.Due to the territorial change Colombia relied upon the customary rule of international law stated in the Fisheries Case, holding that it is the land which confers upon the coastal state a right to the waters off its coasts, to claim its purported right to share with Venezuela the inland waters and the subsoil of the Gulf of Venezuela.Inasmuch as Section 1 of the Award lies at the very root of the problem, it is essential first of all to carry out an exhaustive analysis of its validity; that is, to inquire whether it is legally impregnable, or whether there are flaws affecting its validity.In the latter event, it is likewise necessary to consider the nature and degree of its invalidity, with a view to determining whether the latter affects the subsequent legal acts grounded on the Award.Only by clearing away all uncertainty on this point will it be possible to reach a conclusion as to whether it is reasonable or absurd for Venezuela to involve itself in a debate concerning the demarcation of its inland waters in the Gulf of Venezuela. If Section 1 of the Award is absolutely null and void, and such nullity invalidates all legal acts and bilateral agreements grounded on it, this would mean that Colombia has no right to the Gulf.If, however, Section 1 of the Award and the subsequent actions implementing it are legally valid, it would then be necessary to undertake a study of the principles of international law governing the institution of historic bays and water, because if the Gulf of Venezuela has already been recognized as historic, there would be nothing to demarcate in the Gulf. The only possible division of marine and submarine areas between the two nations would be to the northwest of the Gulf; that is, in the Caribbean Sea itself.


History, Latin American; Law; Political Science, International Law and Relations

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