Struggles on Stamps

Struggles about states are usually accompanied by discussions, diplomatic rows, border issues and sometimes even full-blown war. But also on tiny pieces of paper, the smallest expression of self-determination – stamps – these territorial claims are being fought.

1896 Venezuela: claim on Essequibo.

Jan Heijs

Venezuela claims most of (British) Guyana ‘Essequibo’ already for 133 years. In December 2023 95 percent of the people of Venezuela voted to annex a big part of neighbor (ex-British) Guyana called Essequibo. This dispute goes back a long time; colonial powers like the Netherlands, the UK and Spain fought over these lands since the sixteenth century and the dispute has been slumbering at occasions. But every time the Venezuelan economy is running bad, or oil or gold is found in the Essequibo area, the tension is back.

Venezuela’s claims for Essequibo can be traced back on Venezuelan postal stamps from the late nineteenth century. This 1896 stamp shows a map where the Essequibo area is described as ‘Guyana Venezuela’, at the time when Guyana was still a British colony. Just three years after this stamp, in 1899, the current border between Guyana and Venezuela was established by an international arbitration.

1930 Essequibo part of (ex-British) Guyana.

On a 1930 postage stamp however, Venezuela recognized the 1899-border by depicting a map with Essequibo to (then-British) Guyana.

1970: Venezuela claims Guyana.

Venezuela renewed its claim on Essequibo anew in 1962, as the British colony Guyana was gearing up to independence. Shortly after the independence of Guyana, in 1966, Venezuela issued stamps with a map claiming the Essequibo area, with the text: “Reclamacion de su Guyana” (Reclaiming its Guyana).

Venezuela shows Essequibo as disputed.

And in 1973, Venezuela depicted all its regions on a postage stamp and showed Essequibo as the most eastern region with the green lines and the text “Zona reclamation” (Claimed zone).

Guyana, 1981. ‘Guyana Essequibo is ours’.

Guyana reacted on many postage stamps, such as in 1981, with a map of Essequibo and the text “Guyana, Essequibo is ours”.

Mid November 2023 both countries asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to evaluate the claims for Essequibo. On the first of December 2023 the IJC responded to Venezuela to “refrain from taking any action which would modify that situation that currently prevails”. Meanwhile military buildup in Venezuela is reported and neighbor countries try to mediate. Brazil supports Guyana and Saint-Vincent has offered to host the mediation. Time will tell if the 133 years old border claim will be finally settled, or end up in a war.

Our explorer Jan Heijs has been collecting postage stamps depicting “disputed political propaganda” since 1980. Sometimes correct franked mail with such postage stamps is accepted by another country, sometimes not. Not accepted mail is called “postal war”. For more examples see: