The Essequibo River is the largest river in Guyana, and the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela border, the Essequibo flows to the north for 1,010 km through forest and savanna into the Atlantic Ocean.
There are countless rapids and waterfalls (e. g., Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro river) along the route of the Essequibo, and its 20 km wide estuary is dotted with numerous small islands. It enters the Atlantic 21 km from Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana. The river features Murrays Fall, Pot Falls, and Kumaka Falls.
Its many tributaries include the Rupununi, Potaro, Mazaruni, Siparuni, Kiyuwini, Konawaruk and Cuyuni rivers. For over 30 km from its mouth, the river's channel is divided by the large flat and fertile islands of Leguan (about 28 km²), Wakenaam (about 44 km²), and Hog Island (about 60 km²). Fort Island is situated off the eastern side of Hog Island. Fort Island was the seat of Government of the country during the Dutch colonial era.
The first European discovery was by the ships of Juan de Esquivel, deputy of Don Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus. The Essequibo River is named after Esquivel. In 1499 Alonso de Ojeda explored the mouths of the Orinoco and allegedly was the first European to explore the Essequibo. Capuchin missionaries established missions in the territory before the Dutch settled along Esquivel's River.
The first European settlement in Guyana was built by the Dutch along the lower part of the Essequibo in 1615. The colonists remained on friendly terms with the Native American peoples of the area, establishing riverside sugar and cacao plantations. In a document detailing instructions for the Dutch Postholder in Cuyuni, it was mentioned that Indians (Venezuelan Amerindians) trading in Chinese slaves to sell to people who lived along the Esequibo river were to be allowed to conduct their business.
The Independence war of Venezuela beginning in the 19th century ended the missionary settlements. At this time, Britain needed to have a colony, besides Trinidad, to serve the large trade sailboats on their large travel trading route around South America. Venezuela claims that the Essequibo is the true border between it and Guyana, claiming all territory west of it. The boundary was set between Venezuela and Guyana's then colonial power, Great Britain in 1899 through an arbitration proceeding. A letter written by Venezuela's legal counsel, named partner Severo Mallet-Prevost of New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle alleged that the Russian and British judges on the tribunal had acted improperly and granted the lion's share of the dispute territory to Britain due to a political deal between Russia and the United Kingdom. As a result, Venezuela has revived its claim to the disputed territory.
In August 1995 there was an acid spill in the river by the Canadian mining company Cambior. An estimated 4 000 000 m³ of waste laced with cyanide was released into the river causing much destruction.
- Venezuela (1898). Venezuela-British Guiana Boundary Arbitration: Appendix, pts. 1-2: Documents from Dutch sources. Documents from Spanish sources. The Evening post. p. 127. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
- United States. Commission to investigate and report upon the true division line between Venezuela and British Guiana (1896). Report and accompanying papers of the Commission appointed by the President of the United States "to investigate and report upon the true divisional line between the republic of Venezuela and British Guiana".. Govt. print. off. p. 248. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
- Vegamián, Félix María de (Father, Order of Friars Minor Capuchin). El Esequivo, frontera de Venezuela. Documentos históricos y experiencias personales. Madrid: Talleres Tipográficos Raycar S. A., 1968.
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