Foreign Policy Blogs

“Flags of Our (Founding) Fathers”: Venezuela's Claim on Guyanese Territory

The Venezuelan flag carries a rich historical tradition, and is based on versions used by rebels who fought for the country’s independence in the early 19th century. At the same time, like Venezuela as a whole, the flag has undergone changes in recent times.

The flag has three horizontal colored stripes. The red is said to represent Spain as the former colonial power, while the blue stripe stands for the Atlantic Ocean, and yellow symbolizes new opportunities (rather than gold as traditionally interpreted).

Only a few years ago the flag would have contained fewer stars. Initially, the semi-circle of seven stars represented the original provinces supporting Venezuela when it gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 2006 an additional star was added, to symbolize Venezuela’s ongoing claim to territory on its eastern flank, totaling more than half of Guyana. The call for this change is said to be based on writing by Venezuelan independence hero and founding father Simon Bolívar, though it was not made official until legislation passed by the current government.

The United States has altered its flag over the years as new states entered the Union. What, however would one think if a star was added before this change took place? I have to imagine that the government of Guyana is not particularly pleased knowing that its neighbor has already incorporated the possession of more than half its territory into official maps. An example from a Chávez administration website shows the 23 current states within Venezuela plus the territory it claims from its neighbor:


Under Chávez’s leadership the government often places great emphasis on symbolism, and the coat of arms used on the flag is no exception. The horse, which once moved to the right with its head facing backwards, has now been replaced by a version galloping to the left. This represents Venezuela’s move leftwards on the political spectrum – although the pace may not seem like a Kentucky (or Caracas) Derby gallop, socialist reforms are consistently trotting ahead.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.