Threat to Guyana’s (and its Own) Economy
The media has responded in the most
laudable manner to the threat posed by Suriname by its expulsion of the
CGX oil rig from an area which Guyana, according to all international
laws and norms, is part of its territory and over which it can therefore
exercise jurisdiction including the awarding of exploration contracts.
This response by our media appears to be a major shift in its hitherto
Georgetown-focused approach to newsgathering and emphasis on what is
Admittedly Georgetown is the political
and business capital of the country and what happens in Georgetown is
therefore of national relevance if not always importance. But that is
hardly a case for the lack of attention to what is happening to regions
and communities outside of Georgetown. It would of course be unfair to
Mr. C.N.Sharma and Kaiteur News if they were not identified as
exceptions to this general rule.
Business Page is without any
qualification guilty of this omission. Only one of the hundreds of
articles published in this column over the past seven years addressed a
topic that was exclusively non-Georgetown. That was on April 16 2000 in
“Essequibo - Please Step Forward.”
Yet as the recent action by Suriname has
shown, the threat to communities adjacent to or within any disputed
territory has grave implications for the economies of those communities.
On October 10 1999, the day prior to the Presidential Private Sector
Retreat Business Page wrote:
“Last weekend marked the hundredth
anniversary of the final settlement of the border issue with
Venezuela. Always confident of both the legality and morality of our
(Guyana’s) case we have become so complacent that the majority of
our youths seem blissfully ignorant of the threat posed by our
larger and much stronger neighbour which has offered not a shred of
evidence to support its claim that the award was null and void. Prospective
investment in the mineral rich region covering about two-thirds of
our country will always be under threat and the Government must
mobilize nationally and internationally to have Venezuela’s claim
dismissed once and for all.”
Then on April 16 in the article on
Essequibo referred to above we said “ No discussion on the development
of Essequibo can exclude consideration of the dispute over the claim by
Venezuela to a large chunk of Guyana…”
Any attention to our border problems
seems to have concentrated on Venezuela relegating to a lowly secondary
position the problem with Suriname. This is perhaps due to a tendency
over the decades to respond to the neighbour demonstrating the higher
level of belligerence. It must therefore come as a surprise to most
Guyanese that Suriname has decided to up the ante in such a dramatic
manner. Suriname is a neighbour with which Guyana and Guyanese have
established strong economic and social ties. The government must have
felt particularly comfortable about its relations with and its
expectations of Suriname that it participated in the decision to admit
it to Caricom, of which Guyana is a leading founder member and in which
it plays such a critical role.
Whatever Suriname thinks may be the
merits of its case its conduct not only in relation to the rig but in
its treatment of Guyanese operating in the Corentyne River even before
the rig, its behavior is hardly consistent with its otherwise friendly
and welcoming attitude to the tens of thousands of Guyanese who do
business in or reside in Suriname. It is surely more than a matter of
getting people with low expectations to work in their industries. There
are few if any reports of ill treatment of Guyanese living in Suriname
by the authorities there. The pictures on our local TV stations of
Guyanese living in Suriname speak not of a people who consider
themselves threatened by their hosts but who are anxious for an early
and peaceful resolution of this increasingly critical situation.
As we move towards the realisation of the
dream of a bridge over the Berbice River trade with Suriname will no
doubt increase to the benefit of both countries. Indeed both the ferry
service between Guyana and Suriname and the proposed bridge assume
increased movement of goods and people for their economic justification.
The case for a strengthening of economic ties between the two countries
is a compelling one much stronger perhaps than is the case for Guyana
and The Bahamas, to pick another Caricom example at random.
Statistics of remittances from Guyanese
living in Suriname are of course extremely inadequate and the partly
clandestine nature of the trade between the two countries prevents any
meaningful attempt at assessing the economic contribution of the
relationship. There is however no disputing the importance of the role
which the contraband trade with Suriname played in carrying us through
several difficult years and in the development of Corriverton as a
thriving business centre in Guyana. There is arguably the greatest
concentration of commercial banks in that area and the River plays an
important role in trading and the forestry sector.
Any escalation of the dispute will put at
risk not only this community and by extension the economy of the country
but will also pose a serious threat to the tens of thousands of Guyanese
living in Suriname on a scale hitherto unknown to us in Guyana.
President Jagdeo has demonstrated skill
and courage in recruiting on the team some of the best talent in Guyana
on international affairs. In his discussions with his Surinamese
counterpart in Jamaica he will have to take on board the legal, moral
and human considerations and it will not be easy. It is therefore
extremely fortuitous that the experienced Prime Minister of Jamaica P.J.
Patterson has agreed to act as Facilitator to these talks.
The prolongation of this dispute will
harm both countries both of which have internal economic and political
problems which require the full attention of their leaders and the most
productive use of all their limited financial and other resources. Both
countries will spend their limited resources on military activities at
the expense of meeting the needs and expectations of their populace.
Unless this dispute is settled no investment can take place in the
disputed areas with serious consequences for both countries. Development
does not wait and the leaders of both countries no doubt realize this.
President Jagdeo will find himself in a
serious dilemma. No doubt he and Foreign Minister Clement Rohee want to
protect and defend the territorial integrity of all Guyana regardless of
the direction from which the threat comes. They must be assured and our
ambitious neighbours must understand that while serious differences of
opinions and values exist over deals with some investors including Beal,
Guyanese do not for a moment wish to give up our territory to any bully,
however big or small.
On the other hand, our leaders have to
create at the formal, diplomatic level the relationship and co-operation
which our peoples have established across borders, whether in the west
and south by the Amerindians or in the east by the people of