President David Granger: Honourable Prime Minister, Ministers of Cabinet, I would like to start by congratulating the Guyana Defence Force on its fiftieth anniversary. I, myself joined late in 1965, so my fiftieth anniversary would be what they call ‘Attestation’, it would be in December, while they celebrate theirs on the 1st November. It has been a long road and I think we have a longer road ahead.
Guyanese today, live in a region characterized by uneasiness, uncertainty and unpredictability. Guyana, from the time of the establishment of the Guyana Defence Force in 1965 and the achievement of Independence in 1966, never really had the opportunity to enjoy the undisturbed ‘freedom dividend’ which other countries in the Caribbean were able to expect and enjoy.
As you know the Venezuela National Army occupied the Guyana side of the Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River which is the western border between the two States; five months after independence, in October 1966.
Guyana has had to defend its territory against a bloody Venezuelan instigated attempt at the secession of our region; a region that is bigger than Costa Rica, 57,000 square kilometres.
Guyana has also had to defend itself against Suriname in the east; a country which used armed force to attempt to seize the New River zone which is over 15,000 square kilometres, bigger than Jamaica.
Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory was settled in 1899, a hundred and sixteen years ago. Britain and Venezuela after a series of hostile incidents occurring over a period of years, agreed on the 2nd February, 1897. This Treaty provided the territorial controversy to be submitted to arbitration, the award of which would be a “full, perfect and final settlement.”
The evidence presented to the Tribunal by the two sides was based essentially on claims that the territories occupied by the Dutch and Spanish respectively, since Britain and Venezuela became the respective successive States. The Award of the Tribunal was handed down in 1899, in fact on the 3rd October, 1899, and it was accepted.
The boundaries were surveyed and maps were published on that basis by 1905. The matter, officers of the GDF, was settled. So let us have no talk about a resettlement or revisiting something which was settled.
Venezuela maintains its claim to Essequibo on both strategic and security grounds; apart from its historical rationalizations. With a Caribbean coastline of 2,718 kilometres, Venezuela has always been aware of the geopolitical significance of sea power. Given its strategic location, its size, its wealth and its ideological orientation, Venezuela has sought to increase its stature as a minor power.
Venezuela’s possession of the Essequibo therefore would enhance that power. It would make it an oceanic state; a status which it does not now possess, and that is why they want the Essequibo coast. It will give it Salida al Atlántico; it would make it an Atlantic state; an Atlantic power.
Suriname’s claim is based on a resolution of the Staten. The Staten was something like a Legislative Assembly or Parliament which existed before Suriname became independent, as you know it celebrates its fortieth anniversary of independence next month. I have a copy of it here; they published something called a ‘Territorial Decree’ on the 5th May, 1965 and the Staten endorsed it. It’s a resolution in the Parliament. All this resolution said, “What is now called the New River will now become the Upper Corentyne”. This is it; this is the Suriname claim. The Parliament simply renamed the New River the Upper Corentyne. That is what is going on today.
The Netherlands together with Britain and Brazil, agreed in 1936 to fix a tri-junction point marking the place where the three territories touch, that is at the head waters of the Potaro River. Maps of the three countries consequently were published on that basis, with the Potaro being the tri-junction point.
The Netherlands, however, on the approach of Guyana’s independence reopened the case, renaming the New River, ‘Upper Corentyne’ and alleging it to be the boundary and claiming the land east of that river about 15,000 square kilometres as Suriname territory.
The main reasons for reopening that claim which I wouldn’t deal with today, were strategic and of course they were economic because they wanted to use the huge flow of water from the New River to power its hydroelectricity schemes to produce aluminum.
So officers, Guyana is in a state of permanent engagement in these contrived controversies; controversies which were invented by Venezuela and Suriname only at the onset of Guyana’s independence. To survive, therefore, Guyana must plan permanently to be in a state of ‘Total National Defence.’
It has not gone away; the claims have not gone away in fifty years and they will not go away in the next fifty months regardless, if I speak to Maduro or Bouterse or Ban Ki-moon, the claims will not go away in the next fifty months. That is why we need to pursue juridical settlements so that the claims can be removed by the courts.
Total National Defence implies that all of the elements, all of the instruments of national power, need constantly to be employed, in order to protect our territory. There is nothing more important at the present time. That’s why I am here today; on protecting our territory.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Article 197 A (1) stipulates, and I quote from the Constitution; the supreme law of the land, I quote:
“The State’s defence and security policy shall be to defend national independence, to preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity, and to guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against any armed aggression”.
You don’t have to make up a policy; it’s here embedded in the supreme law of the country, to defend national independence, preserve sovereignty and integrity, to protect citizens against armed aggression. You don’t have to invent the wheel, it is in the Constitution.
The age of visible warfare in the form of harassment on our borders or the intrusion of gun boats into our water therefore, is not yet over. Many years ago, Minister Trotman and I were members of something called the National Security Committee. That committee published a report. The Committee in fact was convened just about the start of the troubles and let me read from the report the Committee published and I read:
“The principal purpose of the Guyana Defence Force is to provide the potential for the application of force to ensure the security of the nation, the freedom of its people and the promotion of the national interest. Defence policy must determine the structure and capabilities of the defence force and guide the contribution it makes to the country’s defence and security goals in accordance with foreign and economic policies”.
The Committee stated further:
“Guyana’s national defence strategy should focus on deterrence based on the potential of military force to support diplomatic efforts designed to avoid recourse to armed conflicts. It must also attempt to dissuade a potential adversary from resorting to a particular course of action by convincing him that the cost of pursuing that course will outweigh the potential gain”.
The task that has been given to you, to convince any aggressor that whatever he thinks he will gain will not compensate for what he will lose. Again, no invention necessary, you have a clear mandate and this is something that was drafted over fourteen years ago.
Guyana, therefore, in light of the injunction of the National Constitution, in light of the Council of the Committee to which I just referred and in light of the aggressive persistence of these territorial claims must now carefully define its policy for Total National Defence.
Guyana needs a well commanded, well trained, well equipped defence force with the core capabilities of keeping citizens safe and secure. The GDF in order to fulfil its mission must be multi-role, flexible and fully integrated with sufficient support weapons. In my view, that policy must be based on five pillars:
First and foremost, personnel: The Force must be brought up to the authorized establishment strength to meet the current and unforeseen challenges. A study will be done to examine exactly how the regular force could be augmented and as you will hear later the reserve force must be reconstituted and it must be maintained and this is not a suggestion, it’s not a hint, it’s not a clue, it’s not a request. The reserve force must be brought up to fifty percent of the regular strength. The reserve force must not be allowed again to drop below fifty percent of the regular strength.
Secondly – readiness: The Force must be prepared to deploy to any part of Guyana, at short notice in response to direction by the Guyana Defence Board. Readiness refers also to the resources needed to conduct training and to prepare units for operations.
Third – infrastructure: The Force maintains several large bases throughout the country including this one, some of the best real estate in Georgetown. The condition of airstrips, the condition of barracks, the condition of hangers, wharves and other infrastructure, must be maintained in a serviceable condition in order to enable the force to conduct operations from them.
Fourth – morale: The Force must maintain its esprit de corps, in order to enable troops to support its mission and to function as a unit in order to achieve its objective.
And fifth, equipment: The Force must have the capability to maintain adequate, combat ready units with the correct mix of personnel and equipment. Aircraft, road vehicles, maritime vessels inevitably will be degraded over time but they must be repaired or replaced if efficiency is to be ensured. And sometimes, I fly in highlanders owned by private operators; which I used to fly in thirty years ago, owned by the defence force and I wonder why we couldn’t maintain them ourselves, why we couldn’t maintain our fleet.
Officers, the GDF must change in order to strengthen these five pillars; personnel, readiness, infrastructure, morale and equipment. Changes must start at the top, at the level of the General Staff in order to improve specialization and the quality of service.
First the position of Adjutant General has been restored. This will allow a dedicated superior officer to pay undivided attention to discipline, to the selection and recruitment of personnel, to promotions, to parade planning and to troop’s morale and their wellbeing. This is not to be bundled with a Colonel anymore. There must be a separate Adjutant General who pays attention to personnel and the condition of personnel, the most important factor in this defence force.
Second, the position of Quarter Master General has been restored. This is meant to afford a senior officer the resources to enable to ensure finance is provided, to improve infrastructure and to ensure that equipment is acquired, repaired or replaced, to ensure that troop’s living conditions, that their meals, their uniforms are adequate, to ensure that units are supplied with adequate munitions and weapons and those supplies are done in a timely manner.
And third, the position of Inspector General is meant to ensure that the appropriate superior officer is responsible for maintaining the force in a state of operational readiness and inter-operability with fraternal Caribbean Defence Forces. This means that an officer must get out and visit training centres, to ensure that training is done, to inspect units, to inspect training schools, inspect training areas, to improve training methods in order to ensure that all of the units and the troops individually or collectively are combat ready.
That is the specific responsibility of the Inspector General. He is the one who shows up at 6 O’clock in the morning to make sure you are all out for PT, he is the one that shows up at your exercise at Tacama, he is the one that shows up at John Clarke Military School to see how instruction is being done. So these three officers will support the Chief of Staff in his function of command. Other changes would be necessary to enable the GDF to fulfil its Constitutional mandate and to perform its functions. These changes must be designed to develop the force’s capability to provide continuous surveillance, over Guyana’s air, territorial and maritime borders and approaches, to provide search and rescue services to persons in distress and to provide assistance to the civil authority in response to any threat or disaster as determined by the Guyana Defence Board.
The GDF has always been required to perform multiple roles. The previous administration inherited an Air Corps with the capability to undertake casualty, evacuation and search and rescue missions, an Engineer Corps which possessed the resources to assist Caribbean countries damaged by hurricanes. Coast guards that could have pursued poachers; that could have protected fishermen from pirates; that could have interdicted smugglers and narco-traffickers, Ground Forces, that were capable of participating in an international peace support operation in Haiti. These were the capabilities which the last administration inherited.
These capabilities and assets, however, have been degraded and now need to be restored. Greater emphasis would be placed over the next five years on the Technical Corps. This is done on the basis of the fact that, it takes longer to train technically qualified persons than to train ordinary infantry men. So the strengths of these units must always be up to the establishment levels.
First of all, the Air Corps: This corps must be upgraded to provide continuous surveillance over Guyana’s air, territorial and maritime borders and approaches, and support search and rescue services to persons in distress.
Second – the Coast Guard: This unit must be upgraded to be permitted to provide continuous surveillance over Guyana’s sea space. It must be able also to provide search and rescue services to persons in distress. Maritime security is a serious matter.
Third, the Engineer Corp: This corps is essential to the restoration of defence and public infrastructure. This corps once had the capability to contribute to the building of the Mahdia and the Itabali Sand Landing road project.
The non-completion of these projects is partially responsible for the under development of the hinterland. The Engineer Corps will once again be built up to the level that it can assist the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to complete these roads and bridges in the hinterland because this is what the government feels should be necessary to develop this country.
In addition to these units, greater emphasis would also be placed on three auxiliaries.
First- the reserve force, which used to be called the Guyana’s People Militia, is to be deployed throughout the country. The reason for this is that we do not know where disaster will strike and that reserve force will be able to render assistance to the regional administration, all ten regional administrations, in time of floods or threats to public order and other emergencies. It is therefore our intention to re-establish the Militia as a credible reserve in accordance with the Defence Act in all ten regions.
Second- the National Cadet Corps is to be re-established. You see how frequently I am using “re”? “Re” is Latin for “again”. So the National Cadet Corps is to be re-established to allow boys and girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen in secondary schools to pursue part time training to prepare them for adult life. And third, the Civil Defence Corps is to be established as part of the Civil Defence Commission, to enable us to respond to managing disasters like the cyclical floods and as we now know in the Rupununi, drought. Martin Carter wrote about it but people ignored him “parching droughts and floods” that is the story of Guyana and we need a body of persons who could be mobilized quickly, not next week, not next month. When a flood occurs people must be there within an hour or two in order to provide relief to those disasters.
Criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, back tracking and gun running are often inter-related. Operations cannot be conducted successfully against one; to the exclusion of another. There is need therefore for the adoption of a policy of Total National Defence that would implement as I said before, “A National Security Policy that employs all instruments of national power in a more integrated manner, to meet the challenges faced by Guyana at this time.”
This would require a much higher degree of interagency co-operation than obtains at present. If we are to combine defence with diplomacy, economic development with law enforcement and the civil authority with the defence force.
The Defence Act does indeed prescribe for the force to be charged with and I quote – “The maintenance of order, when required”. There must not, however, be an easy recourse to deploying troops in a public order role on the streets and villages. Troops are not to be deployed on the streets and villages without the explicit permission of the Minister of Defence or the Guyana Defence Board. The force should operate alongside or in support of the police, not in front, when becoming involved in internal security disturbances.
Operations in future will have a clear and carefully defined mission. Troops, once the specific mission has been accomplished should return to barracks. They must not become part of the rural landscape. The business of public order and everyday law enforcement such as catching crooks is a police task and should remain so.
The Police Force, not the Defence Force has specific responsibility under the Police Act and I quote from the Police Act:
“The prevention and detection of crime, the preservation of law and order, the preservation of peace, the repression of internal disturbance, the protection of property, the apprehension of offenders and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which it is directly charged”.
The GDF and GPF have operated jointly on several occasions in the past. This was usually done only after a prolonged period of joint training, only after the establishment of joint operation centres which often included the co-location of troops with policemen in police compounds. And most of all only after a clear definition and separation of duties and roles had been given.
The Defence Act prescribes on the institutional side, that the Guyana Defence Board shall be responsible and I quote, “Under the general authority of the Minister for the command, discipline and administration of and all other matters relating to the force”. – that seems pretty clear.
The President himself is Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Guyana Defence Board; the supreme authority over the Guyana Defence Force. Other elected officials, including the Prime Minister, who is here today, including the Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs, Public Security and State are members of the Guyana Defence Board. These are civilians who exercise command over the military; that is the basis of civil-military relations. One is superior and the other subordinate.
The Defence Act prescribes on the operational side, and I quote:
“Responsibility of the Defence Board shall not extend to the operational use of the force for which use, the responsibility shall be vested in the Chief of Staff subject” and listen carefully, “to the general or special directions of the Minister”.
Therefore officers, harmonious civil-military relations must be seen as the bedrock of democracy. The military force in the first and last instance must be subordinate to civil authority.
I speak briefly of Defence diplomacy.
It has often been said that diplomacy is the first line of defence and Guyana’s Defence Policy as proposed in the Border and National Security Committee Report should be in accord with the State’s foreign policy and diplomatic posture.
Defence diplomacy contributes to building confidence between the armed forces and in extreme cases to preventing conflict, managing crises, and resolving disputes between States. That is why the GDF was deployed to Trinidad and to Haiti during times of public disorder.
Guyana has gained much, establishing itself as a reliable partner in the regional and hemispheric security and stability. This power of diplomacy should be enhanced. The GDF deployed troops for several months in 2004-2005 to assist Grenada which had been badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan.
The Force has previously sent humanitarian missions to Antigua, Jamaica, Montserrat in the aftermath of destructive hurricanes in those islands. The Force also participated regularly alongside other Caribbean defence and police forces in ‘Exercise Tradewinds’ sponsored by the United States Southern Command.
The Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Officer Cadet School has been host to Cadets from several Caribbean States including Antigua, Barbados and Belize. This is good and it must continue because it shows that Guyana is a good partner, particularly among the Caribbean defence forces.
These are the elements of your policy over the next five years. So, fellow officers, this concept of Total National Defence must be embedded in the doctrine of the GDF; because we, in the Cabinet understand what it means that all the elements and instruments of national power must be combined to protect our territory.
This policy will, on its implementation, give our regular and reserve forces the resources they need to perform their mission over the next five years. The long-term objective is to ensure that Guyanese will be able to depend on their defence forces and the defence forces will be able to ensure the safety of all citizens and the security of our beloved country.
I thank you.