(4th December, 2015) His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: I’m very happy to be here. I don’t think any of you could imagine how I feel, being here. My first location was at Macapa in 1967 before many of you were born; 48 years ago, and Eteringbang was my second location. At that time, of course, we were living in bunkers. This looks like luxury to me because life was very different; of course the water was different too, when I was first based here at Eteringbang; but nostalgia apart, I’m happy to be here again, first of all to bring you greetings on behalf of the Government of Guyana, on behalf of the Ministry of the Presidency, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.
As you know, I’m also Minister of Defence so I heard Colonel Ward say thanks for coming here as part of my busy schedule. This is my schedule, to be with my troops. So this is part of my job and all I can say is that unfortunately, I can’t come here frequently enough, but it is important to iterate that my visit here, first of all, is to bring you greetings and secondly, to offer you congratulations as you celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Guyana Defence Force.
I joined the Guyana Defence Force on the 29th of December 1965, so my 50th birthday in the GDF has not come as yet. The GDF celebrated its birthday on the 1st of November, I joined a little less than two months after, but this year is important for me too because it marks my fiftieth year of signing on that dotted line; fiftieth year of attestation in the greatest profession that I have ever known; the Guyana Defence Force, the military profession of Guyana.
We had a very good celebration, as you know, in Georgetown and other parts of the country, and I want to congratulate you all for your attainment over the last fifty years. Many of you may not know, but were it not for the Guyana Defence Force; Guyana would not be what it is today. We have suffered attacks; we have suffered aggression from the east and from the west, even within recent memory.
In 2000, the Surinamese sent armed naval vessels into our waters to expel a petroleum exploration vessel. Again thirteen years later, on the 10th of October, the dates are fresh in my mind, the 10th of October 2013, the Venezuelans sent a corvette into our waters to expel a boat called the Technic Perdana, which had been conducting Petroleum exploration in our waters.
These waters belong to us and your duty is to make sure that the country you inherited from your parents and fore parents is the country that you pass on to your children and grandchildren. That’s your job and I am proud to say that is what you have been doing for the last 50 years.
Thank you and congratulations.
But this is a work in progress; we have to be eternally vigilant and that is why I’m proud to say that I was here on this spot 48 years ago, and maybe people, your sons and grandsons will be here 48 years from now because this is the price we pay for protecting our patrimony, protecting this beloved country. Many of you I’m sure would like to be with your loved ones this Christmas season, but I’m sure that you all realize and recognize that being here is more important to the country than being at home. This is a demonstration of your service and that is a sacrifice that we make. Anyone who takes that Oath of Attestation, anyone who puts on olive green or camouflage will realize that this is the price we pay so that other people can live in comfort and safety.
So I want to record my thanks to you to you again and again. Here you are surrounded by beautiful green environment and I’m happy again this year, even as you are preparing for your celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Force, the GDF found time to have an important exercise; Exercise Greenheart, to demonstrate to the Guyanese citizens, to demonstrate to the entire continent that we were ready to perform our functions to protect the territorial integrity of this country.
So I come to you today with fondness in my heart for a profession which I love, and for the service which you are rendering to this great nation. I come also with best wishes that you continue to do what people like myself have done and have been doing for the last 50 years and what people like your Chief of Staff and your officers and you all, colleagues in uniform, will be continuing to do in years to come.
This has been a very busy period for me. It’s just over six months since I have been President and Commander-in-Chief and you all, as members of the Defence Force, I’m sure must be particularly proud that somebody who once sat on this hill with binoculars looking at Ankoko; dressed in olive green could one day be Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Force of this country; but ceremonial apart, what is important is the function that we perform in protecting this country, and the threats are not only from the borders, but the threats could also be from inside and that’s the worst type of threat.
Sometimes you say you know your adversary, but sometimes people who sit and drink with you could be your greatest enemies. As Bob Marley warned us, 45 years ago, “they sit and drink with you”, but what you see happening in San Bernadino, but what you see happening in Paris, what you see happening in Nigeria with the Boko Haram, what you see happening in Mali; indicates to all of us that the threat doesn’t have to come from outside, it can also come from inside. So that is why we have to prepare not only for external threats, but for internal threats also and that is why three days ago on the 1st December your Chief of Staff launched what is called Operation Dragnet.
Operation Dragnet is meant to protect the whole country from all threats; a very ambitious operation. This is not a little thing about plexus or nexus; this is total national defence because we do not know where the threat will come from. It may come from people in our own villages, in our own communities, in our own country, because crooked people in Guyana sometimes are prepared to take lucre – money, bribes in order to do unlawful deeds; smuggling, trafficking in cocaine, trafficking in persons, gun running. These are the crimes which have brought the greatest destruction to this country, in 50 years.
When you go to Bartica ask Senior Superintendent Boodram, there are two monuments there, one in the police compound and one by the river bank. I know that because I grow up in Bartica. Go to, Eve Leary, you see another monument, go to Buxton/Friendship you see another monument, why? Why are we building these monuments? We’re building these monuments because between 2000 and 2010 more Guyanese were killed by violence, by terror, than any other time in our history. More policemen died in the first decade of this millennium than in the whole history of the police force, before or since.
Not because the Venezuelans attacked, not because the Surinamese attacked, but because there are Guyanese criminals who are pushing their drug trade and they were prepared to kill fellow Guyanese in order to take control of the narcotics trade. They were prepared to bribe members of the Police Force and the Defence Force; they were prepared to bribe public servants. But never before in such a short period of history have so many people been killed and we have as members of the Defence Force and members of the Police Force in 2015 to prevent such a reoccurrence; to prevent internal civil violence, internal terrorism from ever coming back to this country.
We have to develop Guyana. We have the resources; gold, diamonds, bauxite, manganese, timber, the best tourism potential, and your job is to protect these resources. We are now moving into petroleum- offshore. A few days after I became President, the longest trip I made was 200 kilometres offshore to see petroleum exploration taking place in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone. So we must not allow any threats from outside of our borders or even threats from inside of our borders, to prevent us from enjoying that good life.
We are entitled to the good life, we are poor people here. Y’all not rich, you’re poor people, but we want to ensure that our children have better lives than we have had and to do that we have to ensure that no form of terrorism, domestic or otherwise, is allowed to take root in this country from any form of extremism. We live as brothers; Christians, Muslims and Hindus live together. We’ve never had religious wars in this country and we never will; if you continue to do your work. We have never encouraged any form of extremism and we never will as long and the Defence Force continues to do its work.
So today I stand before you with pride. I remember my good days as a young man; coming up that bump I started to remember. I remember the river; I remember the boatmen who worked with me; I remember Macapa; I remember going along this river putting up big signs, “Guyana’s territory”, putting up flags along these river banks, but the price of victory, the price of success, the price of security is eternal vigilance.
So members of the GDF, Happy Christmas to you and your families, happy anniversary to you and thank you very much for the service that you’ve rendered to this nation. As you know, I have promulgated an order declaring the 1st of November every year as Defence Force Day.
Defence Force Day. Generations to come must remember that the 1st of November, the day on which this great force was inaugurated, has received the highest recognition as having a day named after it; Defence Force Day.
So congratulations, Happy Christmas and May God bless the Guyana Defence Force.
I thank you!