His Excellency, Brigadier David Granger: It’s always exciting to come back to Camp Ayanganna and now, particularly that I am welcoming my third Chief of Staff since I’ve been President and this Chief of Staff, of course, was as born about three months after I entered the Officer Cadet School to give you an idea of the generational gap. But I’m very excited and interested in his presentation on the transformation of the force and to his reintroduction of the concept of ‘total national defence’ which of course was introduced several years ago.
But in so saying I would like to extend our congratulations to the force as a whole because it has embraced the concept over the years, over the decades and I was particularly happy last year in Barbados to see professional members of the Guyana Defence Force who had gone to a sister CARICOM State to support its fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
Unfortunately, the paratroopers weren’t able to jump. They sent Guyanese weather ahead of them and for the first time of my life, I have seen Bridgetown under water, but luckily the Artillery Corps was able to put on a splendid display of fireworks which I think the Bajans appreciated very much.
I would also like to thank the force for the positive image that it has created in the minds of Guyanese. Last Sunday night I was at Leonora and there again, there again we saw the citizens of the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara Region being thrilled by our paratroopers and also once again by the Artillery Corps to celebrate and to commemorate the abolition of Indian indentured labour immigration into Guyana.
It is a significant national observance and I had announced then that that day the 6th of March would be declared a National Day of Commemoration for the Abolition of Indian Indentured Immigration to Guyana. So the display by the GDF I think helped to impress the residents of that region and also the citizens of Guyana as a whole of our embrace of this whole concept of totality when we regard the importance of national defence.
Similarly, I would like to thank the GDF for its performance at our Republic Anniversary last month and of course, Vice President Ramjattan would remember his visit to Exercise Green Heart year before the last and the other members of the Defence Board would have gone to Home Guard last year. These events demonstrate the closeness of the army to the people and to our national ideals, and I think this conference will continue to emphasise that closeness and it is something that we should never forget.
Officers, Guyana is a small state and as I often say, a small state is more than a state which is not large. The world’s largest states are well aware of the vulnerabilities of small states and the special characteristics of security threats which small states face. The United Nations General Assembly approved since 1994 a special resolution, which among other things recognised and I quote “small states may be particularly vulnerable to external threats and acts of interference in their internal affairs.”
The Resolution also emphasised and I quote again, “The vital importance for all the states of the unconditional respect by all states of all of the principles of the charter of The United Nations.” And I’d advise all officers to keep a copy of the charter in their left breast pocket like I do.
The values and standards in the right pocket; never leave home without it. I’m sure others will carry the New Testament. But the Charter of United Nations explains the principles by which relations among states should be governed and that resolution emphasise the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, none interference in internal affairs of other countries and the peaceful settlement of disputes. These are principles which guide Guyana’s relations with other states. We respect other states and we call only for other states to respect us.
The Guyana Defence Force under the Defence Act has been charged with the defence of the maintenance of order in Guyana and with such other duties, as may from time to time, be defined by the Defence Board, (several of those members are here). This implies that the force must be constantly in a state of readiness to deploy troops effectively on short notice to conduct operations by day or by night in any weather or terrain in any part of the country to meet any emergency.
Threats in the form of domestic and transnational crime are being reduced because of the GDF’s performance of its role. As you are aware, Martine Piracy has diminished as a result of more robust surveillance by the Air Corps and the Coast Guard and by the combined Task Force of the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force. Our ground forces continue to maintain vigilance on our borders, on our coastland and in our rivers.
Threats to Guyana’s security are both longstanding circumstances and of recent occurrence. Guyana, therefore, must pursue a tripartite path in accordance with its national interests and in accordance the Charter of the United Nations. That path is based National Self Defence, we do not have any military treaty with any other state; it is based on regional interdependence. We are part of the Regional of Caribbean Security System and as the Chief of Staff explained it is based on international systems.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has always been and through various bilateral and multi-lateral agencies and regional mechanisms will continue to be this country’s first line of defence. Threats might arise, however from elements who wish to undermine internal security. Reckless remarks about an uprising and provocative calls for the mobilisation of foot soldiers have the potential to rip apart the fragile fabric of social cohesion that we enjoy.
Guyana furthermore is becoming a ‘green’ state and threats could arise from illegal activities which result in the pollution of our waterways or damage to our protected areas and national parks and this is most alarming. Last year we discovered they were dredges operating in our most iconic national park.
The force, therefore, shares responsibility for exercising guardianship over our flora, our Fauna and our marine and natural resources. The doctrine of ‘total national defence’ which our Chief of Staff has explained consequently must be based firmly not only on military defence but also on civil defence and social and environmental defence.
These pillars cannot be buttress by the force alone or even by the government; national defence doctrine must emphasise the importance of every citizen taking personal responsibility for our natural national patrimony. The complexity of our terrain, our country which is the largest in the Commonwealth Caribbean presents colossal challenges for military deployment.
This country, with over 3,000 kilometres of land borders and 450 kilometres of coastline, with its varied landscape comprising coastal beaches, mudflats, riverain islands and the three largest islands in the Essequibo estuary are the size of the British Virgin Islands- the BVI.
The hinterland, highlands, our grasslands, our wetlands from which our national bird has emerged, the Canje Pheasant, our lakes, our rivers, our rainforest, our evergreen forests, our mangrove forest, our swamp forests, our waterfalls, these all constitute the terrain in which the Guyana Defence Force must operate, and of course our patrimony which the defence force must protect. There are no badlands here; all of these lands are habitats for our vulnerable flora and fauna.
This country is covered largely with forest and most areas are accessible only by river; many others only by air but of course being good soldiers- always by foot. The inadequacy of our hinterland infrastructure, insufficient aerodromes, bridges, highways and stellings hinders our access and impedes our deployment, and that is one of the reasons why one of the challenges facing the defence force is to create an engineer corps which can improve national infrastructure by building aerodromes, bridges, highways and stellings not only to improve national development but also to improve military deployment.
It is essential therefore that these factors be considered in designing and refining our defence doctrine. The Defence Act prescribes that the Guyana Defence Force shall consist of a regular force and reserve force and my Minister of Legal Affairs reminds me that the word “shall” implies an absence of option or choice.
It is mandatory. It was therefore never the intention of the framers of the Act that the reserve force should ever be dissolved, should ever be diminished or discountenanced and I am happy that the Chief of Staff has announced that the reserve force will once again be established on equal footing with the regular force as called for in the Defence Act.
The doctrine of ‘total national defence’ therefore must be a comprehensive one. Given our limited financial and material resources and by force of circumstance, defence doctrine must be based on maintaining a small regular force and a relatively large reserve force which can be deployed to all parts of the country to respond to emergencies. This doctrine can be explained at the levels of both, what I call vertical augmentation and horizontal amalgamation.
By vertical augmentation I mean that if we have a small regular force it can be augmented by the addition of reservists. Sections could be built into platoons, platoons could be built into combat teams, combat teams could be built into battle groups and battle groups could be built into task forces by the addition of reservists when the need arises.
In this way a small force in peacetime could grow into a larger force during operations and of course during our major field tactical exercises, and in the second instance, we have what I call the horizontal amalgamation. This means that by establishing reserves in each administrative region those units would be in closer proximity in both time and space to events and to emergency situations. It means that they could respond more promptly when a situation arises whether that situation is an incursion or a flood or some other form of natural calamity.
So they are on the ground, on the spot whether they are at the Kotari or the Amakura, whether they are at Orealla or Arrau, our forces must be spread in all ten regions of the country. This is not a coastal force, this is not an urban organisation this is a national defence force.
The force will not be able to effectively discharge its mandate of guardianship of our territory unless it has the assets and the ability to deploy its troops through every creak and every cranny of our country. It is for this reason that when I first addressed you as President in October 2015, I insisted that the force must ensure that at the national level both the regular and reserve force must be brought up to establishment strength.
I instructed that the reserve force must be maintained in sufficient strength in the capital town of every administrative region bar none, and that we must enhance the technical capability of the air corps, the artillery corps, the engineer corps and the coast guard in addition of course to maintaining the efficiency of the ground forces.
The Government of Guyana traditionally has pursued friendly defence relations with all states. Officers continue to be trained in the Federative Republic of Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the United States of America and elsewhere and we continue to have cordial relations with Canada, Germany, French Guiana and our sister state in the Caribbean Community.
The Government of Guyana is actively engaging friendly governments with a view to improving the efficiency of the force’s technical arms and I am very confident that over the next three years you would see evidence of this engagement.
Officers, Guyana is a small state but it need not be an isolated state. Guyana is intrinsic, in fact organic to the Caribbean Community. The Caribbean as a region must be preserved as a zone of peace if Guyana is to enjoy peace. The Caribbean must be a zone in which the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each state must be respected. It must be a zone in which the new security threats such as international terrorism, narcotics trafficking and gun running are extinguished.
It cannot be less than a matter of deep concern to the Guyana Defence Force that aircraft could penetrate our airspace to land in Yupakari in the Rupununi, or that earth moving equipment could be operating in southern Guyana constructing roads and airstrips without the knowledge of the central government or defence force. These are serious problems which have to be examined by this annual officer’s conference and which have to be solved before the next Chief of Staff comes along.
Officers, the doctrine of ‘total national defence’ therefore, based on military, civil, social and environmental defence and emphasizing the important role of every citizen and encouraging every citizen to take personal responsibility for our national patrimony in my view, is the surest means of ensuring the defence of our country.
I thank you.

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