President David Granger: Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you for coming. I’d like to welcome you to the Ministry of the Presidency again. I will read my opening statement, which concerns largely my visit to New York between the 23rd and 29th of September. As you know, I attended the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly held in New York City between the 23rd and 29th of September. While there, I addressed the Sustainable Development Summit 2015, the Global Leaders Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and the General Assembly itself.
With regard to the Sustainable Development Summit 2015, this meeting was held on the 25th of September and I pledged Guyana’s support in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs. As you know these are replacing the MDGs – the Millennium Development Goals, identifying Sustainable Development Goal Number Four, that is, “The provision of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
I said that this was the mother of all goals. It was the most important of the 17 goals which had been stated. I indicated that Guyana, over the next five years – that is my term of office as President – Guyana will set this goal as its foremost priority for national development; that is Goal Number Four.
I also gave an address to the Global Leaders meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. I expressed our commitment to ensuring that at the national level all critical areas which require attention to foster equality between men and women, as well as the empowerment and advancement of women, will be accomplished. This basically is a repetition of the commitment I gave at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre when I addressed the Conference on Women and Social Cohesion. On the 29th itself, that was on Tuesday, I addressed the General Assembly. I reminded the United Nations and, of course, the global leaders who attended; of course, the UN General Assembly is the largest meeting for global leaders in any one place, at any one time.
The United Nations had a mandate to bring about and I quote, “…by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and the international law; adjustment or settlement of international disputes.” I noted that this responsibility is essential to the survival of small states, states which are threatened by more powerful states. I therefore call for a system of collective security to protect small states because small states on their own do not have the capability to protect themselves against larger, more powerful states. I dedicated the greater part of my presentation to the General Assembly to the threat posed by Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory. In seeking the solidarity of the international community I expressed confidence in the capacity of the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to identify solutions that will validate the “just, perfect and final” character of the Arbitral Award of 1899.
While in New York, I also held a number of bilateral discussions with a number of Heads of Government and officials of international organisations. Also, in a special engagement facilitated by the Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, I met with the President of Venezuela, Mr. Nicolas Maduro Moros. I also held a number of bilateral meetings with Heads of Government and Heads of International Organisations. These meetings afforded me the opportunity to bring to the attention of the international community the developments which were taking place in my country, Guyana; especially with relation to Venezuela’s threat to seize two thirds of our territory and a large part of our sea space. And, I also took the opportunity to discuss other matters of bilateral interest.
On the 24th I met Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi of India.
On the 25th I met… Luis Alberto Moreno, who is President of the Inter-American Development Bank, which, as you know, was involved in the funding for the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. On the same day I met with the President of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos.
On the 26th I met Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden; Manuel Vicente, Vice-President of Angola and Mr Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of The Netherlands.
On the 27th I met President Raoul Castro of Cuba; President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya; Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of Georgia.
On the 28th I met Her Excellency, Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile. I met Mr Ernesto Samper Pizano, Secretary-General of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations; Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados, who is also Chairman of the Caribbean Community; President Macky Sall of Senegal and Ms. Helen Clarke, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Thank you.
Director of Communications Mark Archer: Adam Harris?
Adam Harris: Mr President, during your meeting with Maduro, you said you had bilateral talks with him also. Could you say…?
President David Granger: No, no, no, I didn’t say that.
Adam Harris: Did you have bilateral talks with Mr Maduro? Did you talk with him about the future?
President David Granger: That’s a different question.
Adam Harris: Did you talk with him about the future of the….?
President David Granger: I had a meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the presence of Mr. Maduro. I did not have a bilateral with him.
Adam Harris: While at the event sir, did you get the chance to talk to Mr. Maduro about bilaterals; the future of things like PetroCaribe and the other trade deals that we might have had with Venezuela?
President David Granger: No. It was not my purpose to have bilaterals with him. I was invited by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the four matters which were agreed by President Maduro:
1: He would grant agrément for the nominee of Guyana to be Ambassador to Caracas that is, Ms Cheryl Miles.
[II:] The Venezuelan Ambassador to Georgetown will be returned.
[III:] He would receive the delegation nominated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to visit Caracas which, when the team visited Georgetown, the Venezuelans said it was not convenient to receive them at that time.
So we feel that these were matters which we wanted decided. Mrs. Miles is likely to be granted agrément; the Venezuelan Ambassador will return. President Maduro will meet the team and, as you know, the troops who were deployed in the Cuyuni/Wenamu area, in western Guyana, that is eastern Venezuela, have now been withdrawn. So we feel that those four matters were to Guyana’s advantage and at the end of it, that was on Sunday night, we left satisfied that there was a possibility of the restoration of normalcy on the border. But it was not a bilateral; I did not seek a bilateral but I did have a clear objective and as far as I’m concerned those objectives were met. Those four objectives are the things that we wanted and those are the four things that we got.
Gary Eleazer – Kaieteur News: Sir, during the UN intervention [in] the Guyana and Venezuela border matter, could you say if Guyana in the meantime would be allowed to proceed with development in the Essequibo region, unhindered? And could you say if you have any guarantees from Mr. Maduro with regards to him keeping his troops off of the border?
President David Granger: Well one, I don’t understand the word allow. Well that is a matter for Mr Maduro. As far as I am concerned this territory belongs to Guyana and any attempt by Venezuela to use armed force to prevent Guyana from exercising its sovereignty over its land or sea space or airspace is illegal. So it’s not a question of allowed; it is our territory. We are a sovereign nation and that is why I called on the international community to guarantee the rights of small states like ours. We don’t have gunboats; we don’t have corvettes to expel persons who intrude into our territory. So it’s not a question of allowed. We would certainly like to proceed- this is the undertaking which we have given foreign investors that we are calling on the international community to preserve the security of our country, our territorial integrity.
This morning I received the Letters of Credence from Mr. [Perry] Holloway, the United States Ambassador, and I called on the United States as well, with whom we are partners in something called the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) which was established by President Barack Obama, to guarantee the security of small states.
I always say, “You know, God loves small states, that’s why he made so many of them” and the majority of states in the Caribbean are small and they have to be protected and we cannot establish 15 defence forces for 15 states in the Caribbean. There must be some international system for protecting small states. So there’s no guarantee, there’s no undertaking from Mr. Maduro; but what I asked is that the international community would give us that guarantee. We cannot do it ourselves and we have embraced a diplomatic course of action, to use diplomacy, to prevent or to forestall or to inhibit Venezuela from behaving in a lawless manner.
Denis Chabrol – Demerara Waves: Mr. President, sir, a follow-up on the comment you made just moments ago. What exactly do you expect from the United States as far as its responsibility could be in respect to the protection of small states? You did refer to the CBSI and not having 15 armies for instance and my substantive question to you, sir: To what extent do you believe PetroCaribe and ALBA have, to some extent compromised the solidarity that CARICOM has provided to Guyana with respect to the border controversy?
President David Granger: The United States is unlikely because of its own foreign policy; it’s unlikely to become more deeply involved than it is at present. I do believe that the United States and Brazil on the North American continent and South American continent, respectively, have what I would like to define as moral suasion; they have influence and they can exert that influence to modify the behaviour of smaller states and they’ve been able to do that in the past; whether they want to deploy that ‘suasion’ to restrain Venezuela is another matter. The Venezuela threat has been with us for 50 years and it still persists. So it probably suggests that, although there’s not been a full-scale invasion, that maybe ‘suasion’ worked to prevent the claim from degenerating into violence.
As far as the second part of your question is concerned, from the time of the independence of many of the smaller Caribbean island states, Venezuela has pursued an aggressive programme of establishing embassies, cultural centres, extending loans and grants and, most recently under President Hugo Chavez Frias, the introduction of ALBA, which is the Bolivarian [Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas] and also PetroCaribe. Guyana itself has been beneficiary of PetroCaribe but we mustn’t feel that it is more important than you think. We sell maybe 30% of our rice in that market. We still have other markets for rice and we would like to feel that, after review, that agreement will be renewed.
As far as the petroleum is concerned, the conditions are favourable but we pay the same price as anybody else. It’s just that the conditions under which we are allowed to buy the petroleum are concessionary conditions. So don’t feel that life will end if these agreements come to an end. They are favourable, they are expressions of friendliness and we would like them preserved but we’re not in a trade-off and I don’t believe any of our Caribbean colleagues are in a trade-off between Guyana and PetroCaribe. I don’t think that there’s a deal. Obviously Venezuela has been working for 50 years to build friendships. If you look at the Caribbean carefully you will see that Venezuela has the longest Caribbean coast of any state. Venezuela is a Caribbean country; it’s not an Atlantic country like Guyana; it’s a Caribbean country. It has a long Caribbean coast, and it’s also in control of the greatest part of the Caribbean Sea. Much of Venezuela’s oil has to pass through the Caribbean.
So Venezuela is concerned about the security of the Caribbean and it has done a lot of work over the last 50 years to build friendships in the Caribbean; we don’t deny that, but we feel that the friendships must not be at the expense of Guyana’s territorial integrity. I would say with confidence that the Caribbean states, particularly under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, have been on our side in this. They’ve always been on our side, they’ve never let us down and I don’t expect them to let us down. … Next month, November, we’ll be going to Malta where we’ll be meeting the Commonwealth Heads of Government and I expect the support of the entire Commonwealth in this matter as well.
Marcelle Thomas – Stabroek News: Mr. President, a follow up to that question; specifically dealing with CARICOM. We haven’t seen individual CARICOM Heads giving categorical support for juridical settlement in this border controversy; are you disappointed? And now we see Suriname’s President laying claim to the New River Triangle. How is the David Granger Administration going to deal with that?
President David Granger: There is no place for disappointment in international relations. You have to be realistic. Every state has its own national interests and I expect that the Caribbean states would behave in a manner consistent with their national interests. I said that we got the support of CARICOM; maybe it is not as forceful as some people expected but we are satisfied that the Caribbean Community wants to see the Caribbean remain a ‘zone of peace’, and is on the side of Guyana and Belize, in the resolution of these two disputes that affect these two mainland states, Guyana and Belize respectively.
The matter of Suriname is not new. As you know, Suriname has laid claim to part of our sea space and that had to be determined by International Tribunal and it was determined in Guyana’s favour. Suriname claims the Corentyne River – that is still a matter of controversy because there’s never been any Treaty which demarcated the boundary between Guyana and Suriname. Suriname also claims the New River; what we call the New River Triangle. It encompasses an area of land which is larger than Jamaica and we feel that this claim is spurious and we have taken measures in the past to protect our territorial integrity and we will continue to protect our territorial integrity in that regard. So I read the statement attributed to President Bouterse, but as far as I’m concerned it does not change the price of rice.
Gordon Moseley – News Source: Mr. President, sir, still with Suriname. Could you say whether or not you intend to seek any clarification from the Surinamese Ambassador here in Guyana on the statements made by the President over there? And sir, while you were in the New York area at the United Nations General Assembly, the Opposition Leader, Mr. [Bharrat] Jagdeo, was there; he is still there meeting with and discussing issues of climate change from a Guyana perspective. Are you concerned at all that as Opposition Leader he is pushing what should be a government agenda and do you intend to call him in on that?
President David Granger: We’re very happy that he’s come over to our side; he’s starting to see the light. Guyana is one state, one nation and we welcome [former] President Jagdeo’s support for our climate change agenda. It is well known that during his 12-year tenure of office he did advance certain initiatives in terms of climate change, and where useful, we would like to embrace those initiatives.
So we are not in the business of rejecting any gratuitous assistance from the former president. So yes, you too, News Source, could jump on board. Tomorrow the 3rd, we have National Tree Day and we expect that people all over the country would be planting trees and cleaning the environment, trying to reduce the impact of global warming.
Gordon Moseley: Is there a [preferable] tree?
President David Granger: Actually, I’m a mango man. I’ve asked my colleagues in the Cabinet to put less emphasis on ornamental trees and more on fruit bearing trees, at least your children and grandchildren would have something to eat. As far as Mr. Jagdeo is concerned, well as I said, his intervention is welcome.
Gordon Moseley: Suriname Ambassador?
President David Granger: I am not going to call her in. The Minister of Foreign Affairs …he had some other bilaterals to complete; he returns to the country tomorrow. I … expect that I’ll be meeting him on Sunday and I expect that this matter will be dealt with on Monday – the clarification from the Suriname Ambassador. It seems to be quite opaque; so I agree with your use of the word ‘clarification’ is needed. We are aware of the historical claim that Suriname has made to the New River but I think this is not the time and not the place to advance the claim. There is, as you know, historical evidence, that the boundary between… the eastern boundary between Brazil, what was then British Guiana and what was then Dutch Guiana, was clearly marked, at least by 1936; and that mark is literally indelible. What we do know is that the boundaries of all three countries meet there and they don’t meet at the New River; they don’t meet anywhere else so whatever the Surinamese Government advances has to start with the Kutari and that is our argument and that is what we’re going to stand by. That’s the international boundary. You cannot convene a meeting of your Parliament and change your boundary.
Media representative: I hope we can turn to a more domestic matter. Job creation was one of your major campaign promises; can you say what are some of the mechanisms you hope to put in place to create more jobs?
President David Granger: Well, essentially, it has always been our argument that the education system has to be the basis for employment. It is no point going out and promising people jobs when they do not have the skills or the education level to support the jobs that you want to provide. So our mechanism is to get more children to remain in school. As you know we have a very high rate of dropouts; it’s about 500 per month in primary and secondary schools. We have embarked on this programme – what I call ECIS – Every Child in School – that’s one of the reasons I’ve been providing school boats, buses and bicycles the Three Bs’ – buses, boats and bicycles is to keep children in school. So if people can’t afford transportation, we will find means of helping them to get to school and that is one of the reasons why we took action in other areas to ensure that children could get to school.
So the education system is most important. We feel that if we can keep children in school they will emerge literate, they will emerge numerate and it will be easier for us to employ them. The second means that we intend to use is to encourage more young people, for example Indigenous young people in the hinterland who might have dropped out of school, to get back into the youth employment programme so that they can learn skills which are useful in their communities, particularly agro-processing skills. Sometimes youngsters are brought from hinterland communities and they’re given training in electrical wiring, motor mechanics and so on and when you get back to Moruca, not much wiring to be done. So we want to give them more appropriate skills and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs is re-launching the programme which used to be called the YAEP- the Youth Apprenticeship and Entrepreneurship Programme in order to give young people the types of skills which can guarantee them employment in their communities.
Many young people in the hinterland communities, particularly those four hinterland regions, Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi, after they leave school some of them drift into the gold fields, some of them drift over the border to Brazil or Venezuela but we feel we can keep them in their communities if we provide facilities for agro-processing – that is to say, allowing them to use their farm produce, whether it’s cassava or sweet potato or peanuts, to process it so that they can start selling peanut butter, they can start selling cassava bread rather than raw cassava. So these are the means that we hope to employ to create jobs.
We have to start by keeping young people in schools and we’re also going to, maybe in the next year’s budget, provide some facility- instead of the school transport voucher we have something which will reward parents who keep their children in school. So we intend to actually reward parents for keeping their children in school. As you know primary school is compulsory. Attendance at primary school is compulsory within certain age limits and parents who keep their children out of school actually break the law. So we will try to encourage parents. We don’t want to put anybody in jail; we try to encourage the parents to send their children to school and in so doing we feel that in years to come we’ll have a more literate population which can be better employed in development projects.
Vanessa Narine- Citizens Report: Mr. President, can you say… you mentioned that you met with the IDB head in New York; can you say what the outcome of talks were in terms of whether or not Guyana made representations for the hydro projects in Tumatumari and Moco Moco? And what was the discussion on Amaila? And if you can respond to the continued protest by rice farmers and the recent … sugar …?
President David Granger: That’s a package. The IDB spent millions of dollars investigating the possibilities of having a hydropower project based on the Amaila Falls. I do not want to disclose the details of my conversation with President Moreno, but I can say that generally speaking, the Amaila Falls Project as conceived by the previous administration is not viable. It is not viable, and we are unlikely to proceed with the Falls in the form in which it was conceived and presented to us.
Now, I’d like you to remember that in the 10th Parliament there was never a Bill which described or defined the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. Two measures came before the National Assembly: one concerned the debt ceiling and the other concerned the reservoir- the area that was likely to be flooded. There was nobody in the National Assembly who was ever given a single document stating what the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project capabilities were apart from what we were told about building a road. So we’ve never really been able to determine the viability of the project as a whole, and what we said in the Opposition at that time was that, because of the flow of water on the Kuribrong River alone, we needed to consider the whole basin so that we could trap the flows from several rivers. We’ve never seen the Kaieteur Falls bone dry but we’ve seen the Amaila Falls bone dry. So we wanted to trap – the Kaieteur Falls as you know is on the Potaro – we wanted to have a Potaro basin development authority. So we had a different concept.
We want hydropower and I think that the Inter-American Development Bank is inclined to support hydropower, but what was put before them is not viable. And we have done thorough investigations and even in Opposition the APNU and AFC were engaged in a friendly manner, not a hostile manner, with the IDB; so we could inform ourselves better about what was to be done.
We did not pursue conversation with the President about Moco Moco or Tumatumari. There are about a hundred sites in Guyana which can support hydro-electrical generation and we intend to pursue hydro-electric generation; but the one that was based on Amaila Falls, the road, everything about it appeared to us to be flawed and we feel vindicated in that we did not spend good money or we did not take loans which have to be paid back to develop that particular project.
So I would like to assure you that sooner or later, Guyana will have hydropower, whether it’s one project or several small projects; this is still to be decided and the Minister of Public Infrastructure is actually engaged, not only in investigation into our hydroelectric potential, but also into other forms of renewable energy, particularly solar energy and wind. Up to yesterday we had a Cabinet meeting and we’re looking at wind farms – we are looking at solar farms. Not one, one panel, but farms which can generate power for whole communities.
Director of Communications Mark Archer: Two final questions.
Vanessa Narine – Citizens Report: Sir, the other part of the question.
President David Granger: I was trying to relate it to IDB. My information is that farmers sell their paddy to millers. Paddy farmers sell their paddy to millers. The millers produce rice which they try to market. It’s a private arrangement, farmer, miller, market. It’s not a government arrangement and, without making any accusations, sometimes the millers receive payment for their rice but don’t pay for the paddy. There are problems within the rice industry which are not to be blamed on the Government of Guyana. It’s a private enterprise, largely. I met the President of Senegal; I’m looking for markets for rice. I said that the main focus of Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is economic diplomacy. I want to sell rice, I want to sell rum, I want to sell plantain chips, I want to sell stuff but as far as this protest is concerned, it is misplaced. The paddy farmers should be protesting against the people who owe them money. We don’t owe them any money.
Media Representative: (Inaudible)
President David Granger: Okay. You are following up on a follow up. No. Let me make it clear. There are elements instigating protests to create the illusion that the Government is at fault. The Government did not buy paddy; we are searching for markets to help the private millers and farmers. We want the industry to survive and to prosper but you must look at the internal dynamics of the industry and you will discover that it is a miller-farmer problem, not a government-rice problem.
Handel Duncan-HGPTV Nightly News: Sir, before you left there were engagements with the Opposition. You met with the Opposition Leader- going forward can you shed some light on what is planned next as you continue engagements with the Opposition on matters of national importance? And secondly, there is a concern that there is a slow down in the economy; have you been hearing that too sir?
Director of Communications Mark Archer: That will be the final question.
President David Granger: A final series of questions. Yes. Let me deal with the economic question first. The slowdown is not a result of May 11th. If you look back at what was taking place in 2014, you would see that bauxite prices were flattening out, gold prices were dropping, and sugar production was falling and generally the more productive sectors. And don’t forget that Guyana has never really been able to uproot itself from what I call the six sisters- rice, sugar, gold, diamond, bauxite and timber – and if you look back a hundred years Guyana has been exporting the same things. All of these products started to show signs of aneamia in 2014. We are doing… some of course are subject to the world market prices. Gold – many people have been leaving the gold mining industry because of low prices for gold.
Similarly, rice is a very competitive product. When we produce rice the price is quite high and sometimes people get addicted to low prices. And now there is a low price for petroleum and I think there has been some benefit for us in petroleum but we are not petroleum producers, we are petroleum consumers but generally the commodities which we depend on most have under performed and their under performance has been noticed since 2014.
In addition to that, we took over some troubled companies, particularly the Guyana Sugar Corporation and the Guyana Power and Light. So when we speak of a slowdown, the slowdown is perhaps a year or older, it is not a recent slowdown, it has been taking place over a long period of time.
As far as the meeting with the Leader of the Opposition is concerned, I couldn’t engage him before he was elected Leader of the Opposition. As you know, the People’s Progress Party does not have a position known as Leader. Prior to the election of Mr. Jagdeo, we tried to engage Mr. Rohee and, for example, when the territorial matter came up we invited him to a presentation and he gave us a certain answer which I wouldn’t repeat in public.
But we met with Mr. Jagdeo; as you know he came alone and we are prepared to continue to work with him. We have established what I would call a high level contact so whenever he needs to be contacted he is contacted and he does respond. So we have not broken contact but we have said, and I will repeat, that we will allow Mr. Jagdeo to set his own pace at which the engagement will continue. He wants to take his time.
Director of Communications Mark Archer: Thank you ladies and gentlemen.