President David Granger: As the Chief of Staff said, the force is continuously in a process of development and as he pointed out this battalion itself will be further developed. As you know, you have responsibility for a very important region in Guyana, a region which is bigger than Trinidad and Tobago.
In fact you can pack about four or five Caribbean states into this region: Antigua, Saint Vincent and three or four other islands and they could all fit in the area of the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region with space to spare. This means that you have a tremendous spatial responsibility in terms of your ability to move around this region and master it and dominate the rivers and dominate the terrain. And of course this is a unique region from every point of view. The Pomeroon is a major settlement area, a major agriculture productive area, but there are no highways; it is just one long river; so you have to go up the rivers, you have to know every single settlement in the Pomeroon River.
This region also has a very long road between Supenaam and Charity; again you have to know every single village; you have to go in for patrols in every single village and it has a significant portion of the indigenous community: Tapakuma, Capoey, Mainstay and other areas. Again, you have to know who every single Toshao is in every single village. So there can be no idleness in the coastal battalion … Even if your mission is only to ensure the security of the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, you have to be constantly at work in the rivers, in the indigenous communities and on the coastland.
So my first question would be how well do we know this region after your tour of duty? Can you conduct operations in Mainstay or Tapakuma? Can you conduct operations in the river, in Akawini, in Karawab? And can you conduct operations along the coast? Now, according to the Chief of Staff in his brief, you have multiple tasks- internal security and stability, joint operations with the police and coastal defence operations and you also have some responsibility for civil defence.
But in terms of the types of internal security operations you need to conduct you have to ensure that not only members of the GDF in the Coastal Battalion understand their roles but from time to time you actually conduct training exercises with the police in those same areas that I mentioned to you. Now this year is a very special year in the strategic development, the strategic history of Guyana. For over 50 years, since February 1966, Guyana signed an agreement with the British Government and with the Venezuelan Government to bring the territorial claim made by Venezuela against Guyana to a peaceful resolution and it has never happened; in 50 years it has never happened, largely because of Venezuelan resistance and intransigence and Guyana has tried every peaceful means to bring this territorial claim to a peaceful conclusion.
As you know in 1966, in October, the Venezuelans seized the island of Ankoko opposite Eteringbang and we have never been able to retrieve it. So it is a great relief that at the end of 2016, just four months ago, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, who has responsibility under the Geneva Agreement to determine how the controversy could be brought to a peaceful conclusion, decided that he would allot one more year, one more year, that is the year 2017; that he would appoint one Good-Officer who would shuttle between Caracas and Georgetown and between Caracas, Georgetown and New York where the United Nations headquarters is in a last ditch attempt to get agreement on how the controversy is to be settled.
So right now Guyana is in a process and you as members of the coastal battalion have to understand that we cannot relax; we cannot reduce our state of readiness. We cannot remove our troops from the locations to which they are deployed for failure that it would be shown or be seen by the Venezuelans as a sign of weakness. So this is a very important year that you have to continue to show your state of readiness and your preparedness to ensure national defence of our country, particularly in the areas along the coast.
Now, the Venezuelans have always had a particular interest in the coast. Venezuela is a Caribbean country. It has no part of its territory on the Atlantic. Its entire coastline is along the Caribbean Sea. In fact it is the largest Caribbean State. Guyana on the other hand has no part of its coastland on the Caribbean Sea.
So it was part of Venezuela’s strategy to claim sea space which would give it an outlet into the Atlantic and that is where you are concerned; because in 1969, Venezuela claimed a nine-mile stretch between the coastline, nine miles out, all along the Essequibo Coast as their territory. So this is a critical position that you occupy here in Anna Regina and in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region because this coastline coincides exactly with the area which Venezuela claimed nearly 50 years ago to be part of its maritime zone.
As you know, in May 2015, on the very day that I was sworn in as President (26th of May is our anniversary), the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro published a Decree which claims almost all of our sea space with a very small area outside of Demerara. So in visiting this location today for the coastal battalion, I just want to assure myself of your readiness to conduct coastal operations on the one hand and I must assure myself of your readiness to conduct internal operations in the Pomeroon River, in the indigenous communities and on the coastland itself.
So that is the purpose of my visit and I’ve been assured by the Chief of Staff and the Inspector General that your duties are being performed in accordance with your mandate and your mission and I would just like to congratulate you in that regard.
Now, finally, as the Chief of Staff pointed out, the force is in a period of transition, that is, greater emphasis is being placed on scientific subjects and engineering. So it means that we are opening the windows of opportunity to soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers who have an interest in engineering or who have a background in engineering to maybe transition from infantry and go into engineering because that will be the focus of the Guyana Defence Force for the next three years – to develop strong technical corps, particularly in the field of engineering.
As you would have seen from the newspapers, at the beginning of this week on Monday the Chief of Staff took over a substantial amount of materiel of military equipment from the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China. That materiel is to be used to develop our infrastructure. Those of you who are based here would know the infrastructure is very poor. The entire Pomeroon River has no highway other than the river. So transportation is very difficult. To get here form the rest of Guyana is very difficult because the ferry service is just occasional. There is no bridge across the Essequibo and even when you’re here the highway runs mainly between Supenaam and Charity; it is difficult to go further inland because the road structure is so poorly developed.
I was here a few months ago to donate a bus to the Tapakuma community because many of the children could not go to school because of the absence of land transport. In fact I started my campaign of launching boats at Charity in the Pomeroon River because many children in the Pomeroon River could not get to school because they had no boats, but as a result of that programme we now have children who can drive to school in the bus. I hope the bus is working, REO; and also the boats in the Pomeroon could get between the various Grants and settlements to school at Charity.
So this is my message to you. It is not only one of congratulations for the work you’ve been doing but it’s also one of encouragement to master the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region so that other platoons, other companies, other battalions which might come here from time to time would be able to benefit from the patrols that you have conducted, from the information you have collected, the intelligence that you have garnered and ensure the security of this important region. So thank you very much and I will now go around your compound to see what your needs are.
Thank you, Chief of Staff.