President David Granger: Honourable Sydney Allicock, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs; Honourable Dawn Hastings-Williams, Minister of Public Affairs; Mr. Carlton Beckles, Mayor of the Township of Lethem (always greet the Mayor early so you won’t get thrown out) Chief of Staff, Brigadier Patrick West; Senior Superintendent Ravindradat Budhram, Commander of ‘F’ Division of the Guyana Police Force; Colonel Russell Combe, Security Sector Reform Advisor to the President, Regional officials, Members of the Regional Democratic Council, Members of the Municipality, Public Servants, visiting toshaos, I understand Mr. Douglas Casimero is here, guests, welcome.
Once again, I am happy to be back in Lethem. I first came here forty–eight and a half years ago, in in different circumstances, but today I come with a very clear idea of what I want to discuss with you and I’ve asked not only for Public Servants to be present, but Members of Civil Society. I’ve come to speak about matters which concern, not government servants but the whole of Guyanese society. As I’ve said before, Guyana is a continental Sate with Caribbean characteristics. We are the largest English speaking Caribbean country and we are the only English speaking country on the continent of South America. We have nearly three thousand kilometres of borders separating us from the Portuguese speaking Brazil, the Spanish speaking Venezuela, the Dutch speaking Suriname.
Our national borders ensure the safety of our citizens. It’s the skin of the nation. Our national borders secure our territory. Our national borders provide for the sanctity of our way of life, of our culture, our democratic culture. It protects us, protects our citizens, it protects our territory; it protects our way of life. Borders are important. Guyana’s concern about its territorial integrity and security was the reason why last year we established three new towns. That hasn’t happened for decades. It was not an administrative joke, it was not a ploy, it was not a pretext, we created three towns and we will soon create one more town.
Mabaruma is now a town responsible for the Barima-Waini Region, a region that is three times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. Bartica is now a town, responsible for the Cuyuni-Mazaruni region, a region the size of The Netherlands. Lethem is now a town, responsible for a region the size of Costa Rica. As President, I could not live in a country where a village was responsible for a region the size of Costa Rica, that is one of the reasons I upgraded Lethem. Congrats, Lethem. [Applause.]
So what we have now is that the whole western Essequibo, west of Fort Island, west of Fort Zeelandia will now be administered by ‘capital towns’. Not villages, but ‘capital towns’ and those towns are meant to incorporate some of the essential elements of national security which I will discuss later. These towns administer regions which are or which comprise 75% of Guyanese territory. The Barima-Waini Region, over 20,000 square kilometres; the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, over 47,000 square kilometres; the Potaro-Siparuni Region, over 20,000 square kilometres, and of course the queen of them all the Rupununi 57,750 square kilometres. Wow, what a lot of land!
But these regions are also border regions because each one of these four regions has a frontier with a neighbouring country, and that is of concern to me. When you add East Berbice-Corentyne, that region has a border from the Potari right along the Corentyne, 36,000 square kilometres, so together the four hinterland regions west of the Essequibo and the East Berbice-Corentyne Region comprise 181,000 square kilometres of our territory, these hinterland regions generally have low population.
There are large areas of land which seem to be uninhabited. Communities are isolated and the Chairman just explained that in the Rupununi alone he has 56 villages to be responsible for but although Guyana has cordial relations with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname, we are nevertheless victims, we are nevertheless threats to transnational criminal syndicates. These are not controlled by the government, but as you know they have their own criminal motivations. Our security starts on the border, right here on the Takutu, right on the Ireng that’s where security starts. If our borders are porous, pirates will penetrate along our coastline. People traffickers will traffic children and women. Contraband smugglers will bring in guns. As you know Brazil is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of small arms. Drug gangs will come into our country, illegal migrants will come into our country.
These elements are not friendly to us. They will jeopardise the safety of your own women and children; of our own communities; they will bring guns; they will bring violence; they’ll bring drugs into our country. They will change our way of life and that is why border security is so important, to protect our way of life. When these people come in they just come after greed; they are looking for drugs, they are looking for gold and diamonds; they are looking to traffic in people. They’re not interested in your welfare so we have, collectively, to do everything possible to protect our Guyanese way of life and we can see from the daily papers what is happening and we see that the syndicates, the criminal syndicates are almost mirroring a form of government: you have low-level crime, you have crime at the regional level and you have crime at the national level. You have crime by land; you have crime by sea and crime by air. These syndicates are rich enough to corrupt public officials, rich enough to get young, impressionable people to get involved in criminal activities. I see our borders therefore, as the first line of defence against transnational crime. We have to keep our borders secure to prevent their being penetrated by transnational criminal syndicates.
Border security is important to protect our economic wealth, so that the gold and diamonds coming out from the Rupununi, coming out from the Potaro-Siparuni, coming out from the Cuyuni-Mazaruni, coming out from Barima-Waini; these are the regions which produce our mineral wealth and you know as well as I do that some of that wealth is being taken illegally across our frontiers and we have to protect that so that our wealth could be used for the benefit of our children. The borders are necessary to protect our country and to prevent illegal mining, prevent illegal migration, prevent illegal fishing along our coastland, prevent smuggling.
As you know in years gone by we had problems with garimpeiros, but illegal miners still come into our country. Some bring over their own equipment, unknown to the region, unknown to the country’s national government, the central government. Borders are necessary to protect the economy and safeguard our existence as a sovereign law-governed State. If our borders are not secure we could become a lawless state in which people bring huge criminal syndicates into our country and actually resist the law enforcement authorities and border security is necessary to prevent the transmission of even vector borne diseases. Mosquito nuh gah border and we need to protect our population against malaria, against zika, against chikungunya and bigfoot.
You remember in the Rupununi we used to have stations to protect our industry; our cattle industry from foot and mouth disease. Without borders, without secure borders we can have our livestock decimated by disease from other countries. So for all of these reasons, border security is necessary. We see what has happened at the Atlantic. People can come into our fishing grounds and some of those pirates are so vicious, they kill poor, artisanal fishermen, throw them overboard, steal their catch; steal their engines. Once something like that happens the International Maritime Organisation, the international community will say, “Hey, what a lawless country this is!” and they will not want to invest.
So our border starts in the Atlantic. The border with Venezuela, as you can see, there are some internal problems in Venezuela I don’t want to comment about, but when Venezuela coughs Guyana gets a cold and we see that some of our own citizens have been murdered. Some of our citizens, some of our miners have been attacked by rogue elements from Venezuela, so-called syndicatos.
We’ve also been losing billions of dollars in revenue from contraband trafficking. Mining camps have been invaded. The border with Brazil, 1,300 kilometres long; especially here along the Takutu and the Ireng rivers and you know, you don’t have to read the news, all you have to do is lie down in your hammock at night and listen: it’s not thunder, it’s planes landing. You know that as well as I do, but what are they landing for? They’re either bringing in contraband or removing our minerals-gold and diamonds, bringing in guns and maybe other substances. They are not coming to do us any good; they are coming to do us harm and even our border with Suriname, nearly 800 kilometres – the Surinamese border invented the word ‘backtracking’, a word that has even gone into the lexicon of our legal system- ‘backtracking’.
We invented that because so many citizens don’t worry to use the ‘front’ track. Even some businessmen, when you try to close down the ‘backtrack’ they say, “How we gon get our goods?” Backtrack has now become normal and the normal has become irregular. But what has started to happen fellow Guyanese, is that people are coming in from other countries using Guyana as a corridor to go to Suriname and French Guiana and even Brazil. Again, these people are not coming to do us any good, they’re coming to do us harm. So, all four of our borders, our three land borders and our coastline have to be protected if we are to be secure, if we want our women and children to be protected. With that in mind therefore, we have tried to create a security system which rests on three pillars.
First of all, over the last two years we’ve been creating the institutional framework. We’ve been creating agencies and arms and authorities, which can help to make Guyana safe. We’ve set up a National Security Committee, which meets every single Tuesday and sometimes, when there is a problem at the prison, or elsewhere, we meet every other day to make sure that at the highest level of the State, we respond to the threats to security, that’s how important it is. The National Security Committee meets more frequently than the Cabinet because we are concerned about your safety.
In addition, we’ve set up a National Anti-Narcotics Agency, which would help to protect our country better than CANU has been able to. CANU is limited in personnel and resources and we have set up the National Anti-Narcotics Agency, which has been doing good work in trying to identify the sources of narcotics coming into the country and, of course, trying to identify the people who are dealing in narcotics and trying to make Guyana a cocaine platform.
We’ve set up a National Intelligence Security Agency and we’ve launched once again, the National Drug Strategy Master Plan. So we’ve not been sitting on our hands at the institutional level. We’ve been creating the architecture. We have not completed our task, but we are not going to ignore the threats. We’re preparing the correct structures to respond and I am confident that in the near future we’ll be able to bring that form of criminality to an end. We have also passed legislation, Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Legislation (AML-CFT), to curb transnational financial crimes so people who want to profit from contraband, from smuggling gold or cocaine; they will find it very difficult to launder their money. They have to sleep with the money under the mattress because once they go into the financial system; into the banking system, the legislation is going to catch them.
We’re enhancing the enforcement capabilities of the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Defence Force. As you can see there are now horses in Lethem again and these horses don’t need dieseline. They’ll be able to extend the reach of our Defence and Police forces and this morning, speaking to the Defence Force; I have agreed with the Chief of Staff that there’ll be a riding school at the Tacama savannahs, which are very similar to the Rupununi savannahs, where every soldier and every officer coming out of our Colonel John Clarke Military School and our Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Cadet School will learn to ride. So if he comes into the Rupununi he will be able to care for his horse, he will be able to go on patrols and he will be able to prevent the type of criminality we’ve been seeing in the savannahs from taking place.
You have also seen the Guyana People’s Militia being resurrected. Last week, we were at the Colonel Robert Mitchell Training School in the Makouria on the Essequibo River. We saw scores of young militiamen, reservists, learning to survive in the jungle. We’re not trying to build a bigger army. We don’t have money, but these reservists will do their training and go back home and we will augment the reserve unit here in Rupununi, here in the Lethem, and the different communities so that when there is a civil emergency, such as when you had the flood, they will be able to respond. You don’t have to wait for somebody from Georgetown, they will be able to respond along with the RDC, to any emergency that arises. The whole idea, as I said before, is that with the creation of these towns every region will be governed by a ‘capital town’. So the Regional Chairman will sit in the seat of administration of his region and the Regional Chairman will be able to call on a Police Divisional Commander because the police divisions will be changed; one region, one division. Right now, we have seven police divisions and ten regions, cyan’t wuk; one region, one division, so the Regional Chairman would know who is his commander, a commander who can meet with him and plan to counter crime. Every militia company would be able to relate to their Regional Chairman.
The region is critical. Government operates at three levels. The central government level, that’s why you have one Allicock, the regional level you have another Allicock, and I’m sure when you go to Aranaputa or Annai you’re gonna run into some more ‘Allicocks’. [Laughter.]
But the point is it’s not just government in Georgetown. The Regional Chairman must be allowed to govern his region, he must be able to call on the police, he must be able to call on the defence force, he must be able to call on the other arms of the government so that this region could be developed much more quickly and much more securely. And the third leg on which our security structure will stand along with the institutional framework that we’re building, is the leg of international cooperation and I am glad to see that over the years our cooperation with the Federative Republic of Brazil has remained cordial and strong.
We need to cooperate with foreign countries because we’re dealing with transnational crime; we’re not dealing with home-bred crime, somebody thief a bird or parrot cage, two fowl cocks. We’re dealing with transnational crime, we’re dealing with people who coming in with Beechcraft. Even the President of Guyana ain’t got a Beechcraft. [Laughter.]
So we need a level of international level of cooperation; within minutes we were able to find out who was the owner of that aircraft. We need to collaborate with the Caribbean through the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative with the United States Government. We need to collaborate with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID) and Colonel [Russell] Combe here is the Presidential Advisor on Security sponsored by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. We need to cooperate with other international partners to ensure that narcotics trafficking, money laundering and illegal flights and incursions into our airspace are brought to an end and we need to extend infrastructure. It is no point pretending that we can build security without security infrastructure.
As I said, I was here 48 and a half years ago and when I am travelling down some of the roads, it looked like 48 and a half years ago. I recognised some of the roads in the Rupununi because so little has changed in half a century. We will do more, we will do better and we need to ensure that this region has a much better aerodrome, better bridges, better highways.
I see the region as being a place that can attract investment so your ‘capital town’ Lethem must have the best aerodrome in the entire region, an international class aerodrome so people can fly legally from Barbados or Trinidad or Suriname or Manaus and land here because it’s already a port of entry, but the infrastructure must be improved so that planes can land safely, by day or night. We don’t have to have one international airport; we can have ten international airports, one in every region if we build the infrastructure. We have to build proper highways. We’ve been talking about the road from Linden to Lethem for thirty-five years. This is the anniversary of talk.
Prime Minister Forbes Burnham was in Brasilia three and a half decades ago and he signed the first agreement. Paranapanema came, you know that very well, and started the alignment of the roads. In these audiences in Lethem I always look for Mr. Colin Edwards. Is he here today? Because he came as a member of the Paranapanema Engineering Company many, many years ago and he stayed but the road didn’t come, just him. But this is a must1 As I’ve often said, people must be able to drive from Sand Creek to Crabwood Creek in the Corentyne, that is my dream for my children and grandchildren.
You cannot keep this country safe; you cannot develop this country’s economy, unless we develop the physical infrastructure. Good aerodromes, good highways, good bridges. In times gone by once there is a savannah fire, the bridge gone and up to quite recently you still see some heavy-laden trucks destroying the wooden bridges. All that should be part of the past. You have to move the Rupununi into the future and I’m sure that with the Town Council and a strong Regional Democratic Council that you have here in Mr. Beckles and Mr Allicock, you’ll be able to move the country and the town further along the road to development. But in speaking of infrastructure, we also speak about telecommunications and we also speak about green energy and I must insist Regional Chairman, and also mayor that we start turning the buildings in Lethem ‘green’. The Rupununi has the largest volume or the largest amount, the largest hours of sunlight in the entire country.
My watch is run by the sun. All I do is wear it and it works. No winding, no grinding. I just wear it because it’s a solar watch and the whole world is going solar. So I don’t want to hear in the years to come truck about bruk down, fuel can’t come in. The sun is there, God gave you the best fuel in the world so let us turn Lethem ‘green’. ‘Green’ energy powering our municipal buildings, our regional buildings, our hospitals, our schools, our military barracks, our police stations. Let us introduce more communications technology. So the time has come that as soon as you land at the airport you can get internet connection in the town of Lethem. Lethem must be a well wired town. What you say there, Mr. Beckles?
So anywhere you go, you in the police station, you go in the hospital, you go in jail and all and you can log on. [Laughter.] But seriously, we can only improve communications between Lethem and Linden and Linden and Georgetown if we adapt information and communication technology much more quickly and much more seriously than we are doing at present. I don’t want to hear that there is some student who wants to go to UG but has nowhere to live in Georgetown or in Turkeyen or in Plaisance. The time must come very soon where you can stay in Lethem or in Aishalton and be able to get your lessons online. Students in Georgetown are studying at universities in America and Britain online, getting degrees, doctorate and all. Sometimes I wonder about myself but still, so I expect that here in Guyana you would be able to have a centre by which students could receive lectures digitally and complete their assignments digitally, but the region and the municipality have to work towards taking us to that place and more important the security forces have to adapt information and communication technology. There must be no such thing as a blackout for the defence force or the police force ever again, a hundred per cent, 24/7 electricity and communication.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Guyanese we have adopted in this country a concept of total national defence (TND) not because we are a militaristic country, but because we have a very small population, small police force, small defence force and we have a big responsibility; we are bigger than England and Scotland combined, how are we going to protect this country?
We have adopted the policy of total national defence. It doesn’t mean that I want to see everybody marching and drilling but it means that wherever you are, you can contribute to national defence. If you are in civil society, if you are a public servant, we want you to understand what the concept means. It means that Guyana as a whole would be able to rely on the cooperation of all sections of society, all the arms of government.
The hospitals, the civil defence, the police, the militia, the region, the municipality, when flood come; it don’t come to government servants alone. It comes to all of us, so we have to have a collective response in which we help mattie, that’s what TND means, helping mattie and we must make TND part of our lexicon, that all of us are involved in the security of Lethem and the Rupununi. We must know that if drugs are coming in somebody is going to die; somebody is going to get punished; somebody is going to feel pain. We must know that when people are driving cattle across the border, when people are bringing equipment across the border, going to Parabara, going to Marudi or somewhere, that somebody is going to be hurt. We have to own the Rupununi. The Macushi have to own the Rupununi, the Wapishana have to own the Rupununi, the residents of these savannahs and towns and the villages have to own the Rupununi; the Wai-Wai have to own the Rupununi. Guyanese have to own the Rupununi. How do you think I feel when I come into the ‘capital town’? I see writing; I can’t even understand the writing. You know what I mean? You ever see any shop that you can’t understand the writing. I have nothing against foreign engagement but why can’t we see ‘Macushi logia’? [Laughter.] Y’all laugh. No, why can’t the Macushi and the Wapishana open big stores in the Lethem too?
You know, when I go to Moco-Moco last time I was here, going to see the cemetery. You know the cemetery there? You all used to the call it the Moco-Moco hydro plant. It’s just a cemetery now, quiet as a grave. Anyhow we’re going to fix that, what you say Brian? Amen. We’re gonna bring hydropower back, this Regional Chairman but we are driving on mangoes because we don’t have electricity, because we don’t have the equipment, because we don’t have the capital to create factories or to create industries. So by allowing these foreigners to come in and take our wealth out we are impoverishing our own region, we are obstructing the development of Guyana’s largest region. So maybe one or two people could feel that they’re getting rich but a lot more people are becoming poorer and poorer because we are being bled by crime and that is why total national defence is so important because we now see the need to take collective ownership of this great region.
We cannot afford the size of army needed to protect a country like Guyana and that is why we reinvigorating or rehabilitating the Guyana’s people’s militia so that people can be part-time soldiers, they can be on the lookout. But I call on the region too to re-establish the security system so that at the local level, the neighbourhood level, at the village level there must be weekly meetings in which information could be passed to the municipal level and at the municipal level there must be regular meetings so that information could be passed to the regional level, at the regional level there must be meetings so that information could be passed to the central level.
I am the Chairman of the National Security Council but I am blind; I can’t depend on Kaieteur News to know what’s going on; I have to depend on Brian Allicock; I have to depend on Mr. Beckles because this is where the incidents occur. I don’t have illegal landing at ogle; I have to get the news from where it happens, live and direct so I’m calling on all of these organs, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, the ministries, the security forces, the government departments, the RDC, the town council to become aware of the need for treating regional security, the security of the Rupununi Region as one of its top priorities. From municipal, to central but we must also look at the horizontal integration; bringing in the police, the army, civil society and all the good people of the town of Lethem and the region.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I said I am very happy to be here again. I would like to encourage you to pay attention to what I said because I take security very seriously because without security this country cannot develop. There are a few individuals who are holding this country back. The bulk of people want this country to move forward. We are not a criminal nation but there are a few criminal people who are holding us back. I am going to find them and put them away because they are holding back the development of a great people, a great region and a great nation.
May God bless you all.