President David Granger: Honourable Vice President, Sydney Allicock, Honourable Minister of Public Affairs, Dawn Hastings-Williams; Senior Officers of the Defence Force; Inspector General Colonel Nazrul Hussain; Commander of the Guyana People’s Militia, Colonel Gary Beaton; Senior Superintendent Ravindradat Budhram, Commander of the ‘F’ Division of the Guyana Police Force; Colonel Russell Combe, Security Sector Reform Advisor; Officers; Sergeant Major; members of the Guyana People’s Militia and the Guyana Defence Force; members of the media.
I’m happy to be back in Lethem. I was first here forty–eight and a half years ago in January 1969 when I came on some other business, not a very pleasant memory. It was at the time of the suppression of the Rupununi Revolt, which occurred in January 1969. Since that time, the Rupununi has been a major concern to the country and I would say to the northern part of the South American continent. Since 1969, the Republic of Guyana has been obliged to pay closer attention to border security and since that time even the Brazilian army has changed its deployment.
It moved one of its army headquarters from Belem to Manaus and developed a very strong northern frontier policy called the Calha Norte and the result of that policy, what used to be a little district of Roraima, has now become a powerful state with the capital of Boa Vista. All of this development occurred after the Rupununi Rebellion of 1969, so I am back here and I am back here to address current security concerns. Some of those concerns have internal sources and origins and some have external sources and origins. We often speak about the Rupununi but it is the largest region in Guyana; it’s about the size of the Republic of Costa Rica. It’s the biggest region, but it’s the least populated region and it has the least developed infrastructure, but more important it has a 1,300-kilometre border with Brazil and in all Guyana has about 3,000 kilometres of land frontiers with the Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Brazil and the Republic of Suriname and these three frontiers embrace hinterland regions, which occupy about 75% of our land space.
In fact, most of the country, most of Guyana, is hinterland and that hinterland has to be protected and you, the members of the Militia and the Defence Force are the persons charged to be on the frontline of the efforts to protect our 3,000 kilometres of border and our vast land space occupying 75% of our territory so it is a great burden to a small number of people like you. I have just received a brief from your Section Commander about some of the challenges and the constraints and together with the Chief of Staff, and together with the Defence Board, you have to address those challenges with greater ardour and vigour in the coming weeks and months ahead. So the Defence Board has work to do, the Defence Headquarters has work to do and of course the Commander in Chief has work to do and you have a lot of work to do too.
Now in Guyana we have introduced the concept of Total National Defence, that is to say, we have to employ all of the elements of national power, together, so that we can ensure the defence of our country. So the defence is not a job for the Defence Force alone that is why we have worked over the last 12 months or more to re-establish the Guyana People’s Militia. It used to be very strong in this region, Region Nine, Rupununi; even the Regional Chairman used to wear uniform and come up to camp in August. Every single region used to have a strong militia company and we are on the way to ensuring that once again, every region will, once again, have a strong militia company that is. The company that will not only work for the defence of the region and the protection of the citizens and the territory of the region; it will also assist in disasters such as occurred recently where parts of Lethem were flooded and parts of the Rupununi were flooded.
In addition to working along with the Civil Defence Commission, the intention is that every single region of Guyana must have a militia company and every single region must have a police division. So the police are under orders that instead of having seven divisions, they must have ten divisions: one region, one police division. Similarly, the people’s militia, one region-one militia company if the population can support it; one militia battalion that is the intention.
Last year, my Government created three ‘capital towns’. The Barima-Waini Region which is four times the size of Trinidad, now has a capital town called Mabaruma with its own mayor and town council. Here in the Rupununi for the first time, Lethem is no longer a village. It has become a town, a capital town with its own mayor and town council. Bartica, the capital of the huge Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region – a region that is bigger than the Netherlands – has become a town with its own mayor and town council and in a very short while the Potaro-Siparuni Region will also have a town in the form of Mahdia. So for the first time the four hinterland regions: regions one, seven, eight and nine will be administered by ‘capital towns’. Those towns are not ornamental. Those towns must be military garrisons, they must be administrative centres. They must have their own courts, they must have their own aerodromes, their own sports stadium- they must be the hub for economic development.
This is the means by which we will ensure total economic development countrywide and it will make our defence easier because we will be able to concentrate force and we will be able to respond to any threat- if it’s a civil defence threat; if it’s a military threat with force, but to do this we have to be flexible. We can’t do this by sitting on our hands, hearing planes flying overhead at night and not knowing what goes on. It used to be said that there are three types of people in this world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Well the Defence Force mustn’t wonder what happened. The Defence Force is to go out into this vast region and make things happen by preventing the intrusion into our airspace and our land space by foreign aircraft.
What are they doing here? They didn’t come to fish and hunt; it’s not ecotourism; it’s not an excursion. They were up to no good. You know that, I know that and they know that. If they wanted assistance because they were in distress, they would have stayed around and waved to say, ‘Come help us, we have a problem’. But they abandoned the aircraft and tried to camouflage it in Yupukari. This time they ran away. Well we have to move before they move and prevent the intrusion into our airspace and into our land space. Chief of Staff, I don’t want to hear that people can’t operate the 14.5 mm anti-aircraft; obviously, other people know they can’t operate the anti-aircraft.
Comrades, colleagues, soldiers, the concept of Total National Defence also includes cooperation with the other arms of the government service. Most important is the regional administration and the regional administration is required among its other duties, to provide information to the centre. Every region must have a regional intelligence committee. Every single week, the National Security Committee meets and the Regional Intelligence Committee is part of that system. Since we’ve come into office we have created National Security Committee, a National Anti-Narcotics Agency and a National Intelligence and Security Agency in addition to which we have launched a new National Drug Strategy Master Plan. These are not ornamental institutions. These are the important pillars of national defence and national security. The region, therefore, is an important plank in the architecture of national security. People sitting in Georgetown and New Amsterdam can’t know what’s going on at Annai and Aranaputa, Achiwiub unless that information is provided from the local level.
Therefore, in considering Total National Defence, we have to consider first the vertical aspect of security and of the passage of information right at the bottom, in the village, in the household, in the farm. There must be some means of collecting and passing information up to the district; up to the municipality and from the municipality at the local level up to the region, from the region to the central government level.
So government is not only the boys who sit in Georgetown. It concerns all of the layers; central, regional, municipal and local. Vice President Allicock and Minister Dawn Hastings represent the central level of Government. Another Allicock, the RDC Chairman, Bryan Allicock represents the region level; Mr. Beckles represents the municipal level and here in the Rupununi you have over four dozen villages, many of them administered under the Amerindian Act, which represents another level of local administration.
So when we speak of Total National Defence, we don’t only speak of a horizontal distribution between the militia, the defence force, the police force; we also speak about vertical integration between central, regional, municipal and local levels and I want you to understand that because every citizen has to play a part in this framework, in the architecture of national defence. That is why you can’t sit here in Lethem and know what is going on at Yupukari or Santa Fe or Markentawa, Aranaputa. You have to get out and how do you get out? Well, thank God you have legs. So you all have to learn to walk. We will have to provide horses.
Many years ago when I was the commander of the border, every soldier and every officer coming out of Colonel John Clarke Military School or the Colonel Robert Mitchell Jungle and Amphibious Training School had to learn to ride so when you came here eleven o’clock in the morning, by six o’clock in the afternoon he was on horseback going on patrol. I’m directing the Chief of Staff once again that our soldiers must learn to ride at Tacama and our officer cadets must learn to ride at Timehri so that when they come out of their respective training schools they’re not wet, and they’re ready for any contingency, any emergency that may arise even if it means making the course longer. Next to your rifle, your best friend will be your horse. Leave the wife back in Georgetown. So your rifle and your horse will be your companions here on deployment at Kanuku.
Well, I’m glad that we’re maintaining our relationship with our neighbours in Brazil, this is our longest frontier, as I said 1300 kilometres. Again, I had the opportunity, the benefit of being trained in Manaus 48 years ago and I was happy last week to be with the Chief of Staff and your senior officers, Colonel Beaton and Colonel Hussein at the Robert Mitchell School at Makouria and there you saw the evidence of the collaboration with Brazil because we had the benefit of instruction from Brazilian jungle experts and that is the relationship that has developed over 48 years. I am glad to be one of the two officers, the first two officers to be trained in Brazil and we must maintain these friendly relations. I know that the Chief of Staff is doing so, maintaining friendly relations on a regular, continuous basis.
Transnational crime cannot be solved by one country alone. You have to learn to collaborate, you have to learn to cooperate, you have to learn to work with other countries, countries which have the resources, which have the technology and without the benefit of those resources and technology we will be like blind boxers always arriving too late to see people running away. We have to get there first so that we can prevent mischief. So Total National Defence incorporates all of these conditions and relationships vertically, horizontally, across our borders and internally into our citizens.
So soldiers of Guyana, I would like to thank you for your presentation this morning. This is not meant to be an admin inspection. It is meant to be a brief visit to familiarise myself with what is taking place here, to learn of your challenges and your constraints and to sit down with the Chief of Staff and the Inspector General and the Quartermaster General to resolve some of the problems which have been articulated.
We want you to be comfortable. We also want you to be efficient. Most of all Guyanese who can never come to Lethem, who can never come to the Rupununi, there are families living in the Corentyne, living on the west coast, living on the east coast, living in the Essequibo coast who want to know that they are safe because people like you are awake when they are asleep, people like you are patrolling when they are relaxing, people like you are hard at work to ensure that Guyana remains safe. Guyana depends on you, I depend on you and this country could never be safe unless we have people in uniform who are active, alert and are prepared to go out in difficult terrain to ensure that their military functions are performed efficiently. We are a unique country; we are a continental country with Caribbean characteristics. No other Caribbean country is like Guyana. We are the biggest CARICOM country. Our terrain, our landscape is far different than that of any island in the Caribbean.
We have lake lands in Region Two- huge lakes. We have three islands in the Essequibo River mouth, which is the size of the British Virgin Islands: Hogg Island, Leguan, and Wakenaam. We have wetlands from which our national bird, the Canje Pheasant, comes. We have grasslands as you can see here, vast grasslands. We have highlands, some of the highest mountain, that you’ve ever seen in your life in the Pakaraima. We have beautiful waterfalls and rivers.
This is God’s country and you have elected to become soldiers to protect this beautiful country and the nation of Guyana looks to you to protect them and our territory. So I’ve come here to thank you very much; I’ve come here to learn; I’ve come here to listen and I’ve come here to articulate the policy of this country, this government, to ensure that Guyana continues to be safe this year and next year, and for all our children and for generations to come.
Thank you and may God bless you all.