President David Granger: Mr. Cleveland DeSouza, I would like to thank you for welcoming me into this very pretty village and for arranging for nice rainfall; he knows I like rain, so he arranged to have a little shower, not too heavy. But Toshao, thanks for having me in the village. I appreciate your hospitality.
Chairman of the Region, Mr. Brentnol Ashley, again, thank you for communicating with me directly and let me assure you that by getting in touch with me, I got in touch with the National Security Committee and the other people who need to pay attention to the issues you have raised here at Whitewater.
Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Patrick West; Director of the National Intelligence Security Agency, Brigadier Bruce Lovell; Commander ‘F’ Division, Senior Superintendent Rabindranauth Budhram; officers; residents; regional officials; most of all, villagers of Whitewater and let me thank the children for that welcome song. I tried to remember; I can’t sing too well, I used to be in the choir when I was young but they were very happy when they were singing it, so I feel welcome.
Now, I’ve come here to listen to you. I have come here to learn from you. I have come here to look for myself to see the conditions under which you are living, so that we can work together. You know, when we speak of government, we are not speaking about something in Georgetown only, we are speaking about right here because this village has its own form of administration, what we can call local administration, but there is also regional administration and Mr. Brentnol Ashley is the Chairman of the Regional Development Council and I am President of the country, of the central government. So right here in this room, you have three levels of government: village, region, central.
And the three of us have to work together; the three of us have to work together if Whitewater is to improve. Whitewater is not a separate republic; Barima-Waini Region is not a separate republic and Guyana is not a republic; all of us belong to this beautiful country and we have to work together and that’s why I came to meet Mr. De Souza, to meet Mr. Ashley, and let us see how, together, we can solve the problems facing Whitewater.
You know, this region – people call it Region One, but I call it ‘The Number One Region’. I call it ‘The Number One Region’ because there is nothing that should hold this region back. You all could produce almost anything you want to eat. This region is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. If this region was in the Caribbean it would have been bigger than Trinidad or Antigua or Barbados or Jamaica. So you have the size, you have the location; it is the northernmost, up to now people still call it the northwest; it is the northernmost region of our ten regions in Guyana, but Whitewater is special to me and that’s why I came here. I call Whitewater one of our frontline villages; it’s a frontline village.
You know we have a border with Venezuela which is nearly 800 kilometres long and Whitewater, Baramita, Kaikan, Arau- all these villages along these 800kilometres are frontline villages because they are on the border with our western neighbour- the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. So, you are like our guardian; you are like our shield; you are in the frontline and let me tell you this, since Guyana became independent in 1966, fifty-two years ago, our western neighbour Venezuela has been claiming this very land that you are living on. You are not Venezuelans. You all are Guyanese, but Venezuela has been claiming this land; all the way up the Essequibo River. They’ve been claiming the Barima-Waini, they’ve been claiming the Cuyuni –Mazaruni, they’ve been claiming the Potaro-Siparuni, and they’ve been claiming the Rupununi but we know, we know that nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, an international tribunal decided where the boundaries should be between Venezuela and Guyana and we have been struggling for the last fifty-two years, and only last month the Secretary-General of the United Nations decided that this controversy would go to court and we will settle it.
I’m very sure, Whitewater, that after this matter goes to court you will be able to live in peace and that you will not have any more provocation. You are very lucky, I am lucky, we are lucky, and I hope before I leave here every child will have an exercise book. Has any child got an exercise book as yet? Wave it let me see. Where is the exercise book? You’re waving your hand. Okay, yeah, mummy is holding the exercise book for you and you’re holding the flag.
What is on that exercise book cover? You see twenty animals- the President is not there, he’s not one of those- those animals belong to you; those animals belong to every Guyanese. Those are the ‘giants’; those are some of the biggest animals in the world. The Arapaima is the biggest freshwater fish in the world and we find it right here in Guyana, in the Rupununi. We have the biggest river otter, the biggest snake, the biggest spider, the biggest stork, the biggest eagle right here in Guyana.
I am very proud of my country; you are very proud of our country and I brought those exercise books for these children so that they could all be proud of their country because they have to inherit this country; I can’t take it with me, Mr. Ashley can’t take it with him (I don’t know if you want it); Mr. DeSouza can’t take it with him where he’s going. We all are big people and we have to hand over the country to you. I want you to know that you will inherit this country and that is why we need to defend and protect it because it belongs to you.
Those animals therefore represent our environment; they live in the jungle, they live in the ‘bush’, they live in the rivers, the creeks, and by preserving our environment we will preserve those animals so that your children and grandchildren will grow up to see them- they’re ours, but this country, although it possesses these beautiful animals, also has problems of what we call human safety. That is, I have the responsibility, the police have the responsibility- Mr. Budhram is here, he’s in charge of the ‘F’ Division, the biggest division in the western hemisphere from Waramadong right down to Awaruwaunau, Achiwuib – some of you never gone to Achiwuib; tomorrow I’ll be there, from north to south.
But what I’m saying is this, the police force is there to protect you; the defence force is there to protect you; the region is there to look after you and we want to make sure that you are safe and I’m here because I am concerned about your safety. I’m here because I don’t want anybody to attack you; I don’t want anybody to hurt you. I don’t want crimes to be committed against you. I can’t be everywhere; the police can’t be everywhere; the defence force can’t be everywhere; so we have to learn from you how best to protect you and how you can protect yourself and this is something I want the army and the police and the Regional Chairman to discuss.
So, if within Whitewater, within Baramita, within the various settlements you feel that there is some way of creating a community policing group so that when outsiders come in you’ll be able to come together and ask them, “Where you going?” “What’s going on?” “What are you doing here?” Keep an eye out for them. The police and army can’t be everywhere; we want you to be able to protect your own community. So, when I’m gone, in days to come, I asked the Chairman to sit down with the army and the police, and the Toshao of course, to decide how we can help you to protect yourself.
I am concerned about your human safety. Every Guyanese must feel safe in his own country or her home country; you don’t have any other country and you have to be safe where we are and every Guyanese must know he is Guyanese and must know that there is a village, there is a region and there is a government that will protect him. Wherever you go, you must have a Guyanese identification card, a Guyanese passport, a Guyanese birth certificate and here we want to make sure that every single Guyanese is registered.
Sometimes, you may be living far, you may be up a creek, you may be across the border, but we will send in special teams to make sure that there is total registration. From the moment a child is born, there must be a birth certificate until that person becomes old and dies then there will be a death certificate. But at the level of the region and at the level of the government we want to be able to look after you from birth to death because you are a Guyanese. Every Guyanese is to be registered because I feel a personal responsibility. If I go to Venezuela, if I go to Brazil, If I go to Barbados, if I go to Suriname or French Guiana and somebody says, “Oh, I am a Guyanese”, I will want to see that Guyanese because you and I are brothers and sisters. So your citizenship is important, don’t fool around with that citizenship. Wherever you go we will protect you, there will be a consulate in Puerto Ordaz; there is an embassy in Caracas.
There is a consulate in Boa Vista; there is an embassy in Brazil, wherever you go there will be a Guyanese official who you can contact and say, “I am Mr. DeSouza” , “I am Mr. Fernandes”, “I am Mr. Griffith”; “I am from Mabaruma” , “I am from Whitewater”, “I am from Hosororo”, “I am from Wanaina in Region One and I would like to speak with you”; wherever you go. So your citizenship is important; if you go to America you must be able to say, “I am Guyanese; I am proud to be Guyanese”. So, my brothers and sisters, being Guyanese is not only having a birth certificate or an identification card, being Guyanese means that you have to have Guyanese education- a Guyanese education; that means from the time you are a child, we want to see every child in school.
Now, I am very disappointed, not in you, but I feel disappointed when children can’t get to school. You know, when I was in Opposition, I was campaigning and I went up the Pomeroon River in Region Two – Pomeroon–Supenaam Region – and I met children who couldn’t get to school and I made a promise. “I said, ‘When I become President (because I knew, I would become President, sometimes you know things), I said, “when I become President, I will do something about this” and when I became President, on my very first birthday, the 15th of July, I launched a programme to ensure that we get school buses to take children to school and right now there are twenty-seven school buses taking children to school free. From no school buses to twenty-seven.
Similarly, there are a dozen boats- the Pomeroon River has a boat; the Essequibo River has a boat; the Demerara River has a boat; the Berbice River has a boat and if you need boats, if you need a boat here, I promise you, I will provide a boat for your children to go to school. Every Guyanese child must go to school; that is my motto- each child, every Guyanese child in school.
I cannot be happy as President, knowing that children are locked away in a village because they have to paddle two hours to go to school; that makes me very unhappy. So my staff will work to get you a boat and the Regional Chairman is going to make sure that that boat and engine are delivered so that children can go to school. Every child must go to school; those of you who need to go to Mabaruma, I understand that there’s a small bus; the road is bad, well, we’ll come to that. The important thing is that we must want to get our children to school and every Toshao, every Regional Chairman, must be concerned about getting children to school- no child must be left behind.
Education is very important, because without education nobody will want to hire you; if you can’t count, if you can’t read, if you can’t write, if you can’t spell, but if you are educated you will be able to read, you will be able to go on the internet, you will be able to work things out, make calculations; you can become a contractor, you can become an accountant, you can become a doctor, you can become a Toshao, you can become a Regional Chairman, become President. You don’t want to be President? You’ve got to learn to spell though.
So, education is the gateway and believe me, we will work with your Toshao, we will work with your Regional Chairman to improve transportation so you can get to education because I’m sure, once you get education, once you get that education, you will be able to get better employment. You wouldn’t want to drop out and let me tell you this –we are going to establish a youth service so that children who do drop out of school, boys and girls, will be able to get training in skills so that he or she will be able to get employment. So, we’re now setting it up. You know we have a Hinterland Youth Service and we’re putting it all together so that children will be able to get a standard education; standard training in skills. We have something which we call NEET; we’re producing this programme for children who are not in education, employment or training: N for Not, E for Education, E for Employment, T for Training-NEET.
So any young person who is not in education or plying a trade, we are asking you to register and again, this will come through your Chairman so that you can join in NEET and get some training, some skills, so you can be employed. I want every Guyanese to be employed. I don’t think Guyanese are lazy; I don’t think that they’re idle but they want to get gainful work and I believe that that work can come right here in Whitewater; right here in Wauna; right here in the Barima-Waini. Why? Because you are not only one of the biggest regions in Guyana, but you are also one of the regions with the greatest agricultural potential.
This morning before I came here, you know what I had to eat? A pear from the Northwest. You all produce the best pear in the world; the best avocado pear in the world. Sometimes, you know, when you travel people give you a little squinty black thing and you say, “What is this, is this avocado?” I say, “You all ain’t see avocado yet”. The best pears I have ever eaten in my life is avocado pear that come from the Northwest.
My brother and sisters, what I am saying is that you all can produce the best pineapples, the best cassava, the best mango, even Hosororo- they have so many mangoes, even the pigs won’t eat the mango. When mangoes are in season, mangoes are all over the ground – mango giving away, but when you go over to Kumaka and you go in the stores people are buying bottled Brazilian mango juice; a bottle of Venezuelan orange juice, but you all can produce them here; you all can produce them here. Let us sit down and work out how we can do it. If you need energy, maybe we can get solar panels which help to do what you call agro-processing.
Now, they gave me a house to live in called State House. Every February, about two thousand children pass through State House, children from Baramita, children from Orealla, children from Paruima – I don’t know if children from Whitewater have visited as yet, but we must arrange a tour. But when you go to State House you’re not eating macaroni and cheese you know; you’re eating cassava, some of the best cassava bread; you’re drinking coconut water- everything is produced in Guyana because we can feed ourselves. Look, last year I was Chairman of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, and I had lunch there for the Caribbean Prime Ministers at State House- every single thing came from Guyana and one particular Prime Minister (don’t tell them I told you) when he saw the breadfruit, he said, “Where I come from, we have 18 varieties of breadfruit”. Well I like breadfruit, but I can’t take 18 varieties of breadfruit.
But what I am saying is that when they went to lunch: sweet potato, plantain, breadfruit, ochro – everything local – and you can do it. There is nothing that any Guyanese need to eat that cannot be produced in the Barima-Waini Region. Believe me, I have travelled the world and if I can go through a day, a week, a month without eating foreign food I will feel happy about it. You can’t get a Coco-Cola to drink in State House you know; you’ve got to drink some mauby or some ginger beer or something like that. All I’m saying is this, if you have the training and you have the equipment, you will be able to package, you will be able to process all of this fruit and sell it in the supermarket.
I’ve gone to the Rupununi – people produce cashew nut. I go to the schools in the Rupununi, people are producing peanuts; children are eating peanut butter made in the Rupununi in Guyana. You can do it. So let us work together to see what we need to produce pineapple, to produce ground provision, to produce spices, turmeric, ginger, coconuts, mangoes and make the Barima-Waini Region the number one food-producing region in Guyana and make you the number one farmers, make you the richest farmers in Guyana because I am convinced that we can build a strong economy if villages like Whitewater are given the means, are given the resources. So you will not only get education; you will get employment and you will build a stronger economy; so we kill three birds with one stone.
My brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, I know that there are certain issues and your Toshao has raised those issues with me and the Chairman has raised those issues with me. As I told you, we are going to work together: central, regional and local; we will work together to deal with this infrastructural problem. When I talk about infrastructure, I mean the roads- road transportation; I mean communication, you know, there is this little village in Pomeroon named Karawab; I don’t know if any of you know Pomeroon and you know Karawab. The story is that when you’re in Karawab and you want to use a cellular phone you have to climb a coconut tree. So I told the people in Karawab that if they decide to buy a cellular phone, buy a coconut tree at the same time. But, I’m aware of the problem of communication and I have set up a special Ministry of Public Telecommunications so that over a period of time, every single community in Guyana would be connected and, in your schools, too, the children would be able to get computers. We can’t take all at the same time but it’s part of the programme. So communications will be improved and again, I have to work through the Chairman. He’s got to start coming to the meetings. When the Minister calls meetings, he doesn’t come but let him come and talk to us; he knows that I’m not an enemy and if you need to improve your communications we will try to help as much as we could. We have ten regions but at the same time let us see what we can do about the roads and the boats.
Now, government finance is very peculiar. Every November, my government presents a budget. All of you come from households; every household has a budget; if you know you work for $50,000 a month, you can’t spend $150,000; you have to plan how much you will spend on clothes, how much you will spend on food, how much you can spend on transport. And it is already February so we have already decided how the money will be spent, but I’m asking that from now we start to plan for 2019 because in November this year we will discuss and agree on the budget for 2019.
So we will sit down with the Chairman and see what could be done this year in terms of the road. What I am asking him to do is to put in for the budget for next year so we can have an even better road with greater improvements. I can’t promise at this point in time, but I want the Chairman to sit down with the Minister and let us plan; this is important to us.
I started out by saying that Whitewater is a frontline village and a frontline village must come to the front of the class and get frontline treatment. But when we talk about infrastructure we also talk about modern public utilities. I don’t see Whitewater, I don’t see Mabaruma, I don’t see Region One as ‘bush’; I see one country – Guyana – and I want to make sure that those living west of the Essequibo enjoy similar conditions as those living east of the Essequibo. This is not ‘bush’; this is people- you are people and I want the children to have good toilets in the school with light in their homes so they can study at night; in the health centres, in the community centres. There is no reason why in 2018 we cannot get more light in these villages. Children have to study, whether you’re living in Whitewater or blackwater or green water, you have to study to pass your exams. So, children all over the country need to get good light; need to have good libraries; need to have internet communication.
Nowadays, people are using more and more energy from sustainable sources. What this means is that you don’t have to bring gasoline from Georgetown or from Mabaruma; well, don’t worry with Northwest, I know where the gasoline coming from, not too far. But you don’t have to use gasoline and dieseline; you can use sun power. Your President has a watch; all he got to do is go in the sunlight every now and then and the watch works. I started campaigning with this watch four years ago and it hasn’t gone off yet. I don’t have to wind it up, I don’t have to change battery, the sun powers my watch- solar power and this village can benefit from more solar energy; so let us see, you have some already, let us see how we could increase that, not just like one, one, but increase it so that I can power more buildings, particularly public buildings and that same solar energy could be used in your homes to cook, to process foods; if you go into agro-processing, it will be expensive at first but you don’t have to fetch in gasoline and in the long-term it will be cheaper for you.
And the last point I want to mention is your health. Now there are people who are bringing diseases into this country. Years ago, 70 years ago, we tried to eradicate malaria from Guyana. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes- what they call vectors, this is what you call a vector-borne disease and it’s very difficult to keep mosquitoes out as you know very well and some of the worst diseases are caused by mosquitoes: filaria is caused by mosquitoes; dengue is caused by mosquitoes – by vectors: mosquitoes. Chikungunya is caused by mosquitoes so if we want to protect our health, to preserve our health, we have to get rid of the vectors.
It is good to have mosquito nets but it’s better to have no mosquitoes at all. So, we have to have a programme especially in these frontline villages to take the fight to the vectors; don’t wait until the vectors come to you, go to the vectors. The vectors breathe in stagnant pools of water. When we don’t dispose of our garbage, when we don’t have proper drainage, the mosquitos breed in stagnant water. They can’t breed where the water is running quickly, but once you have stagnant pools the mosquitos will breed and once the mosquitoes breed they will bring malaria, filaria, chikungunya and dengue into your villages. So, I’m not blaming you, I’m not blaming the Chairman, I’m not blaming the Toshao. Again, at the end, as I started by saying all three of us have to work together if malaria is a big problem. We have to try to eradicate the mosquitoes, we have to try to eliminate the sources where these vectors breed.
My brothers and sisters, this is my message to you. I can call it the Whitewater Declaration because what I’ve said here I will say at Baramita; I will say at Kaikan, I will say at Arau, I will say everywhere I go. That is a Guyanese problem and there’s a Guyanese solution; you are part of the solution; the Chairman is part of the solution; the Toshao is part of the solution; I’m a part of the solution. I’m not here to blame anyone, I’ve listened, I’ve heard what you have to say and let me tell you this- it all started with the meltdown that is taking place in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
I don’t wish them evil; I want them to solve their own problems but I do not want those problems to spill over into Guyana. Month before the last I was in Brazil, speaking to President [Michel] Temer; thousands of Venezuelans are going into Brazil; President [Juan Manuel] Santos in Colombia, thousands of Venezuelans are going into Colombia. There are some problems in Venezuela and I hope that they solve their problems and solve them quickly, but at the same time I don’t want those problems to affect you, Guyanese – we Guyanese. And when your Chairman looked, all the members of my security force, all the members of my Cabinet became aware because we regard the Barima-Waini Region and particularly Whitewater, as a frontline region, a frontline village.
So I would like to thank you very much for coming out to greet me today. I feel very much at home. I can’t sing well, but the welcome song is something that I remembered and the smiles on the faces of the girls. But I’m very happy to be here among you and I would like to assure you that I will sit down and work with your Regional Chairman to help you resolve these problems; so thank you and may God bless you, Whitewater.