Fuzzy planning Editorial
Stabroek News
August 12, 2001

The plans to link Guyana's coast with Brazil are forging ahead it seems. Last Monday we reported that construction of the bridge over the Takutu river was scheduled to begin on August 15 now that Brazil, which is funding the bridge, has awarded the contract. All well and good. Except that the Government on this side of the border in its usual fuzzy fashion does not appear to have thought out the full implications of the link, and what needs to be done to protect this country, its environment and its people from some of the possible consequences of becoming an appendage of the neighbouring territory of Roraima.

Do not let us pretend. After nearly nine years, the Government still does not have an interior policy, still exercises little control over the hinterland, still cannot monitor its borders, still has not settled Amerindian land issues and still has not produced any development plan for the Rupununi, which is supposed to be the first area to benefit from the proposed arterial road. In our edition of July 30, we reported how Brazilian miners had taken over at Kurupung, because allegedly corrupt officials were not enforcing the rules. A conservative estimate was that there was $61.2M in diamond production per week in that area, which ended up in Brazil. If the authorities cannot control what is happening at Kurupung effectively - and the local miners claim that they first raised the issue with the Prime Minister over a year ago - what will happen when the whole country is opened up to the land-hungry population next door?

Kurupung is a diamond-mining area, but in the gold fields there have also been complaints about garimpeiro methods and the unsafe use of mercury, among various other things. In Isseneru in particular, this has resulted in disturbingly high mercury levels in a river on which residents depend for their domestic water supply. In general, no one can say exactly how many Brazilians operate in our interior, let alone how many of them are here illegally, although most of the citizens of Georgetown will have noticed their increasing presence in the capital. In the case of our neighbour Suriname, Brazilian numbers are estimated to be anything upwards of 20,000, and in their on-line edition of July 8, De Ware Tijd reported Defence Minister Ronald Assen as suggesting that Venezuela could assist Suriname in purging its interior of illegal immigrants - i.e. Brazilians.

Venezuela's own problems with garimpeiros at the beginning of the last decade are not to be forgotten of course, when thousands of them flooded her Roraima province, and it took months and the full range of Venezuelan military resources to evict them.

The biggest problems for this country will come, however, when the deep-water harbour about which Brazil (or at least her state of Roraima) is so enthusiastic, is built. Whichever port is chosen for this project will then become the terminus for Brazil's Amazonian region. Heavy container traffic will go thundering along the coastal-Lethem road, frightening off the wildlife in the Iwokrama forest reserve, compromising its reputation as a pristine area and undermining its eco-tourism potential.

There will be many other consequences too, for which the Government is clearly totally unprepared. Perhaps the most dangerous is that we will become a major, not a minor, drug trafficking route, and that in the process our whole society could become undermined. As things stand, about one-third or so of drugs produced in Colombia are exported through Venezuela. As for Guyana, we are even now a minor in-transit route. However, with a major artery leading off from the pan-American highway system to a deep-water port, we can expect to go onto the drugs route-map in a big way, with all that that implies.

And there is more. The United States is ploughing huge sums of money into the anti-narcotics campaign in Colombia. Brazil and Venezuela have already expressed concerns that as a consequence the Colombian drug barons will move the processing laboratories into their terrain. And what about the risks, therefore, to Guyana's unpoliced interior? Our hinterland would probably not be a prime target for the establishment of processing laboratories in any major way, provided that there was no deep-water port facility handling numerous shipments. After all, the large-scale drug manufacturers need an easy outlet for bulk export purposes. The situation would change dramatically, however, once such a facility was installed.

The administraion is so dreamy that they are not doing the homework that is necessary to ensure that the link with the continent does not bring social misery in its train, rather than economic benefit. The construction of the Takutu bridge is about to begin, for example, and they have not even got facilities in place for the Customs, immigration and police on our side of the river. They need to start dealing with the complex issues in relation to our hinterland and its development, before work starts on a road which they erroneously believe will provide a panacea for all the nation's ills.

And given their current state of unpreparedness, for the time being they should definitely stall on the matter of the deep-water harbour.