An interior policy

Stabroek News
July 15, 1999

Only a small part of Guyana is at present inhabited, primarily the coastal strip and some settlement up the rivers. The interior is thinly populated with Amerindian villages and some timber and mining developments. What should be the policy for dealing with this considerable area?

Some persons advocate that the emphasis should be on preserving much of this land as it is in the interest of major eco-tourist development. They point to the example of Costa Rica where this has proved extremely profitable. It preserves the land in its pristine state, with areas of great beauty, it is environmentally very desirable and carbon credits can be earned by undertaking to maintain the tropical rainforest, as has been done in Costa Rica, it provides substantial employment, it enables many of us to find out a lot more than we now know about our own country and it does not disturb the habitat of the Amerindians.

Others suggest that the emphasis should be on sustainable forestry and mining. They recommend, too, the opening up of the interior for settlement with roads and the development of the natural river infrastructure. Hydro electricity is also a possibility. And what about a paper mill? The interior should be opened up for industrial and other development.

These are some of the real issues of economic development we should be discussing instead of squatting on the coastland squabbling with each other over little or nothing, as we now do. The revised National Development Strategy, now in its final stages under the overall guidance of Dr. Kenneth King, will help us to focus on these issues by providing a comprehensive analysis of various possibilities. The exercise is non-political, senior persons with different skills from all the parties are involved, and the several volumes of this major undertaking could become available by the end of this month.

What is needed is not a comprehensive development plan, which this is not, but a number of ideas which can become the subject of a national debate and lift all our perspectives. Efforts are being made to encourage settlement in the intermediate savannahs, for example, and there is already the Dubulay ranch pioneered by the Mendes family. But major problems of infrastructure and marketing remain and given soil conditions it is by no means yet clear how attractive this area is for farming. Beal Aerospace are considering developing rocket launching facilities, a facility that could put Guyana on the map in various ways. The road to Brazil has never been completed. The tourist industry remains almost strangled in its cradle as THAG keeps reminding us. There is much that can be done with energy and initiative. It is stagnation and poverty that is causing our society to implode. We have to lift our horizons.

The people must put pressure on the politicians to come up with ideas and programmes. The crafting of an interior policy, which may be an amalgam of the many strands mentioned above, would be a useful start. Can we hope to see this in any of the party manifestos next year?

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples