The road to Brazil will bring massive investment
Stabroek News
March 23, 2002

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Dear Editor,

It is with great interest that I read the editorial entitled "Port area for Brazil", which appeared in the Stabroek News of Friday 8th March 2002. That piece followed the brief stopover in Guyana by President Henrique Cardoso of Brazil on Tuesday 5th March 2002, when proposals for the construction of the road connecting Georgetown and Northern Brazil and the idea of establishing deep water port facilities in Guyana to serve both Guyana and Northern Brazil were discussed. Frankly, however, I was slightly disappointed with the thrust of the editorial as it focused on the failings of Guyana's government agencies to provide border security, protect the environment and ensure the security of interior inhabitants prior to the planned upgrade of communication links with Brazil.

Having read the editorial, I was left with the feeling that an important sector of the Guyanese community still has lingering doubts about the efficacy of this most important infrastructural project. History records that this is certainly the third and possibly the fourth time in Guyana's history that a link between Georgetown with Northern Brazil has been mooted. In 1908, Colonel Link proposed the construction of a rail link at a time when Manaus on the Amazon River was the center of a great rubber boom. This proposal was stymied by the British Guiana colonial administration, in the face of what officialdom considered unreasonable demands from Colonel Link for rights and concessions. However, four years later, the then colonial governor opined that "a grave error had been made in rejecting the terms of the railway proposal and that the Colony (British Guiana) was never again likely to receive an offer of such magnitude in relation to the development of the Interior".

Significantly, construction of the railway was opposed by powerful sugar interests, who feared that it would reduce the pool of available labour for agriculture and cause wage levels to increase to the detriment of king sugar. Popular belief at the time points to another proposal to establish overland communications between Georgetown and Northern Brazil. Quoting from my book "Guyana man - with visions of Caribbean integration", at page 18: "Around the same period, however, it was believed (though officially denied) that Henry Ford had submitted proposals to the Government of British Guiana to build a road through Guyana's interior. The aim was to reach Northern Brazil to trade in rubber for his growing automobile industry. It was also believed that the proposal envisaged Ford being given monopoly use of the road for ten years. It is alleged that this officially unconfirmed proposal was also rejected, but the dream of such a roadway has lingered on in the minds of successive generations of Guyanese". Denied ready access to the Amazon Rain Forest, it is alleged that the Ford Motor Company turned its attention to Malaya where the exploitation of the rubber industry has had a profound impact on economic development. In the 1960's, John Jardim, a former President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, proposed the construction of a 192 mile road from Ituni to Lethem on the Brazilian border. His idea was a fair-weather road initially - to be upgraded to a highway in time. In his submission to the Government, he wrote : "A very important reason for the highway to Lethem is to promote the expansion of trade with Brazil; and Georgetown could serve as a free-port for goods in and out of the Rio Branco and Amazonas regions of Brazil".

For close to a century, successive generations of people with influence have foreseen the immense potential value of a link between Guyana and northern Brazil. First it was fueled by a desire to provide transportation for the raw material for rubber. Now, the motivation is to provide a trade link for northern states in Brazil, particularly the assembly industries and duty-free zone in Manaus. Guyana needs to embrace the proposal with enthusiasm. Fortunately, the construction of the Georgetown - Brazil road and deep water port facilities in Guyana to service Northern Brazil's exports and imports was a very important element of the PNC/Reform's manifesto for the last general election. Surely, this should make it easy for the political leaders of all parties to build consensus around the project. To Guyana, construction of the road will bring massive foreign investment and rapid economic development. The opportunities that it will present will have the much needed added social benefit of reducing political and racial tension in the society. With its implications for increasing intra-Caricom and external trade, this project can become a rallying cause for regional economic integration. Perhaps, its importance to the entire region warrants its being promoted regionally as a Caribbean Community infrastructure project.

Yours faithfully,

Wilton A Angoy