Shifting to the south
August 3, 2004
A dynamic shift to the south is stirring in Guyana and this has far-reaching implications for the future of this nation.
On Monday, when Kaieteur News reported on vast benefits awaiting Guyana from a regional infrastructure programme, readers could be forgiven for spontaneously thinking it had something to do with the Caribbean region. It did not. Instead, it referred to the Regional Infrastructure Integration of South America (IIRSA).
The IIRSA is a 20-year project to promote the integration of South American nations. It started with a commitment to regional integration by South American presidents at a meeting in Brazil in August-September, 2000.
The project undertakes to modernise and develop infrastructure in South America to establish solid logistic and trading links. It is intended to allow the region --- as individual nations and as a single trading bloc --- to be more competitive in the global economy.
This is no whimsical plan. The IIRSA is to be based on a comprehensive analysis of participating countries' capabilities and constraints. Project planners are compiling an extensive database of information to be used to anticipate and deal with regulatory, operational and institutional problems, which are bound to arise with a project of such magnitude.
To date, the IIRSA project has significant backing. The Inter-American Development Bank, Andean Development Corporation and the Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin are already on board. There is every prospect of substantial, broad-based institutional support as the project expands.
The project design features ten separate development hubs. Guyana is pivotal to the development of the Guiana Shield Hub, which seeks to establish infrastructure linking Guyana, Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname and French Guiana. Guyana stands to benefit in several important ways.
Three benefits stand out: highway connections with neighbouring nations; a 150-megawatt hydroelectric generator in the interior; and a possible deep-water harbour. Furthermore, the project incorporates ancillary infrastructure such as bridges and access roads.
If this project takes off, there will be dramatic changes to life in Guyana. First of all, on account of the many historical, cultural, social, economic and political ties Guyana shares with the Caribbean, Guyana usually aligns itself first and foremost with the Caribbean region. The vast interior of Guyana has long been a barrier to strengthening this country's links with South American countries, except Suriname. This would no longer be the case.
Closer links with the south will undoubtedly bring a significant Latin influence to Guyana that most likely will be chock full of explosive issues. For example, is Guyana's participation in IIRSA contingent on any foreign policy or foreign trade commitments? Also, what bearing would IIRSA have on Guyana's relationship with the Caribbean and its binding commitments to CARICOM, especially the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) initiative?
Guyana's economy definitely needs to be more flexible to promote growth and employment. The shift to the south promises much needed new avenues of economic opportunity. However, Guyana's Western-influenced society will be tested when the strong Latin influence South America spills into this country via the IIRSA initiative. There is likely to be a bundle of reforms: new laws; new commitments; new trading relationships; new policing and national security concerns, to name a few.
It is not too soon for Guyana's leaders to carefully examine the IIRSA initiative's potentially thorny issues and chart a way forward that ensures that Guyana gets maximum benefits for minimum cost.