Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge discusses the country’s relations with its neighbors and nations further afield, its burgeoning international partnerships, and its aim to strengthen its connections with the huge diaspora in the United States.
What is your assessment of the current momentum Latin America is going through?
Well I believe that the region has experienced difficult times in the past. For both the Caribbean and Latin America, post 2008, it has not been very easy but I think, by and large, these countries, like Chile and others in Central America, have made the institutional changes that provide a basis for an improved performance. In the last decade the region has been able to do a number of things without being constrained by the IMF and structural adjustment. And this has contributed enormously to a political environment that is propitious for more rapid rates of economic growth. South America, Central America and the Caribbean have faced some challenges, but if the IMF is correct and it will pick up in the next few years ahead, then this bodes very well for the region.
They have also done a lot in terms of strengthening regional integration to pursue global issues ranging from the environment to climate change. I think this will put them in good standing within the region.
Can you please share with us your views on the “new Guyana” that will come under the leadership of David Granger?
I think the main direction, the main thrust, of the new administration has to be in governance. The population itself is very concerned that we must leave behind the past era of an abusive government. To explain further, an abusive government is the situation in which the Executive of the country seeks to dominate the legislature and seeks to control the courts. In addition, this administration committed itself to being a more inclusive government, by looking at more effective ways of bringing the non-state actors and the non-governmental organizations into the arena of decision making, monitoring and planning of economic change in particular – and that is what I think is going to happen in terms of the political changes for this government. But we also hope that by putting corruption behind us, collaborating in a more predictable manner, with our neighbors, we will also be able to enhance economic growth in the period ahead.
One of the hot topics affecting Guyana at the moment is their dispute with Venezuela and their territorial claim of over almost two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. Suriname has also recently refloated some territorial claims. What measures is the government taking to assure its territorial integrity?
The Suriname problem is a problem that arises from fairly typical relations between postcolonial countries, and both sides recognize this. I believe that we need to resolve the problem on a bilateral basis, trying to work cooperatively. I don’t think there is any difficulty with us and Suriname in that regard. It’s not going to be easy; they are tough neighbors, and we have a framework, in which it’s going to be.
However, with Venezuela it is a different case. Different because in the case of Venezuela, there is actually an agreement, an agreement that was signed by Venezuela. The boundaries associated with the agreement have been demarcated by an international treaty. The borders established by Guyana today have been established on the basis of collaboration between Guyana, Britain, Venezuela, the United States and Brazil. So there is no question that these borders can’t be changed by the two of us. It is out of the question. Therefore, the action which Venezuela has taken – to try and annex our international waters and to stop development of the land territories – is something we will fight as long as we exist. We will mobilize internally, we will mobilize externally, and we will fight. It is illegal, and it was illegal in 1966 and it is illegal now.
Guyana and Suriname are the only two countries that are members of both Caricom and Unasur. Also the headquarters of Caricom is established in Georgetown. How is Guyana working on regional integration? What are its priorities regarding economic diplomacy?
We are one of the founding members of the Caricom Regional Integration movement. We played an active role in the development of the Lomé convention, which is what binds the European Union to the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. We have been very keen to deepen regional integration across the language divide, the Iberian, English-speaking and Dutch areas, and we will continue to press that in the years ahead. We believe that in this way the region will be able to make a name for itself and stand up high enough to rival the major states – certainly in regional economic growth and integration in certain areas.
Diaspora remittances can be a serious engine for economic growth as it has been in countries like Turkey or the Philippines. Remittances in Guyana in 2014 amounted to US$341 million. How are you working to engage the diaspora with the country’s development?
As regards remittances, yes you are right; this is a major source of income for the country, and at one stage it was as high as 17% of GDP. What we believe needs to be done now is to put in place the institutional arrangements and mechanisms that would provide some security for those who want to send remittances. This is so they can channel their money towards fruitful investment: investment in the housing sector, investment in industrial development, etc. And we are proposing to do that, so that we can capture these funds and at the same time contribute to growth in Guyana and also raising the level of optimism in this country.
Country branding is becoming more important than ever. This is not an easy task that and requires a collective effort between government and private sector. How is Guyana working to communicate all the opportunities the country offers to the world?
Guyana is doing quite a lot to project itself as a destination. Of course, one of the first and most important things to do is to perform to the extent that we can put our political arrangements in place so that they appear to be orderly, democratic and fruitful. That I believe will be a worthwhile thing. As part of the regional outreach and international arrangements, we have also been deepening bilateral arrangements with traditional donors as well as in new areas. We have been doing a lot of work bilaterally and working in the context of the ACP-EU. So there are a number of diplomatic areas where we are looking to expand.
How is the government working to make a stronger bilateral relation with the USA?
Well, we are working with the US across a variety of fronts. The US has indicated a special interest in governance. Whether it is in political governance or questions to do with strengthening the role and the capacity of the law enforcement bodies – the police and so forth – with a view to enhancing security.
We have also been talking with the US about anti-money laundering, and I think we are at one with them. And then there is the issue of the economic framework. Because the US is a major investor in Guyana, it has been interested and active in that area for a long time. And we would want to talk to them about enhancing investment in Guyanese enterprises, and yes we will do that.
I figure the Exxon project is a very good presentation and can set an example of relations to other companies who are looking to invest in Guyana.
There is no doubt that the activities between ourselves and Exxon can serve as a catalyst for succeeding investments. We have worked very closely with Exxon. We have tried to provide them with whatever comfort they need. I believe that we are at the relatively comfortable point where we can speak to the Americans and they can speak to us about concerns in these areas that affect economic growth and services.
2016 is going to be a historical year for Guyana, in which it will be celebrating its 50th independence anniversary. How would you like the American audience to perceive Guyana?
We would like the American people to see us as a partner in the region. As a country, or a partner with considerable potential, one with a good capacity to organize itself and a relatively safe destination for their investments.