Has Guyana benefited from the exploitation of its mineral resources?

Dear Editor,

I wish to conclude my take on President Jagdeo’s address to the UN last week Thursday in which he talked about four security challenges facing the world. I conclude by focusing on resource security and climate.

As had become common in his UN speech, the President asked questions on resource security instead of offering up suggestions. On this talking point, he asked: “How do we help global development by sourcing these minerals and using them efficiently and justly?”

“China on its own,” he continued, “is accounting for over a third of the demand for many of the most important global commodities, and countries across the world – most notably in South America and Africa – can supply them.” Guyana is a country in South America, so what example has Guyana set for others to emulate in justly and efficiently sourcing minerals to the Chinas of the world? Does he even have an idea of Guyana’s untapped mineral resources? One reliable source says that Guyana has bauxite deposits between the Demerara and Berbice Rivers, manganese at Matthews Ridge in the northwest, diamonds in the Mazaruni and other rivers of the Pakaraima Mountains, and gold in both alluvial and subsurface deposits mined by independent prospectors and in medium- and small-scale mines. Other minerals include copper, iron ore, molybdenite (the source of molybdenum), nickel, white sand (used in glass manufacture), kaolin (china clay), and graphite. The main biological resource is made up of hardwoods of the tropical rainforest, but especially the greenheart tree, which is said to be resistant to termites, decay, and marine erosion. Oil production is light years away and Iran, which may be looking for uranium for its nuclear programme, is also supposed to be mapping Guyana’s minerals, but, Editor, despite the fact we seem to have lots of minerals and other resources, one cursory look at exploitation of our mineral and biological resources and most Guyanese will conclude they have no true idea what is happening; only what the government tells them.

For example, Omai, a Canadian company ran Guyana’s largest open pit (11,000 acres) gold mining operation, was said to produce a quarter million troy ounces of gold a year (or reportedly excavated 3/4 of all the gold in Guyana) raking in huge sums of money for the company, while the Guyana government benefited from 5% of the company’s shares, until Omai ceased operations there in 2005. But do Guyanese really have any hard evidence that our nation actually benefited (or is benefiting from other current mining operations), given the corrupt and secretive nature of this government? Guyana can’t show anything substantial from these extractions and exportations. So what exactly has the Jagdeo regime done in Guyana to assure resource security in the last dozen years?

Securing our world’s climate is important to our very survival, but relative to Guyana, this is a misnomer; very misleading.
Countries that are cutting down and bulldozing and burning trees in their forests to help their people literally survive are the ones that need the world’s financial and material help so this devastating practice will stop contributing to changes in our climate. Guyana does not fit into that category of cutting down, bulldozing and burning trees to help Guyanese literally survive.

And even if the world wants to help Guyana preserve its virgin forests, how could President Jagdeo engage in a seemingly one-man climate change crusade, seeking to raise millions of dollars for Guyana, whereas Brazil, which has a rain forest that is half of the earth’s rain forests, is not even making as much noise? The truth is Brazil has had a true visionary in the person of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the 35th President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Global warming was part of Lula’s focus, but he did not wing it around the world preaching climate change in exchange for other nations’ money. Brazil’s Lula was a pragmatic and constructive thinker, whose successful developmental ideas catapulted Brazil to membership status of what is now known as the emerging BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economic grouping. Lula focused on development; Jagdeo focused on money. Editor, the President said his address at the United Nations was his last as President of Guyana. I hope he takes time while away from his image-massaging to get re-educated in the basics of responsible and accountable management, and acquaint himself with pragmatic ways to assure food, energy, resource and climate security. There are numerous models of successful Third World governments with which he can get acquainted. He obviously was pushed too soon into a position for which he was not ready, and his inevitable failure was not only his own, but that of the PPP and all those who voted for him in 2001 and 2006.

Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

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