It would be entirely fair to say that successive political administrations in Guyana have, over time, continually squandered what, unquestionably, have been glaring opportunities to take advantage of the fact that Brazil, by far this continent’s largest country with the biggest economy, shares a border with us. Cross border relations at an unofficial level exist a-plenty and this has been the case for a number of years. Much of it has to do with Brazilians crossing the border in search of gold and diamonds here. Some of it has to do with illegal activity including the movement of contraband, drugs and guns and ammunition across the country. It is of course no secret that Guyana’s inability to effectively police its borders has been, over time, one of the country’s major challenges.
That is not our only challenge. In the matter of our relations with Brazil we have, over the years, been weighed and found considerably wanting in terms of our ability to transform our proximity with Brazil into a correspondingly meaningful bilateral relationship. It is not that Brazil has not been a good neighbour, so to speak. Brazil’s friendship has stood Guyana in good stead in terms of that country’s support for its territorial integrity and there are various areas of bilateral cooperation in which we have benefitted from Brazil’s friendship.
What we have manifestly failed to do is to transform most of the various expressions of intent reflected in the numerous bilateral agreements concluded during state visits by successive Guyanese Presidents to Brazil and the various other cross-border visits into meaningful agreement. This failure should be seen in the context of the role that Brazil can play in building the various sectors of the Guyana economy, including its social infrastructure, including the areas of agriculture, manufacturing, medicine, technology and energy. Of course, there is also the issue of the proposed continuous road link between the two countries and the continuous exchanges that have taken place between the two capitals in this regard. The problem with moving ahead with the road has to do with the high cost of such an undertaking though we have heard of late that China may have an interest in supporting the project with financing.
Taking account of the fact that Guyana/Brazil relations have, economic and trade relations, particularly, have long ‘huffed and puffed’ without threatening any sort of raging storm, it is worth mentioning two elements that have arisen over the past week or so. The first is the revelation arising out of a visit to Brazil in April this year by a team of local state officials headed by Business Minister Dominic Gaskin that a team of Brazilians is due here in January to discuss what we are told could eventually develop into major Brazilian investment in agriculture and agro processing on lands in Guyana. The second is the more recent announcement arising out of President Granger’s visit to Brazil in December that the country’s state-run oil company Petrobras has an interest in supporting the development of Guyana’s oil and gas industry.
Here, it seems, we are witnessing yet another high-profile surge in the matter of Guyana/Brazil relations,that have implications for the strengthening of economic relations between the two countries. In the instance of oil and gas it is worth mentioning that Brazil’s interest, apart from more than likely being of technical significance, carries a certain strategic weight as well.
As far as what we are told is Brazil’s possible interest in investing in large scale agriculture on this side of the border the benefits in terms of farming techniques and technology, employment opportunities and of course initiating the real takeoff of agro-processing and full scale manufacturing on this side of the border is significant.
We need, of course, to remind ourselves that all of this has to do with potential and that when it comes to actualizing the potential for cooperation between Guyana and Brazil in the various areas the track record has been nothing to write home about.
The Granger administration has the opportunity to set a precedent here, from which, of course, Guyana stands to benefit significantly. Here it should be stated that the outcomes and undertakings of the promised January visit should be carefully managed by both the Guyana Embassy in Brazil and Go-Invest here in Georgetown. Far too many of these types of arrangements tend to surface then quietly slip through the cracks for lack of attention. As for what we understand to be the interest of Petrobras in Guyana’s oil and gas sector one can only say that this may turn out to be the best opportunity yet to seriously cement relations between the two countries. We understand that those relations will have to be managed but it is an opportunity to develop closer ties with Brazil that Guyana should treat with the utmost seriousness.