The US congressional and military delegation that arrived on Wednesday met with President David Granger yesterday before leaving for Brazil, the next stop on a regional tour.
“We are part of the hemisphere. We have cordial relations with the United States. I see the meeting as largely fact-finding.
They want to familiarise themselves with the situation in the hemisphere as a whole and, of course, today the focus was on Guyana. So, my brief to them was largely in four areas dealing with points that I think they would have been interested in and I think in that regard it was successful,” a statement from the Ministry quoted Granger as saying after the meeting with the delegation at the Ministry of the Presidency.
He noted that the members were particularly interested in the energy sector and the possibility of access to cheap electricity here also piqued the interest of the group.
“We explained that we’re not wedded to one concept. Some areas may have solar, some areas may have hydro, some areas may have wind, some areas may have natural gas, so we’re looking at a mix of energy sources and we’re confident that we’ll bring the tariff rate down to below US$0.15 cents per kilowatt hour,” the Ministry of the Presidency quoted him as saying.
“Maybe we’ll keep moving downwards and have cheap energy and this will be important to manufacturers. So, some of the questions were concerned with the possibility of cheap energy,” the president explained.
Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge and Minister of State Joseph Harmon were also present at the meeting.
On Wednesday, the delegation arrived in Guyana and held its first meeting with Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman.
Six Republicans and two Democrats made up the team. Bob Goodlatte, John Rutherford, Mark Sanford, John Curtis, Todd Rokita, Richard Hudson, Steve Cohen and Scott Peters arrived mid-morning on Wednesday and left before noon yesterday.
California’s 49th congressional district Representative Darrell Issa did not make the trip.
Goodlatte and Hudson, both Republicans, are from Virginia. Rutherford represents Florida, Curtis – Utah, and Rokita – Illinois while Democrats Cohen and Peters are from Tennessee and California, respectively.
Republicans Sanford and Goodlatte won’t be returning to the House in November as Sandford recently lost the primary race in South Carolina to fellow Republican Katie Arrington, while Goodlatte announced his retirement last year.
While one source had told this newspaper that the congressional visit here was a “sensitive” one and had “much to do” with the refugee crisis in Venezuela, it has also been speculated that the large oil find offshore Guyana by the US company ExxonMobil is another area of interest for the delegation. Venezuela and ExxonMobil have had a fracture in relations and in 2015 Venezuela sought to claim the spot in Guyana’s waters where the US company found a major oil deposit. This move by Caracas was an enlargement of its territorial claim against Guyana.
Through the Ministry of the Presidency, Granger explained the nature of the visit and spoke on the areas he briefed the group on. This included the geographic overview of Guyana, its hemispheric affiliations and shared borders; the border controversies with both Venezuela and Suriname, Guyana’s international relations and the migration of Venezuelans into Guyana; an economic overview, which dealt with the traditional sectors, the emerging oil and gas sector; and Guyana’s pursuit of a ‘green’ agenda and environmental conservation.
“I dealt with the geographic scenario and the fact that Guyana is a continental state. It is a part of the South-American continent but with Caribbean characteristics. It’s the only English-speaking state and as a result of that we have lots of advantages, but at the same time, you know, we are not only perceived as the gateway to South America for the Caribbean but we’re the gateway to the Caribbean for South America. Our geographic situation has, of course, implications for border security because of the territorial claim by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and also claims by Suriname. So, they were interested in that and I gave them the assurance that we are on our way to the peaceful resolution of the territorial controversy with Venezuela,” the President added.
The delegation also got a synopsis of Guyana’s political and governance systems, from the president’s perspective. “The [other] area I dealt with was political. I gave them the assurance, truthfully, that Guyana is a very stable country, law-abiding country, and our National Assembly functions, our judiciary functions independently and also the executive branch. So, those three branches are separate and the executive does not interfere in the judiciary or the autonomous commissions, like the Guyana Elections Commission, the Judicial Service Commission and so on. So, I think from the point of view of governance, we were able to explain that Guyana is a stable, well-governed state,” he said.
According to Granger, Guyana’s green agenda was also discussed and the team was impressed with Guyana’s commitment to protecting the environment.
“They were quite impressed with our environment [and] our commitment to the environment. We believe that climate change can have harmful effects and we’re taking measures to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. We can see that our coastal zones are being damaged partly as a result of global warming and we are committed to protecting our rivers, protecting our air quality, protecting our forests. So, we’re able to explain and convince them of our commitment to protecting the environment even as we go more deeply into the extractive industries,” he said.
The President noted that the two sides also discussed areas of cooperation, which can be built and enhanced where needed, in areas such as security, energy and disaster response and preparedness.
“The territorial controversy has been our biggest concern but most recently, and because of our long borders—we have a 1,300 feet kilometres with Brazil, 800 kilometres nearly with Venezuela and also with Suriname—but we don’t have the assets to protect our borders and there has been some trafficking across the borders; trafficking in guns, trafficking in persons, trafficking in narcotics and trafficking in other contraband goods. These are areas where there could be deeper and more intense corporation between the United States and Guyana,” he said.
“Also, we are aware of the repeated danger of hurricanes and other disasters in the Caribbean and the United States has assisted us, particularly the Civil Defence Commission, in preparing for disasters and management of disasters. Again, this is one area that we want to continue our collaboration with the United States because we don’t have the airlift or the technical capabilities to respond to these disasters,” he added.