President David Granger’s official visit to Brazil in December, his second visit there since assuming office in May 2015, points the way, hopefully, to kick-starting a more meaningful relationship between Guyana and a country that is an undisputed hemispheric economic partner and a key strategic ally in Guyana’s quest to stave off Venezuela’s absurd territorial claim.
In the wake of the President’s December official visit and even before then, there had been indications of the materialisation of an accelerated bilateral agenda, manifested in earlier official visits to Brazil by Guyanese delegations that pointed to the likely emergence of an agenda focusing on Brazilian investment in large-scale agricultural projects in Guyana. More recently, in fact towards the end of last week, Brazil’s Federal Minister of Health, Dr. Ricardo Jose Magalhᾱes Barros visited Guyana briefly to discuss bilateral cooperation in the health sector.
For all this, plus the planned visit here in February by a Brazilian trade and investment delegation, watchers of bilateral relations between the two countries, cemented over half a century of diplomatic ties, are inclined to the view that much more ought to have materialised out of the relationship. After all, apart from being the country in the hemisphere which, potentially, has the most to offer Guyana in broad developmental terms, Brazil is the only one of Guyana’s three immediate neighbours with which there has been no active and serious border controversy, the 1936 signing of the Tri-junction Point Agreement between Brazil, the Netherlands and England having long settled the issue of the border between Brazil, Suriname and Guyana.
Not that there has been a lack of bilateral business in the years that have followed. Questions, however, have persistently arisen as to whether engagement has realised commensurate, meaningful accomplishment.
The period following Guyana’s independence in 1966 has manifested itself, primarily in modest amounts of technical assistance from Brazil. The primary expressed ambition on both sides has been for the completion of a highway linking Georgetown to the Brazilian city of Manaus. That would put bilateral relations between the two countries on a far more meaningful footing, the main objective here being to allow for easy access by Brazilian exports –primarily from its northern states – to an Atlantic port, to facilitate the easy movement of Guyana’s goods to markets in Brazil and to allow for other spheres of people-to-people cooperation. Funding for what is commonly known as the Guyana-Brazil road project, has, however, been its principal stumbling block though the most recent disclosures on the financing of the project have pointed in the direction of accessing financing from China’s US$10 billion Latin America Infrastructure Fund.
Not that relations between Guyana and Brazil have stood still though there is an unchallengeable case for contending that neither landmark bilateral accomplishments like the coming into effect in 2004 of the Partial Scope Agreement (signed in 2001) which created tariff reductions for a range of items in trade between Guyana and Brazil nor the 2009 completion of the bridging of the Takutu River has realised as much in real terms as might have been expected; so that the question remains as to whether what the diplomats customarily describe as the ‘deepening’ of bilateral ties between the two countries has metamorphosed, over the years, into corresponding levels of economic ties and technical cooperation.
What, however, has sustained and in a sense consolidated ties between the two countries are, first, Guyana’s recognition of Brazil’s role as a key hemispheric partner in the context of relations with its other hemispheric neighbours, chiefly Venezuela and secondly, Brazil’s strategic recognition of Guyana’s potential role as a route for goods from its northern states seeking an Atlantic trading route.
It is, primarily, in the area of people-to-people relations that ties between Guyana and Brazil have made the most progress, the lucrative prospects of Guyana’s gold and diamond-mining industry coupled with the country’s porous borders having become increasingly attractive to Brazilian miners. In recent years cross-border movement has swelled to the point where Brazilians numbering in their thousands have taken up residence here. As it happens, however, much of the people-to-people ties persist largely to the direct exclusion of both Georgetown and Brasilia.
Still, formal bilateral relations have persisted. Visits to Brazil at both presidential and foreign minister levels have spanned both political administrations during the very recent years of the twenty first century with some of the most significant outcomes of those exchanges being the 2013 creation of the Brazil-Guyana Joint Commission for the Develop-ment of Infrastructure Projects including, chiefly, the exploitation of Guyana’s hydro-electric and seaport potential and the December 2017 announcement (following President Granger’s visit to Brazil) that Brazil is keen to play a role in the development of Guyana’s oil industry.
If recent official reports are anything to go by visits by Brazilian delegations are among trade missions due in Guyana early in 2018. Late in December the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) announced that Guyana was anticipating “two inward trade missions” focusing on large-scale Brazilian investment in agriculture here arising out of exchanges in Brazil in May last year involving the Ministry of Agriculture and the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission on the one hand and Brazilian state officials on the other. Both the Ministry of Business and Go-Invest have sounded upbeat notes about the prospects for these envisaged projects, not least their prospects for upgrading hinterland agriculture in Guyana, generating employment and allowing for accelerated levels of technical cooperation between Guyana and Brazil.
And yet, for all the unmistakable good intentions that have continually characterised bilateral relations between Guyana and Brazil one cannot help but wonder aloud as to whether these most recent signs of energetic bilateral cooperation in key areas between the two countries will materialise into meaningful long-term developments or whether they will simply sustain themselves in media reports for a time only to make way for another round of promises some time down the road. We cannot allow lost or even delayed opportunity to become a permanent feature of our relations with Brazil.