[GUYANA] – Since the Biden/ Harris Administration has taken office there has been a number of meetings and seminars on the issue of hemispheric security. Much of the discussion focused on threats to hemispheric security. Arising from new developments in the geopolitical and economic landscape of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The ongoing political, economic and social conditions in Venezuela where Russia, China and Iran are strengthening ties daily with the Maduro regime. It is perhaps the most critical issue currently engaging the attention of national security experts in the Americas. Even as they grapple with the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Plus, a vaccine diplomacy strategy that seeks to address this critical problem.
Quite often when focus is placed on hemispheric security, very little attention is placed on the CARICOM countries. Even though two CARICOM member states are located in South America-Guyana and Suriname and one, Belize, in Central America.
Venezuela maintains a claim to a significant portion of Guyana and its maritime space. Specifically where deposits of oil and gas have been located. In addition to the production by U.S. global oil company Exxon Mobil. And, in conjunction with other companies, including one from China.
South Florida Caribbean News (SFLCN) recently interviewed Guyana’s National Security Adviser, Gerry Gouveia about the national security situation in Guyana.
SFLCN: Capt. Gouveia, thank you for granting us this interview.
GG: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your audience in South Florida and beyond. I think it is indeed important to look at the national security situation in Guyana. Especially since I think this is inextricably linked. Like the national security in every country in the Americas, to hemispheric security. And, I’m sure you will appreciate that national security is itself inextricably linked to socio-economic, political, climate and other facets of a country’s existence and development.
SFLCN: As Guyana emerges as a major global oil producer there will be expanded security issues that will arise. From human trafficking to possible acts of terror, not to mention Venezuela’s claim, there is a myriad of other security issues that have to be taken into account. What are your major security concerns at this time?
GG: Yes. Guyana is on the threshold of an economic explosion which, once we manage it effectively, will result in tremendous wealth creation for the country generally. So, I agree with you that there are now a wide range of security issues with which we will have to deal. The creation of wealth does not necessarily mean the creation of prosperity and therefore for all citizens to live a prosperous life there has got to be a high sense of personal security, public safety and protection based on the rule of law.
I am also quite cognizant of the existing internal, transnational and global security threats such as money laundering, human trafficking, acts of terror, territorial claims by Venezuela and the prevailing COVID-19 Global pandemic. As urgent as some of these may seem, they are and have been existing threats to Guyana, some are traditional while some have evolved but the COVID-19 pandemic has a more direct and devastating impact on Guyana and the global community. As we have seen, the pandemic has had devastating effects to the national security across the world. The types of impact include, threats to political systems, border security, cyber security, health systems, food security, global warming and so on. To control and manage successfully these impacts, Guyana must focus on the vaccination which has so far been proven to be the safest method in restoring a country to normalcy.
Climate change is another critical security issue for Guyana which as you know, its coastland is below sea level. Rising sea levels are a threat to the livelihood of Guyanese and can be of severe impact to especially women and children. This is why we have been paying heightened attention to our drainage infrastructure and our sea defenses and working to ensure that these are strengthened. The work of our Civil Defense Commission (CDC) is vital as we embrace the effects of global warming and climate change. Our current floods and their rippling effect on our human capital and economy is devastating.
SFLCN: Guyana has six ethnic groups making up its population. Are ethnic insecurities a security concern?
GG: In Guyana, our different ethnic groups have co-existed during our colonial past and have endured, tolerated and accepted each other’s differences for over 55 years since Independence.
There has been some ethnic division predominantly during the national electoral periods.
Hence, I believe there is not a major ethnic insecurity concern which has serious national security implications but rather there are political authors that manipulate the ethnic groups to spread division and insecurities. The real issue is the political irresponsibility that seeks to propagate racism and divide our Nation, and this could present the most significant challenge to our national security which could negatively impact the attainment of national prosperity.
Guyana’s Defense Forces
SFLCN: How prepared are your law enforcement agencies and your defense force to effectively deal with threats to Guyana’s national security which have the potential to expand as you develop your oil and gas sector and the economy grows?
GG: The law enforcement agencies and Defense Force were subject to many recent and thorough reviews. Our existing partners in the form of the US, Canada, the UK and CARICOM, and many other multilateral and bilateral partners have offered their support in the form of training, joint exercises, donations, technical support and many other engagements that will help to build our capacity.
Of course, diplomacy remains our first line of defense and in terms of the Venezuelan claim. We believe that this matter will be settled once and for all by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Further, the government of Guyana has only just started the first phase of acquisition of defense and security assets for the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) Coast Guard, Air Corps and the new Drone Corp which is being developed.
All of this is being done while we continue to work with the US and other friendly nations to modernize and upgrade the capability and output of the security services. Security sector reform is also high on the agenda as an important part of our national security strategy.
Let me point out again that the security agenda is intended to help ensure that all Guyanese enjoy the prosperity which beckons as a result of economic growth through private and public sector investment, job creation, good governance, expanded exports and efficient and effective social services.
Role as National Security Adviser
SFLCN: You were a member of your country’s army air corps. You are also a businessman and you have participated in, and graduated from a number of courses including the National Defense University in the U.S.? How have these prepared you for your current role as National Security Adviser to the President?
GG: The National Security Advisor, officially known as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, serves as a chief advisor to the President on national security issues. The National Security Advisor serves on the National Security Council and on the Defense Board. The office is in the office of the President and therefore my role is to provide the President with advice that is in the best interest of Guyana which would allow for the formulation of policy and decision making. I don’t see my role as being in any way politically partisan.
Based on my own experience and qualifications, I provide advice based on factual information, verifiable intelligence, prevailing local, regional and international developments and evaluation.
Being in constant consultation with the leadership of our law enforcement agencies, our Defense Force, our Foreign Ministry and other relevant ministries and agencies as we seek to provide credible information and the best possible advice to the President upon which he can formulate policy and make good decisions.
My time in the GDF as an officer and my longstanding membership of the private sector and a successful businessman for over 40 years have given me a wide range of cutting -edge experiences, values, diplomatic and foreign business engagements across the world.
Further, having fought for over five months to restore confidence in our democracy, I am of the view that I am not only an adviser on national security, but I am part of the tree which breeds prosperity. The office which I hold is but a vessel. It pulls all the pieces of national interest together for a common objective of prosperity. Despite our differences every citizen must be respected. In addition, they must be given the same rights allotted to any senior government official.
I believe that, Justice and fairness must be afforded to all citizens regardless of ethnic or political persuasion. And, that the scourge of poverty, economic deprivation, injustices and welfare issues should be eliminated completely.
SFLCN: Thank You Sir for your time.