Back when the shelves of Guyana were being stocked with groceries and products that were no longer being imported by the Ministry of Trade, ‘traders’, crossed the border to Boa Vista Brazil to bring those items over. Brazil never demanded its own currency or the American dollar. It accepted the Guyanese dollar which was worth just about .005 US cents at the time.
Understandably, there is curiosity. So here is some perspective.
After the Second World War, Roosevelt and Churchill arranged the lease of British bases to America. One of those bases was in British Guiana which caused Brazil to think that a US presence would have resulted in protracted American occupation and subsequent ownership, not unlike a Puerto Rico.
Political strategists, Mario Travasos, then came up with, the historic strategy, Projecção Continental do Brasil,which was planned around incorporating the help of Venezuela to woo British Guiana, even with its American presence. Venezuela was thought to be a good ally, especially since she was still embittered by its loss of Essequibo to British Guiana through enforceable terms of a treaty.
The 1947 Projecção Continental do Brasil, was, essentially, a plan to pump food and products in to Guiana, thereby necessitating the construction of a road and bridge which would have created a ‘link’ to the ‘colony’ Guiana. Thus, began the movement of goods and people interaction between Brazilians and Guianese at the border, the establishment of a commerce, of sorts, with Brazil as its engineer.
By 1964, Brazil had become a military dictatorship and was operating on its manifesto, ‘Doctrine of National Security’, now crafted by the country’s Superior War College, Escola Superior de Guerra. As it pertained to Guiana, – note that Guiana is still a key component to its economic and geopolitical stability – Brazil’s strategy was to establish a formidable diplomatic, economic, technological and cultural presence, primarily as an alternative to what the West would have offered a fledgling Guiana.
Then Guiana gained its independence from colonization so Brazil ramped up its courtship. Now there was a built in uncertainty in this neighboring country. They had monitored the leadership of the two primary leaders – Jagan and Burnham- and there was no telling where the country would lean – to Moscow or the West and how these political affiliations would impact the military dictatorship in Brazil. The situation created a level of political discomfort that Brazil felt the need to abate.
In 1982, when Guyana was treading the waters of cooperative socialism and doing anything to stay afloat, Brazil extended a fifty million line of credit to Guyana when no other country would have. It was a mash of politics, pretense and strategic positioning by Brazil which subtly gave Guyanese traders the opportunity to be the diplomats through whom Brazil could show support; even when other countries and agencies turned away from the flailing Guyana, submerged by the implementation of systems that were more political than practical.
Like the political Savior, Brazil appeared, opening their borders and businesses to Guyanese to buy banned items with a currency – the Guyana dollar – that was not even worth printing.
By 2009, the Lethem crossing had become a thoroughfare with Brazilians first seeping across the border then flowing, almost brazenly, in to Guyana and setting up businesses largely in the mining industry then in Georgetown, in the area of commerce , where their restaurants and lap dance bars and brothels sit side by side by side.
The insidious part of their influx in to Guyana was the fact that they brought back the very currency that was worth nothing when they allowed traders to use it with its value of even less – now a mere .004 US cents.
In this respect the ‘Doctrine of National Security’ – the one that was crafted to keep tabs on Guyana lest it became a base for superpowers to displace Brazil’s ruling regime –worked and could be considered a political masterpiece. Brazil was taking Guyana’s paper money when she was abandoned by others who claimed to be economic allies.
As time went by, Brazil stood firmly by Guyana, keeping access to Lethem open by completing the paving of the road and construction of the Takutu Bridge. And in this it outshone, Guyana. Where the bridge crosses the Takutu River and hits Guyanese soil ends the luxury of bitumen and smooth riding. The 265 mile Linden to Lethem road remains unpaved and impassable during rainy season and Brazil, always the politically magnanimous, has offered to fund its finishing.
And while they are in the baby sitting business , they may as well just throw in a couple of millions to fund hydro power for Guyana and keep a few mega watts for themselves so they wouldn’t look too generous, like they were following some doctrine or something.
So, now we can gauge how the Guyana /Brazil economic relationship started and where it is at present.
There is lots of talk about brisk trade at Lethem, with 300 cars coming from Boa Bista and Manaus daily, with 1200 crossing the Takatu Bridge on weekends. Land in the area has reportedly soared, with a plot reaching $15 to $20 million Guyana dollars. Don and Shirley’s Airport Café is still a busy spot, especially now that café includes internet. Shops are opening and the sale of electrical and electronic equipment, luxuries in Brazil, are making many, singly, rich.
That’s the local picture – small town booming picture.
The big picture,though, comes in many parts.
Guyana is still importing about $21 million from Brazil and exporting, by generous estimate, a mere $6 million, even after Brazil has been such an ‘economic crusader’ for the country.
Gold mining has escalated exponentially, positively impacting Guyana’s economy but the presence of gold in these forest locations brings greed, extortion, bribery, prostitution, trafficking in persons, murder and a menu of unsavory social activities that incur costs in other areas of the budget. It’s no secret that the trafficking of illegal guns, narcotics and persons is facilitated at the border and that too many of the crimes involve Brazilians or their presence.
Now, Minister of Citizenship, Felix, is concerned about the 5,300 foreigners who have not exited the country after their visas expired.
Concern is good but how about saying a massive hunt is on and a dragnet has been placed to catch many of these people who may not even be Brazilians at all, given that many may have come from its neighboring states, or could be any combination of emigrant to Brazil, from Middle Easterners to Haitians?
The rule of thumb here is, for every visitor who doesn’t leave upon the expiration of a visa, Immigration Services needs to multiply that by three. Mr. Felix can ask the US Immigration and Naturalization Services for the formula.
So the Minister should really be looking for about 15,900 immigrants who would have blended into the social landscape.
He should also be looking at the fact that Brazil borders ten countries, – Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, along with Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – so many of the apparent Portuguese speakers may just be speaking Spanish.
Of the seven Spanish speaking countries, three of them – Columbia, Bolivia and Peru- are listed by the US as the biggest producers of cocaine. Brazil, itself, is now the world’s number 2 crack/cocaine consumer and has a healthy appetite for ecstasy, marijuana and other drugs – another tid bit for Minister Felix to incorporate in to his immigration hunt.
The politics here is thick.
Brazilians have systemically penetrated the borders of all of its neighbors. They have built the Oiapoque Bridge from their side to French Guiana to help improve that economy – though it will, wink wink, drive trade to Brazil. Some forty thousand Brazilians are lending expertise to the mining of Suriname’s gold – though it is, wink wink, providing jobs for Brazilians and giving several of them a chance at making millions in the gold business.
They have emerged from the clandestine type relationship initially established at the Guyana border to be political partners, openly contributing to the country’s development -never veering from its Projecção Continental do Brasil strategy of keeping Guyana close to its political chest…and its subsequent ‘Doctrine of National Security’- the one that dictated forging diplomatic, economic, technological and cultural relationships with a Guyana to prevent its leaning in political directions not beneficial to Brazil.
We’re not winking on this one.
Minister Felix needs to know that we know announcing a search for 5300 supposed Brazilians who never exited after their visas expired doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the relationship between Guyana and its friendly Brazilian neighbor.
We want to hear that there are effective immigration policies in place, that legal forces are on the heels of the drugs and guns and criminals who use this diplomatic route to ply their ware.
The point is we need to let Brazil know, though they are our strongest ally against the Venezuelan threat, we know that it’s not because they are inherently friendly.
We know they share a border with Venezuela which then cuts Guyana and every time Venezuela talks about reopening the 1899 Arbitration ruling – the one that awarded Britain and by extension Guyana, title to all of the gold mines- the potential is there to reopen the assignment of borders between Brazil and Guyana. Brazil doesn’t want to even consider the possibility of a revisitation to the land awarded – 4,000 square miles of territory south of Mount Roraima bordered by the Cotinga River on the west, the Takutu River on the south, and the Ireng River on the east and north by Arbitrator, King of Italy, Victor-Emmanuel III ,lest it affects their natural resources.
So, let’s go about the business of preserving our diplomatic relations with Brazil but not at the expense of frazzling the fabric of our social decency and integrity because we all know what’s at stake for every country here.
Just let them know that we are on to them.
We’ll be listening for a follow up report on how many errant Brazilians have actually been caught and deported.
And, we’ll be watching how authentic the search is, by looking at how many complementary agencies are actually engaged in the process of rounding up these extra people that present burden on the Guyanese a social burden.
Incidentally we understand all of the illegal immigrants are not Brazilians.
We do suspect, however, that they make up the bulk of those at large and will be open to evidence to the contrary.