Our Brazilian Connection
It is more than high time our politicians settle their political squabbles and get on with the business of furthering our national well being. While we are practicing brinksmanship in the streets, all the plans that were so proudly trotted out during the campaign are not only mothballed, but some might become passé.
Take for example the highway to Brazil that all the competing parties now in parliament are in agreement is vital to take us to a whole new dispensation. This highway has been on the cards for over three decades, yet that is as far as it has gone: on the cards. This has to be of some disquiet since the usual constraint acting against poor countries like ours – financing – was never a factor.
We had been assured of the funding for such a highway from many sources, not least being the Brazilians themselves. The latter’s willingness does not necessarily arise from any spirit of altruism, but from their century-old desire to have access to a port on the North Atlantic. They would then be in a position to ship their goods from their northern factories destined for North America and Europe at a cheaper rate than at present. The ancillary benefits to us, apart from the direct transit fees, would be considerable: packaging plants, trucking and storage services etc.
But these massive economic benefits go far beyond the above. Firstly there is the trade that can be developed immediately with northern Brazil in at least two of the major crops that we cultivate – sugar and rice. While at first glance it may sound like shipping coals to Newcastle, the Brazilian sugar that swamps the world market is shipped from their northeast that is much farther away from Manaus and northern Brazil than from us. Then there is the need for almost a million tons of rice – their staple, like ours, annually.
Then there are the benefits of being more physically integrated into the rest of South America. We will be able to now drive from our coast onto the highway network of Brazil. From there we can drive, if we so choose, to Patagonia in southern Argentina or via the Pan-American Highway, to the USA and Canada up north. This inter-connectivity is not fortuitous but is the vision of the leadership of our South American neighbours: in the global world that is evolving, the synergy generated is the difference between stagnation and progress.
During the campaign, there were some disagreements expressed by one opposition party as to whether the highway should continue to the projected deep water harbour in Berbice or not. This is a false dilemma. Whether the highway proceeds to Berbice or not, does not affect projected benefits for Linden or Georgetown. The present completed Georgetown-Linden Highway could still be used for shipping goods through Port Georgetown.
However we should all know that Georgetown can only accommodate ships of very low capacity and the huge trucks would exacerbate the present congestion there. The projected deep water harbour in Berbice would not suffer from these disabilities and overall would spread our development more equitably in the outlying regions. Similarly, if the Highway were to terminate in Berbice it would skirt Linden so closely that the projected manufacturing and other ancillary activities projected for that township would be unaffected.
We have to continue with our efforts to realise our continental destiny: the Takutu Bridge was a first step. The recent decision of the administration to seek full membership in the Rio Group is another. However we cannot escape the unease that we have since faltered. And the Surinamese, we understand, have moved to seize that space.
We would have hoped that this move by the Brazilians would have focused the attention of our political elite to the reality that in the modern world, opportunities if not seized will soon become unavailable. The politicians in our new historically-configured parliament have to find common ground. What better way than to do so than on a project that they already have consensus?