For decades, a road linking coastal Guyana and Lethem has been on the cards. Way back in the 1950s, Henry Ford of Ford Motors talked about building the road on the condition that only Ford cars would drive on it.
At the time Guyana was a British colony, the British rulers never accepted the offer so the road never materialised.
Many years would pass before the Guyana Government would carve a trail linking the coast to Lethem. There were criticisms as environmentalists began to talk about disturbing the habitat of some wildlife. There are jaguars and other wild animals living in that part of the jungle. People contended that the steady passage of vehicles would drive them away and perhaps force their demise.
As time progressed, traffic along the trail became increasingly more. People with money decided to move along the trail to invest in Lethem. The government set up industrial sites for businesses. Soon Lethem became a booming town.
With its development came an influx of Chinese. The laws stipulated that the Chinese could not own property in the industrial estate. But that did not stop them from renting real estate. It is said that many used Guyanese as fronts to set up their businesses.
Even before that, Brazil kept offering to build the road, which it saw as a gateway to the Atlantic. Brazil, sixth largest economy in the world is an industrialised country. It produces and exports a lot. At present, most of its exports must go through some 28 ports located along the country’s 8,500-kilometer coast.
The inland cities must rely on rail network and roads spanning hundreds of miles. Today, the country is finding that the railroads and even the roads in the vicinity of the ports are insufficient. Port Georgetown is an attractive option being closer to some of Brazil’s large cities than those ports which must be used.
The travel distance makes Brazilian goods costly, far too costly for the country’s liking. That is why it has even offered to build the road link to Port Georgetown.
This offer was repeated during the tenure of the then President Bharrat Jagdeo. It is said that Jagdeo looked at the logistics but concluded that Guyana was not ready to cope with the influx of Brazilian traffic.
It is also said that he was concerned about the possible inflow of drugs into the country.
Recently, the present government placed an advertisement in the news media seeking international contractors to build the road. Funding has been sought.
In some quarters, there is the view that the money could be better spent developing the coastal facilities where the bulk of the taxpayers live. They point to the need for more coastal roads to accommodate the growing traffic, the need for a new Demerara Harbour Bridge, better public transport, medical facilities, schools and other infrastructure.
They see the Linden- Lethem road as benefiting the few Chinese who are capitalising on the weak border with Brazil to get their goods into the neighbouring country.
If the truth be told, the Chinese recognise the importance of trading with Brazil. Some Guyanese had also recognised the importance. Banks DIH tried to get its beer into the neighbouring Brazilian towns but logistics forced it to abandon that venture.
At present, there are a few who use the current trail to ship goods to Lethem. Their efforts have been such that each day hundreds of Brazilians come to Lethem to make purchases since they find the goods on the Guyana side so much cheaper.
But for Brazil the need to access Port Georgetown is so much greater. That country ships sugar, soy, containerised cargo, coffee, corn, wheat, salt, citrus pulp, orange juice, paper, automobiles and alcohol. Its ports are overwhelmed because of infrastructure and labour problems.
I can see hundreds of trucks coming down the road and using the Soesdyke-Linden Highway to access Port Georgetown. Immediately, I see a logistical nightmare. For starters, there is going to be the need for many more roads in Georgetown, larger port facilities, hundreds of port workers and untold numbers of Customs staff.
The planners of the Linden-Lethem road know these things and they see the economic spin-off. The containers from Brazil will bring tons of money for the economy but given the apparent lack of labour at the Guyana end, the Brazilians may find their goods sitting at Port Georgetown for a long time.
Perhaps this could spur the Brazilians to help fund feeder roads to the coast. President Donald Ramotar at one time considered passing the Linden-Lethem road through Bartica and across the Essequibo River to follow the Del Conte Road along the eastern shore of the Essequibo River.
There would also be the need for a road on the western shore of the Demerara River to ports that would spring up on the west side.
The very coastal development could spring from the Linden-Lethem road but would Guyana be in a position to take advantage of the developments.
Money would be flowing into Guyana and there would be thousands of jobs on offer. But as some of us are witnessing, there are Guyanese who simply do not want to work. Just this week, I noticed that the Guyana Police Force is 600 short.
Someone is advertising for masons, carpenters and labourers. It does not take much skill to be a labourer but there are still vacancies because people are simply not going to work. Perhaps Guyana could become like the Middle East, having to hire foreign labour.
This seems to be the trend already. We have many foreign nationals in the country and they are taking up jobs even as some Guyanese say that there are no jobs. Trinidadians abound in the oil sector.
The Linden-Lethem road would cost a pretty penny. Must Guyana put in the supporting infrastructure along the coast ahead of its construction? Perhaps, there is a plan for massive road works all along the major rivers all leading to Port Georgetown.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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