Address of His Excellency Brigadier David Granger President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to the Guyana Defence Force Annual Officers’ Conference

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Deterrence, defence and development

The Guyana Defence Force moved swiftly to suppress the rebellion that erupted fifty years ago on 2nd January 1969 in the Rupununi District ― a zone in the south-west of the country of nearly 58,000 km² – larger than Costa Rica – that zone is over a quarter of our national territory, it was threatened with cessation.

That Rebellion, occurring less than thirty-two months after Guyana’s Independence from Great Britain and supported by foreign forces, constituted the country’s earliest and severest test of statehood, security and social solidarity and it was the single most serious threat to the national integration, national security and the territorial integrity of the state.

The Guyana Defence Force moved equally resolutely seven months later to repel the incursion in south-east of the country that threatened to seize a zone of about 15, 540 km² ― larger than Puerto Rico ― and that occurred on the 19th August 1969. Foreign forces had occupied part of the zone in contravention of international law and the Guyana Defence Force expelled them.

Officers, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela continues to lay claim to the Western Essequibo, a zone of 159,500 km2 – larger than Cuba – that it describes as the “Zona en Reclamación“.  The Republic of Suriname, similarly, continues to lay claim to the New River Zone.

Officers, Guyana has been victim, always, to claims on its territory despite international recognition of its land mass, its territorial borders, its territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone.  Our territory is populated by Guyanese citizens and its resources are for them; they form part of our national patrimony.

The Defence Force has been, and must always remain, ready to deter aggression, defend national sovereignty and ensure the development of our country as a safe, secure and strong state.

Guyana’s territorial integrity was violated again on 22nd December 2018 – just last month, one day after the no confidence motion was heard in the National Assembly.  A Venezuelan Navy corvette – the Karina PC-14 – made a hostile incursion into Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The incursion took place at approximately one hundred and forty-four kilometers (144 km) from the boundary that separates Guyana from Venezuela.

A helicopter on the platform of the naval corvette attempted to land on the Ramform Tethys – an unarmed vessel undertaking seismic surveys lawfully within the Guyana’s EEZ.  The exploration vessel was forced to discontinue its operations at that time.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs dispatched a note of protest rejecting Venezuela’s aggression and asserting that its use of force “…to impede Guyana’s exercise of sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone, [was] a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations and general international law.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear, also, that Guyana reserved the right to pursue measures to protect its sovereignty and sovereign rights against future hostile acts.

Venezuela’s most recent aggression constituted its second naval assault against our territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is to be recalled that another petroleum exploration vessel – RV Teknik Perdana – which was conducting a survey in the Roraima block offshore was intercepted by a Venezuelan Navy frigate – the PC 23 Yekuana – and ordered to cease its activities on 10th October 2013.

The crew of the Perdana was conducting a survey of the seafloor in Guyana’s EEZ. The Venezuelan Navy ordered the vessel to sail to its Margarita Island, where it was seized for six days and released subsequently.

It is to be recalled, also, that patrol boats of the Surinamese Navy expelled a petroleum CGX licensed exploration vessel and drill ship, the C. E. Thornton, from our waters on 3rd June 2000.   These all occurred within recent memory.

Guyana failed to reach a diplomatic resolution of the dispute over its maritime delimitation with the Republic of Suriname. It sought resolution under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on 24th February 2004.

The Arbitral Tribunal conclusively defined the delimitation of the International Maritime Boundary between Guyana and Suriname. It deemed that the:

“…expulsion from the disputed area of the CGX oil rig and drill ship C.E. Thornton by Suriname on 3 June 2000 constituted a threat of the use of force in breach of the Convention, the UN Charter, and general international law…”

Guyana remains committed to ensuring that the Caribbean and continent of South America remain a zone of peace.  It subscribes to the peaceful settlement of disputes and will never do anything to endanger international peace.

Incursions have occurred not only in our maritime space but also on land. Illegal mining, illegal logging, illegal arms-, narcotics-, people- and wildlife-trafficking and the smuggling of precious minerals have continued.  They have to stop.

Citizens have been killed. Communities, particularly those living in our frontier villages, must be made safe from transnational crime.

The persistence of transnational crime alerts us to the need for continued vigilance to protect our airspace, land borders, coastline and territorial sea. Over-flights and landings by aircraft suspected of involvement in illegal activities undermine our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The influx of more than 3,000 migrants fleeing economic and political distress in Venezuela necessitates stronger controls along borders.

Defence doctrine

The Guyana Defence Force therefore, must maintain itself in a state of readiness to secure our entire country and protect it from present and future dangers. The Defence Act charges the Guyana Defence Force “…with the defence of …Guyana.”

The Force therefore is obligated to secure the state and safeguard the entire territory from invasion, incursion and insurrection.  Incursions must be deterred. Insurrections must be suppressed. The state must remain secure.

The Force faces numerous challenges in protecting our territory.  The elongated coastline and land and river borders of nearly 3,000 km, the expansive hinterland and extensive network of waterways constrain our ability to control our territory effectively.

The small size of our economy and limited physical infrastructure diminish the Defence Force’s ability to respond rapidly to threats against our territory.

Our country is rich in natural resources.  The coastland comprises thousands of hectares of fertile farmlands which have supported agriculture for centuries.

The hinterland contains abundant mineral wealth – bauxite, diamonds, gold, manganese, other precious metals and timber – it is home of an incomparable biodiversity. Our rivers and territorial sea teem with valuable aquatic life. Petroleum reserves, found in our EEZ, constitute a transformative economic resource.

Our country’s natural resources belong to our people – present and future generations. Every citizen has the right to benefit from them. Our agricultural, fishing, forestry, mining and petroleum resources must be made more secure for our people’s profit and for the country’s prosperity.

Your government had promulgated a defence policy aimed at strengthening the Defence Force’s role in deterring aggression, defending the territory and promoting economic development.

Guyana’s defence policy emphasises the doctrine of total national defence.  It implies that all the elements and instruments of national power – economic, military, political, social and technological – will be employed in the interest of national security.

Defence organization

The Regular Force must continue to consolidate its work, already resumed, of restructuring its organisation by strengthening the technical corps and by deploying the Reserve Force countrywide.

I announced in October 2015 that the Force will be restructured and reorganized to ensure that it is well-commanded, well-trained and well-equipped to perform its role. Restructuring and reorganization are aimed at improving its agility, capability and flexibility.

The Force’s technical corps are being improved. The Air Corps’ fleet, last year, was augmented with the acquisition of light reconnaissance aircraft. Light transport aircraft are to be procured this year, 2019.

The Intelligence Corps and the Signal Corps have been reformed to enhance intelligence, surveillance and communications. The personnel strength of the Intelligence Corps has been increased. The Signal Corps has benefitted from the acquisition of new radio equipment and personnel training.

The Engineer Corps has received equipment to enhance the Force’s agility, improve its responsiveness to eliminate climate hazards, promote greater stability within frontline communities and foster defence cooperation.

The Engineer Corps, in 2018, worked alongside the Brazilian Army’s 6º Batalhão de Engenharia de Construção to drill wells in the Rupununi Region in order to build greater climate resilience and provide a regular supply of water for frontline communities.

The Force has received financial resources to improve its capabilities. Budgetary allocations increased by more than 75 per cent from G$8.0B in 2014 to G$14.02B in 2019.

The Force is set to improve its physical infrastructure, to acquire drones for border surveillance, inshore patrol vessels and engineering and transport equipment through budgetary allocations in FY 2019.

I issued a directive for personnel to be brought up to authorised establishment levels, for operational readiness and infrastructure to be improved and for the technical corps to be upgraded and for equipment to be recapitalised.

The Reserve Force, as you saw this morning, the Guyana People’s Militia – has been reformed.  Recruitment has resumed countrywide.  Personnel strength has increased from fewer than 125 members in January 2015 to nearly 1,500 in January 2019.   Recruitment must continue until it is 50 per cent of the strength of the regular Force.

Officers, defence policy is aimed at ensuring that national defence is comprehensive, covering our air space, sea space and land frontiers.  Intelligence and surveillance of our territory demand that the Force should have a permanent, physical presence in every administrative region in the form of voluntary or part-time reservists.

Reservists, therefore, will constitute at least 50 per cent of the strength of Regular Force and will be deployed to enable them to respond readily to threats and emergencies countrywide.

The Force’s programme for reorganisation includes the promotion of youth development. The Guyana National Cadet Corps (GNCC) was resuscitated on 19th January 2018.

This Corps’ recruits youth and is aimed at enhancing their skills and leadership abilities, building character and instilling the values and standards of civic responsibility.  The Corps has trained 364 young persons from six participating schools in five administrative regions.

Defence operations

Officers, the domination of our national territory cannot be taken for granted. Ground forces will continue to conduct long-range jungle patrols to the farthest corners and frontiers of our territory.

The GDF was never intended to be a ‘coastal’ force; it is, and will remain, a comprehensive national force. It must reach every corner of the country and must be competent in conducting long-range patrols, in any weather or terrain, by day and night and for long periods.  Officers and soldiers who cannot go on long-range patrols, in any weather or terrain by day or by night, for long periods have no place in the defence force.

Frontier villages – those which lie along our borders – are vulnerable to illegal incursions into our territory. Residents of these villages must be protected from these threats.

Frontline villages are guardians of our national territory and patrimony. They are our first line of defence against any attempt at incursion. They are the eyes and ears which can alert the Defence and Police forces to hostile action which threaten public security and national defence.

Frontier villages protect our environment and our mineral resources from transnational illegal miners, loggers and smugglers and narco-traffickers. Your government, in recognition of the vulnerability and value of frontier communities, promulgated a ‘frontline village policy’ aimed at ensuring human safety and national security.

The Defence Force continues to cooperate with frontier villages to protect our national territory and natural resources and to repel threats to human safety.

Operation Armadillo, as you are aware, was launched last year to respond to the threats posed by criminal gangs along our borders and to protect our frontline villages.

That Operation involved maintaining friendly relations with frontline villages, mobilising village defence units and improving communication.  The Operation resulted in a reduction in reports of assaults by foreign ‘Sindicatos’ and reinforced border security.

Operation Ocean Guard, similarly, was launched in June 2018 and was intended to exercise continuous aerial and maritime surveillance of our coastline and territorial waters. It resulted in improved safety, a decrease in the incidence of piracy and the disruption of contraband smuggling and drug- and people-trafficking.

Exercise Green Heart and Exercise Ironweed will be modified to emphasise the importance of long-range jungle patrol.  These exercises will continue to prepare our troops to master all forms of terrain and weather conditions and respond to emergencies and the Chief of Staff has received instructions to create long-range ration packs to allow officers and soldiers to sustain themselves during longer Ironweed and Green Heart operations.   These operations and exercises demonstrate the Force’s preparedness to defend the state. They help our troops to become more agile and versatile and more confident in their legs.

Defence cooperation

Officers, Guyana continues to cooperate with friendly countries. Cooperation is the basis for collective security, for the resolution of regional tensions, for collaboration in combatting transnational crime and for managing disaster.

Cooperation with foreign countries has allowed the Force to improve its capability through training, joint exercises, the exchange of information, intelligence-sharing and the donation of non-lethal equipment. Cooperation is being pursued with several countries – under regional, multilateral and bilateral arrangements.

Your Government has employed diplomacy and deployed resources successfully to denounce acts of aggression against its territory, to isolate aggressive states in the international community and to bring pressure to bear on them to refrain from continuing or repeating similar conduct. It has mobilised international support for respect for our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Your Government agitated for the territorial controversy with Venezuela to be resolved through a peaceful, juridical process. The Secretary General of the United Nations, for the first time in 53 years, on 30th January 2018, advised that he would refer the controversy to the International Court of Justice.

Your Government is confident that the Court will rule in our favour and bring an end to this decades-old controversy which has impeded our national security and obstructed our economic development.

National integration

Officers, the Defence Force is so organised and deployed countrywide that it has become an essential agent of national integration.  Recruitment into the Force helps to create a sense of belonging, to recognise all groups and allow them to practice their culture freely.  It was a joy to visit Makouria and some persons who had never crossed the Berbice River or the Demerara River, were being trained on the banks of the Essequibo River, truly participating in geographical integration. People from communities from ten different regions were meeting each other for the first time.   That is the path to national integration.

Our country is fortunate to be a country in which the culture of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas coexists with cultures of Africa, Asia and Europe.  Multiculturalism must not become an impediment to national integration.

Military service does not require soldiers to abandon their cultural practices and adopt another culture. It recognises the country’s demographic and geographic realities. It accords recognition to every group and encourages the promotion of their practices. Everyone feels more accepted and, thus, will be imbued with a greater sense of belonging to the Force and to the state.

The Force’s social posture accords with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition of a cohesive society as one that:

“… works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility.”  

All of these qualities are embraced by the Defence Force.

National integration, like social cohesion, is concerned with enhancing cooperation among citizens, civil society, institutions and the state. The Defence Force has a duty, an obligation to ensure, also, that institutional authority is exercised in a manner that promotes equality and inclusivity.

Total National defence

Officers, national defence is being improved. The pillars of our national defence policy – force reorganization, defence operations, defence cooperation and national integration – sustain the state, support our people and strengthen the economy.

Your Government, through its enlightened and progressive defence policy, is strengthening the Defence Force to help it to secure our borders and safeguard our territory.

The nation can be assured of the Government’s resolve to protect the people and preserve the national patrimony. It commits to continuing to take measures to shield the people from the peril of transnational crime.

The Defence Force will continue to work with frontier villages to protect our territory and natural resources and repel threats to human safety and national security.

Our doctrine of total national defence doctrine is relevant to our means, our manpower and circumstances. It is aimed at preserving our territorial integrity, ensuring respect for our sovereignty and safety for our citizens.

These four pillars – organization, operation, cooperation and national integration – are the stanchions which sustain the state.

The Force is the vanguard of national defence. The Force is conscious of its duty to preserve our territory, protect our people and develop the economy by implementing our national defence doctrine.

The Defence Force has been, and always must be, ready to deter aggression, defend sovereignty and ensure the development of our country as a safe, secure and strong state.

I thank you.

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