Remarks By the Hon. Moses Nagamootoo Prime Minister & First Vice President Of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana at Opening of Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) 2017
Office of the Prime Minister, Wednesday, December 6, 2017.
Co-host for the 16th Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), Admiral Kurt Tidd; Chief of Staff, Patrick West; Minister of State and Secretary of the Defence Board; Minister of Natural Resources; former Chiefs of Staff; Excellencies and members of the diplomatic corps; observer nations; and participants.
In walking into the hall, I had an exchange, briefly, with Admiral Kurt Tidd about our acquaintances in Iowa in the United States. Today, I am reminded of a gift that I was given by one of my several grandsons a pair of sunshades. He reminded me: “Grandpa, kindly do not remove the hawkeye symbol from the sunshades.” And so, if I were to write my next article I would probably title it, “Among the Generals” since I am having a hawkeye’s view of the intricate work of our security personnel in our region and beyond.
Today, it is a great honour, once again, to have you here in Guyana, particularly our partners from SOUTHCOM and especially from former colonial powers in Europe, all joining our Caribbean brothers and sisters to provide the security network that Admiral Tidd spoke about just a while ago.
I remember when he was sworn in as the President of Guyana and Commander and Chief, Brigadier (Ret’d) David Granger, attempted to sing a Guyanese song from the balcony of the National Assembly where he took the Oath of Office. It was “Can we do? Yes we can.” We are doing it in Guyana because of this networking.
As Leader of Government’s business in the National Assembly, in the last thirty (30) months, we presented three (3) budgets – this is the fourth. From the very first months, we were being told that the economy is slowing down. I would want to say in the National Assembly that we are slower but better. We had made a resolve, upon assuming Office, that we would have smashed the system where Government was compromised by the drug lords; where they participated actively in national security; and where the judiciary, the magistracy and the security forces were on the threshold of being compromised.
Over these last thirty (30) months, we have seen some of the biggest interceptions of illicit drugs. We have been able, though with very limited resources but with networking and sharing intelligence, to intercept illegal flights and aircraft into Guyana and to detect illegal airstrips. We have been able to intercept large trafficking, shipment of – narcotics by itself – and in a variety of local products – all because we have been provided with the benefits of networking.
When we look back where we started thirty (30) months ago and ask the question – can we do it? I can answer positively, yes we can; we have. We have been able, through networking, the sharing of intelligence, the use of computers and the fascination that accompanies computers and information they provide us, to be able to combat those who have been involved in acts of piracy.
Our fishermen have been at the mercy of pirates for many years. Today, we have reduced the incidence of piracy to one or two – single digit numbers; as low as one or two, per year, in the last couple months, if I may say so, of this Administration. It shows a resolve and it shows what intelligence sharing and networking can do for a small country with a population of less than one million but with a vast territory, as vast as it is beautiful. It had become a challenge to monitor our borders, which are very vulnerable but, yes, we did it and it is due to the cooperation we have received from friendly agencies with which we have been working.
Recently, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) came to Guyana and we have had a new cycle – a brand new cycle if I may say – of training in anti-drugs detection and interception; in cyber security; and in anti-money laundering operations. We have sent, as never before, unprecedented numbers of our security personnel to several countries – to the United States, Panama, and Costa Rico for training. It is this cooperation in new techniques of detection and interception which helped us to stabilise a situation, which at one time produced some of the more notorious, extra-judicial executions in Guyana, where the lines were barely blurred between the gang lords and the political directorate.
We can make a better society by sharing ideas and intelligence, by sharing information, by providing small countries, such as Guyana and those in the Caribbean, with technical support. We can become a model of the world. We have always dreamt, in this part of paradise, that we are a zone of peace, that we must also develop a viable economy and ensure our prosperity. But we cannot do this alone.
CANSEC offers us one significant platform where we can share our resources and we can pool our ideas so that we can become – yes we can – a viable part of the world. We did so recently when we were under the most unprecedented episodes of hurricanes. We were able to see, as Admiral Tidd had mentioned, extraordinary cooperation. Our Civil Defence Commission (CDC) worked together with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA); we worked with the RSS; we worked with the US Southern Command; we worked with the Canadians; we worked with the Red Cross; and with the British.
There are many Guyanese in the Caribbean who have been affected, who had been devastated by those hurricanes. But, as one United States Mayor had said, “We can rebuild your houses but we cannot rebuild your lives”. There is still much work to be done.
I know that the work that has been done after the hurricanes helped to soothe the hurt, the lost and the damage to the people in those islands. But, of course, it might have been worst if we did not have inter-agency and transnational cooperation. We just cannot do it alone and that should underline the importance of these sessions – there were sixteen (16) sessions so far and we have been meeting for a long time now – but we need to always improve could levels of cooperation that you have shown towards our region.
It was said after the Cold War had ended in 1989, that we had slaughtered the mighty dragons that had placed the world at one time on the edge of thermo nuclear war. But it was also said that after that there appeared a horde of deadly serpents styled regional conflicts.
We are fortunate that our region has so far been spared of xenophobia; has been spared of ethnic violence – national confrontation. But we are vulnerable. This is because we are a scattered chain of small islands and continental states, like Guyana and Belize, and we are seen as potentially soft targets for the new scourge of the world – terrorism. Therefore, if we had not been victims of major terrorist episodes as yet, it gives us time so that we can anticipate and eliminate some time or the other, this scourge, this blemish, this danger to humanity from descending on our peaceful region.
So we need your cooperation to continue to make our region a zone of peace, a zone that is free from the scourges of money laundering – it should not be seen as a haven for dirty money; the scourge of piracy; and the scourge of terrorism. We want to keep our regions clean and we want to keep our regions secured.
Thank you for coming to Guyana and thank you for coming here to share with the rest of the Caribbean your experiences, your ideas and, more importantly, to continue your solidarity and support for the region.