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Granger rules out giving Venezuela passage to Atlantic

– Guyana Defence Force Troops during the final phase of Exercise Greenheart, in Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Region Seven (Min of Pres photo)

President David Granger has ruled out giving neighbouring Venezuela access to the Atlantic sea as part of any settlement of the border controvery.

“We cannot sell out. We cannot give away. We cannot offer the adversary any corridor or any passage,” said Granger who is also Commander-in-Chief after the successful completion of Exercise Greenheart, a tactical exercise, in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni area in Region Seven.

His comments came days after former President, Bharrat Jagdeo announced that his administration had considered five options including a negotiated settlement that would have seen Guyana retaining all of the Essequibo Region in keeping with the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal while allowing that western neighbour access to the Atlantic sea offshore the Essequibo Region.

International experts believe there are massive oil and natural gas reserves offshore Guyana and Suriname. In fact, the border row flared up in late May, 2015 when Venezuela issued a decree annexing the Atlantic sea off the Essequibo Region days after American oil giant, Exxon-Mobil, had announced the discovery of a significant oil reserve offshore Essequibo.

Prior to that discovery, the Venezuelan government had written the local subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil warning the company against any exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in that area on grounds that it was part of Venezuela’s territory.

Noting that the GDF is the only organisation that stands between the adversary and the people of Guyana, the President said that it is this generation’s obligation to ensure that the children of Guyana inherit the country we inherited.  The Head of State made these remarks to members of the GDF and residents of Bartica at the Bartica Community Centre Ground after observing the final attack of Exercise Greenheart, earlier this morning.

Calling the exercise a timely one, because of the territorial threats Guyana faces, President Granger said, “This is not an offensive operation.  This is a defensive operation.  Exercise Greenheart is about defending our territory. We are defensive, not aggressive.  We are protective, not offensive.  We are positive, not negative,” he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency.

Describing the exercise as a magnificent one, the President said that the GDF have demonstrated that after 45 years of training, they are a jungle force to be reckoned with.  He said, “What you have done here today is exemplary.”  Stressing the importance of exercises like this one, President Granger said, “People must know that when they come into Guyana to invest, they will be coming into a safe environment that is protected by one of the best defence forces in the Caribbean, the GDF.”

The Head of State added that Guyana is committed to protecting foreign direct investments and declared that no country must intimidate or threaten investors.  Last week, in his address to Parliament, President Granger had indicated that Venezuela, through its Ambassador to Ottawa, had sent a letter to Guyana Gold Fields Incorporated, who are operating a large mining operation in Aurora, Region Seven, accusing them of infringing on the territorial sovereignty of Venezuela.

“What you have done here today, GDF, is an example to show our foreign direct [investors] that their investments are safe and that Guyana will use every fibre of its State system of its defence forces to protect their investment,” the President declared.

In congratulating the GDF on the successful completion of the exercise, President Granger told the soldiers that they have demonstrated that they are an army of the people.  These comments were met by loud cheers by the school children and residents of Bartica who had gathered to watch the march pass and speech by the President.  He said, “Every soldier is a citizen and every citizen is a soldier.”

Chief of Staff, Brigadier Mark Phillips, in an invited comment, said, “I want to let the Guyanese people know that they have a defence force that is training all the time; that is competent and ready to defend Guyana.” 

He added that “After the President’s speech two Thursdays ago at the GDF Headquarters on the Total Defence Policy, we decided to become more focused on our primary role of defence. This [the exercise] is a part of the efforts to re-orient the troops with their primary role and based on my visit to the positions, I would say that we have achieved the objectives of this exercise.”  Expressing satisfaction with the Exercise Greenheart, the Chief of staff noted that as is customary following exercises, there will be an assessment of the performance, which will ensure that improvements are made as the Army continues its cycle of annual exercises.

Meanwhile, Colonel George Lewis, Assistant Director of Operations explained that the exercise commenced on October 20 and said that the troops advanced over 24.5 kilometres for the first three days of the exercise, following which, they took up defensive positions in the jungle.  They then participated in exercises including patrolling, ambush and close target reconnaissance and concluded with the final advance and attack this morning.

Colonel Lewis said, “The purpose of the exercise was to identify deficiencies and at the same time to test the preparedness of our troops to conduct operations in the jungle. We wanted to test our troops to see in which areas we needed to focus on and train them.”

As part of their training, every soldier in the GDF will have to complete jungle warfare training at the Colonel Robert Mitchell Jungle and Amphibious School (CRMJATS) at Makouria, Region Seven