Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Guyana and Suriname was the first visit to the two nations by a US secretary of state and was designed to elicit business from the nations leaders.
Pompeo chose to warn leaders Chan Santokhi – Suriname’s new president – and Guyana president – President Irfaan Ali and also new to his position – against trading with China citing political risks when dealing with the nation, while at the same time promising a deal could be made with America.
Although both the South American countries have been thriving with minerals and lumber, oil has recently been discovered meaning many countries around the world have suddenly become interested in creating new business within the nations.
Citing the discovery as the beginning of an “exciting time” for both the national and international economy, Pompeo made it clear that America is “eager to partner” with them.
Speaking at a news conference alongside Santokhi, Pompeo announced that, “no state-owned operation can beat the quality of the products and services of American private companies.
“We’ve watched the Chinese Communist Party invest in countries, and it all seems great at the front end and then it all comes falling down when the political costs connected to that becomes clear.”
Pompeo continued, “and we do our level best wherever I travel to make the case for just making sure everybody understands what they’re getting into.”
After his visit to Suriname, where Pompeo met with Santokhi in the nation’s capital Paramaribo at the leader’s Dutch colonial-era home, Pompeo headed to Guyana where he made a near identical announcement.
A dinner was hosted for Pompeo by President Irfaan Ali and in keeping with local coronavirus rules, the rifle-holding honor guard wore face masks in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
Following a near government controlled state in the 1980s, where it was thought the government owned or controlled around 80% of the country’s economy, foreign investment was sought alongside a privatization programme and government control reduced significantly. However, with the latest discovery the country is now expected to grow by around 85 per cent, which is currently the largest predicted growth in the world.
The opportunity for investment is high and many countries have headed to the areas to talk business. Pompeo’s visit to Guyana and Suriname is a three-day tour and the party will also visit the Brazilian Amazonian border which forms part of Pompeo’s current campaign which is focusing on the extent of the devastation that has economically affected Venezuela. Pompeo will also be visiting Colombia.
The tour has been designed to show both presidents that they have the United States’ confidence as both leaders have been promoted as someone who can turn the countries around and make them both financially stable as well as players in the global arena.
Santokhi came to power in July of this year after defeating dictator turned politician Desi Bouterse. The win for Santokhi means that Bouterse can concentrate on fighting a prison sentence for the order of political opponents to be executed during the early 1980s.
Meanwhile Ali won his position only a few weeks ago after his opponent challenged the election results. However this move forced sanctions to be placed by America on employees of the previous administration.
Speaking to Santokhi, Pompeo announced, “Like your neighbors in Guyana, the people of Suriname spoke clearly, choosing a new leader and securing your future as a democratic nation.”
In response Santokhi confirmed that both himself and his country would work with America in “the defense of democracy and strong democratic institutions, the rule of law, good governance and human rights.”
However, in reference to whether the country should partner up with China or the US he confirmed he did not believe that it was an ‘either or’ decision between the two countries.
China has extended an invitation to Guyana and Suriname to join the country’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative leading Santokhi to confirm that “it was not a topic of discussion, so it is not a question of making choices.”
Both Guyana and Suriname have less than one million people living in their countries and have continued to have issues with descendants of the different nations that were kept as slaves in earlier years, including when Guyana was a British colony. Although slavery was abolished by both nations in the 1800s and Guyana became an independent nation in 1966, descendants of both the Indian and African slaves have continued to raise issues. It is hoped that the influx of new money will help to resolve some of these issues.
This is not the first time oil has been found in the area. In 2015 ExxonMobil confirmed they had discovered oil reserves off the coast of Guyana leading to an arrangement with the Guyanese government. However this is now under review with Ali expected to demand around half the revenue made from the oil, an amount that some are saying is not enough.