Guyana President outlines new national defence policy amid disputes with Venezuela and Suriname
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Against the background of what he said were continued territorial threats from both Venezuela and Suriname, President David Granger has announced a Total National Defence Policy.
“All the elements and instruments of national power need constantly to be employed in order to protect our territory,” he said as he met with Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officers yesterday.
Venezuela has been laying claim to the vast mineral-rich area of jungle west of the Essequibo River, which accounts for about 40 per cent of Guyana’s territory. Earlier this year, Nicolás Maduro extended Venezuela’s maritime claims after Exxon Mobil announced it had made a significant oil discovery in Guyana’s territorial waters.
Then earlier this month, Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse was quoted in the media in his country as saying that the issue regarding the New River Triangle territory, which both countries have been claiming intermittently for decades, was back on the agenda.
Granger said that in order for Guyana to face head on, the claims being invented by Venezuela and Suriname, a plan for total national defence is vital.
The Total National Defence Policy will give regular and reserve forces the resources they need to perform their mission over the next five years. The president has instructed that the reserve force is never again to fall below the required 50 per cent of regular force strength.
He explained that the long-term objective is to ensure that Guyanese can depend on defence forces to ensure the safety of the citizens and the security of the country.
“The age of very visible warfare, in the form of harassment on our borders or the intrusion of gunboats into our waters is not yet over,” Granger declared.
He said the new policy would focus on the reorganization and strengthening of the GDF on five pillars: personnel, readiness, infrastructure, morale and equipment, with emphasis on the Air Corps, the Coast Guard and the Engineer Corps.
“These changes must be designed to develop the Force’s capability to provide continuous surveillance over Guyana’s air, territorial and maritime borders and approaches, to provide search-and-rescue services to persons in distress and to provide assistance to the civil authority in response to any threat or disaster,” Guyana’s Commander-in-Chief said.
The policy will see the re-establishment of the People’s Militia as a credible reserve in all 10 regions, and the National Cadet Corps to allow boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years in secondary schools to pursue part-time training. A Civil Defence Corps will also be established to support the work of the Civil Defence Commission in responding to and managing disasters.
Granger stressed that, in the case of maintaining public order, the GDF would operate only in support of and alongside the police on clear and carefully defined missions, and made it clear that everyday law enforcement remains primarily the task of the police and the GDF would not be allowed to become a regular feature in that role.
The GDF Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General Mark Phillips, said the new policy was “timely” and would provide a framework for elected civilian officials and military officers to continuously review the roles and missions of the Force.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Commanding Officer, Colonel Patrick West, who said that the new defence policy will allow the GDF to align its training and operational planning to achieve the national objectives.