I am normally not overly protocol conscious, nor too long, but tonight is a special night and this is the one event where I make an exception, so bear with me.
His Excellency President David A. Granger and the charming First Lady Sandra Granger
Ex-Presidents Donald Ramotar, Bharrat Jagdeo, and Samuel Hinds
Hon. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and his charming wife Seeta Nagamootoo
Hon. Dr. Barton Scotland, Speaker of the National Assembly
Hon. Ministers of Government and the Judiciary
His Excellency Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of CARICOM
Her Worship Mayor Patricia Chase Green
Members of Parliament
Members of the Opposition
Members of the Diplomatic Corps and CARICOM Secretariat
Members of the Private Sector, Civil Society, and Uniformed Services
Members of the Press
Staff of the U.S. Embassy
Fellow American Citizens
And Any Important People Who I May Have Left Off, Friends All
On behalf of President Trump, the United States Government, the United States Embassy in Guyana, myself, my beautiful wife Rosaura, and my son Nicholas who is here visiting, we thank you all for coming today for this 241st celebration of the Independence of the United States of America. America’s democratic journey has been long and challenging. We have not always gotten it right, but if you look back over the last 100 years, I think many would say that we certainly tried to get it right. Because of this, I am happy to be an American.
I want to, up front, apologize for having to change the date of the event. It was for reasons beyond our control, and we did our best to let everyone know. I guess the fact that we had to change the date proves that, in spite of what Dem Boys Seh, the U.S. Government does not control everything in Guyana.
Often, ambassadors have a very specific theme or message for their speech on this important day, and I am sure many of you would love to hear me talk about the next head of GECOM, the economy up or down depending on where you sit, oil and Guyana’s bright but still to be written future, Guyana’s need for constitutional reform and how hard it would be, or even the future of rice and sugar.
Sorry, but none of those are my subject for tonight, and it’s probably best because I am sure President Granger might have me declared persona non grata and throw me out of Guyana if those were my subjects. My theme for today is that the U.S. government is still here. Our policy towards Guyana has not changed. We are still working with Guyana’s government and people every day. We are continuing many of our past programs and even adding new ones. The fears that we were disengaging or even forgetting about Guyana were quite simply misplaced fears. Bilateral relations could not be better!
How can I convince you? I plan to talk a little about what we have done over the last year, and what we are doing now. I think when I do, you will realize that the relationship is both broad and deep, a lot is going on, and there is much more to come. As I tell you about what we have done and are doing, there will be a slideshow running on the three screens. These are pictures taken by Embassy employees as they went about doing their jobs in Guyana, as well as photos of them enjoying the beauty that Guyana has to offer.
Before I dive into what we have been doing, I want you to take a look at the picture on the screen now (pause and point). For those who do believe what Dem Boys Seh, this picture could be your proof. I challenge everyone in here to go out and try to get one picture of a little blue heron, a scarlet ibis, and a snowy egret all in the same spot. Maybe we do control everything, after all. That said, even our power has limits. I was unable to get them to stand in red, white, and blue order.
I estimate that the U.S. Embassy employs close to 500 Guyanese, when you take into account our security guard force currently operated by VxL South America. In bilateral and regional foreign assistance we spend around $30 million U.S. in or on Guyana, or about 6.5 billion Guyanese dollars. That is a lot of roti and puri. Remittances from the USA to Guyana are about $225 million U.S. dollars a year or more than $48 billion Guyanese dollars. Now that is really a lot of roti and puri.
For those who have not figured it out yet, after more than 20 years, we have brought back the Marine Security Guard Detachment to provide internal security at the Embassy. They are some fine young people and I encourage you to talk with them tonight. For those who are wondering, those rifles are ceremonial that they used here tonight. They cannot be fired.
- On the oil front, we have used the State Department’s Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative to provide assistance to the Ministry of Natural Resources in supporting the development of a strong regulatory framework and oil-spill prevention strategies in preparation for oil production in mid-2020.
- We have also provided assistance via the Carter Center to help Guyana prepare for its candidacy for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or EITI. I am optimistic that Guyana’s candidacy will be approved this year and this will help ensure sound management of resources, as well as transparency.
- We also supported efforts to increase fiscal transparency and capacity in tax administration by bringing in advisors from Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance to work with the Guyana Revenue Authority to improve capacity; support retention of talent; provide tools to curb potential corruption; and, help develop the Oil and Gas Office within the Large Taxpayer’s Department.
- We also helped start a donor coordination working group on petroleum to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts and are seeking out synergies that will allow us all to provide maximum assistance to the government and people of Guyana.
- In telecommunications we have worked with the Minister and others to bring in experts on diverse subjects involving regulations, frequency management, and intellectual property rights. We will continue these efforts.
- In civil aviation we procured and handed over to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, through the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, two much needed explosives detection scanners for use at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
- We also worked with the Ministry of Finance to sign the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).
- We have provided assistance to the Central Bank in working on increasing the use of electronic transactions in Guyana.
- We brought a science fellow in CARICOM to assist in the development of research for more energy efficient buildings and studies on how ocean waves could be harnessed for the generation of renewable energy.
For those who have heard my rap song, you will know that it what we do is way more than just the visas, but visas are an important part of what we do here.
- Our Consular Section processed more than 72,000 Nonimmigrant and 7,000 Immigrant visas this past year. The improving economic situation over the last few years has led to our refusal rate coming down significantly from a high of well over 50% five years ago and, luckily, only a very small percentage of Guyanese abuse their visas by staying illegally.
- This last year our Consular Section and Regional Security Office worked with local law enforcement to ensure the first successful prosecution for visa fraud in Guyana, which led to the imprisonment of an Internet Café Vendor.
- Our Regional Security Office assisted local banks on the verification of suspected counterfeit notes, as well as assisting the Guyana Police Force in running traces on suspected weapons involved in local crimes.
- Most importantly, we finally got rid of those tough Guyanese termites that were eating our Embassy and finished the remodel of the façade of the embassy. We are sorry for the disruption to traffic, and are thankful to all for your patience.
Over half of all Guyanese are 25 years or younger. Because of this, we do focus on youth when possible.
- The USAID Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) project, completed late last year, provided mentoring, counseling, training, job placement and small business startup assistance to youth between the ages of 15-24. Over 3,000 youth completed work readiness training; 1,018 youth received new or better jobs; and over 300 youth completed entrepreneurship training with 169 starting a new business venture.
- Late last year we launched the Youth Empowerment Services (or YES) program, building on previous citizens’ security activities from the SKYE project. The YES program works with partners in government, non-government, and business sectors to deliver training, job placement, youth and family counseling, and community initiatives to support more resilient youth, families and communities. The YES program also supports juvenile justice reform and strengthened data collection, management, and utilization to drive policy making, budgetary, and programming decisions.
A healthy population is a productive population and in the last year we:
- Continued to work on helping Guyana lower the incidence of HIV/AIDS, and to ensure those who are infected can continue to be contributing members of society.
- We reached out to more than 6,500 individuals with HIV prevention messages to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, increasing by 100% the number of persons accepting testing to learn of their HIV status.
- We worked with the Ministry of Health to ensure that Guyana benefitted from discounted prices on HIV medicines.
- We also supported the development and implementation of the first national, logistics management information system. This ensures that consumption and stock-on-hand for medicines regionally can be managed and reported uniformly across the entire country. Since implementation, reporting rates across treatment facilities has been high, between 95 percent and 100 percent increase over the past two years.
- We hired a Regional Caribbean Zika Advisor who is based in Guyana.
On the Military side we have:
- Brought in 14 recently-promoted General and Admirals to Guyana to increase regional understanding and interoperability.
- We held our 2nd annual Suicide Prevention Subject Matter Expert Exchange with the Florida National Guard in Region 6. It was widely attended by NGOs, GDFs, GPF, and others from the Government of Guyana.
- We held scores of Humanitarian Assistance Program engagements from Medical and Dental Outreaches to back-to-school preparedness, covering all 10 regions of Guyana.
- We are working with the Office of our Secretary of Defense to form a partnership in Defense Institution Building, specifically Maritime Domain Awareness and Defense Allocation and Spending.
In the area of education we:
- Organized an exchange between Texas Tech and the University of Guyana sponsored by ExxonMobil. It gave opportunities for students of both universities to exchange ideas and to create projects around extracting petroleum in the most environmentally friendly manner possible.
- We recently reactivated The Fulbright Scholar Program in Guyana last year after a 20-year hiatus. An American professor came to work at the University of Guyana for one semester, and was so popular among her students that UG requested an extension. She taught in the School of Education for one academic year, preparing teachers for their work in helping young children learn how to read.
- We assisted Ruel Johnson in becoming the first Guyanese author to participate in the internationally renowned Fall Residency for Writers at the University of Iowa. Another Guyanese writer was recently selected to participate in the 2017 program.
- We sent five young Guyanese journalists to the United States for intensive three-week programs this year, on issues ranging from democracy and elections to investigative journalism to biodiversity and the rain forest.
- Five young Guyanese entrepreneurs participated in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellows Program last year. At the YLAI town hall in Peru, Abbigale Loncke, Founder and CEO of Community Health Care, received a special shout-out from our President for her outstanding work as a young entrepreneur. In the words of YLAI fellow Shaunda Yarde, YLAI was the perfect boot camp for her business and the ultimate reboot for her soul. In a few weeks another batch of Guyanese entrepreneurs will be selected to participate in the 2017 program.
- The Embassy continues to empower young people via our Youth Ambassadors program as they become emerging leaders, making positive contributions in their communities. We continue to see the positive returns of the Youth Ambassadors Program, when young adults return to Guyana with a strong commitment and passion in fulfilling their responsibilities towards the development of their country.
There are few organizations or entities that have a presence in all 10 regions of Guyana, but we do, and that is largely due to the presence of the Peace Corps which has had more than 850 Peace Corps Volunteers serve in Guyana, and currently there are more than 60. They work closely with government ministries and non-profit organizations to help achieve Guyana’s sustainable development goals primarily in the areas of education, health, and the environment. Over the past year, Peace Corps Guyana has:
- Signed an MOU with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the Ministry of the Presidency (Department of Environment) to place Volunteers in hinterland communities to teach environmental education and promote resource conservation.
- Trained and deployed 38 Health and Education Volunteers who are serving in primary schools and rural health centers from Charity to Corriverton to Aishalton.
- Held a Town Hall meeting in Region 5 to share Peace Corps’ mission with the community and showcase the work of local Volunteers. We have planned Town Hall meetings for all regions over the next year.
- In addition, highly-trained technical specialists with the Peace Corps Response Program have volunteered on short-term technical assignments to teach students in the University of Guyana’s new speech-language pathology program; to train doctors, nurses and other social service providers to identify common mental health issues; to reduce the stigma of mental illness; and to prevent suicide.
The DEA is now here and are doing a great job. They and the State Department have:
- Increased information sharing between U.S. government and Guyanese entities. This information sharing has allowed us and Guyanese law enforcement to open investigations and to deny bad people the ability to travel to the United States.
- Provided significant training to CANU and GPF Narcotics Unit in interdiction with a focus on the airport.
- Using State Department funding, we purchased essential equipment for CANU officers. The issuance of this equipment will further enhance CANU’s ability to carry-out high-risk law enforcement operations, process drug evidence, and take witness statements.
- The State Department has funded and provided training for hundreds of Guyanese police, prosecutors, judges, and others in the last year in the areas of money laundering, community policing, forensics, evidence handling, investigations, interdictions, and much more. We will continue to do this.
We have done a lot and will be doing so much more as long as President Granger and the people of Guyana want us to continue. All of the above, and everything else we have done in Guyana was only possible because of the cooperation of past and present governments, civil society, and the uniformed services, along with the hard work of the Guyanese people. At best at times, we have simply been a catalyst or strong supporter, but the real work of advancing Guyana as a country has always been done by Guyanese and there is still more to do. I am here to tell you today that if you want us, then the United States will be by your side going forward.
As I wrap up this speech, I will repeat my challenge from last year’s event and ask that each and every one of you to have a good time and to introduce yourself to at least three new people here tonight. They should be people different from you, whether in color, sex, profession, or anything else, and they should be people you have never talked with. Have a real conversation with them. I think you will find it to be fun — we have a very diverse group here tonight. We will not solve the lack of inclusion in the world, the United States, or Guyana by doing this, but remember what the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tsu said, “The longest journey in the world begins with one step.” Again, I encourage you to take that first step and begin that long journey today.
Before I propose a toast I wanted to take a moment to thank as many people as possible who made this event happen. I know I will leave someone out and I apologize for that, but the work that everyone did has been incredible.
First, I want to thank my beautiful wife Rosaura who was on the decorating and the food committees, and who helped in so many other ways, including putting up with me as we worked to pull this together. She had many important ideas and suggestions, and she was always willing to pitch in and help in whatever task needed to be done. I want to thank Dawn Leavitt and Amanda Caudwell who were the Embassy Co-Coordinators. Unfortunately, due to the date change, Amanda is not with us tonight. I want to thank Ms. Amanda Richards who is acting as the official photographer tonight. Starting tomorrow we will be posting a lot of her photos and others on the Embassy Georgetown Facebook page, so please visit, and like, and share.
I also want to thank Shonnette Tross, the Embassy Protocol Assistant, the Management Section of the Embassy, the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy, the Regional Security Office at the Embassy, the staff of the Marriott, and everyone else who pitched in and made this great event possible.
I also wanted to take a moment to thank all of the U.S. and U.S.-affiliated companies who contributed to this event and without whose financial and in-kind assistance we could not have had such a large and wonderful event. Those companies are on a number of posters in and outside the room and also appear on the screens at times. So as you drink great rum, Sam Adams or Deschutes beer, or California wine, and have some wonderful food, thank them, not me. The companies are:
Banks DIH Ltd
Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
C&V Caribbean Shipping Ltd
Cirkel Distributors Inc.
Demerara Distillers Ltd
Farfan & Mendes Group
Farm Supplies Ltd
Gaico Construction Inc.
Global Seafood Distributors
Jack A Alli Sons & Co.
King’s Jewelry World
Mines Services Ltd
Patsan Trading Services
PKF, Barcellos, Narine & Co.
Total Air Cargo
Xenon Billing Solutions Guyana Inc.
Thanks to you all!
I will now propose a toast:
- To a very happy official 241st Independence Day for the United States, and my sincere wish that we continue to do things right, and more importantly, do the right things to preserve and protect our freedom.
- Also, here’s to a wonderful bilateral relationship that is working on all cylinders, across a wide range of issues, and may it only improve. And lastly,
- Here’s to a secure, prosperous, and inclusive Guyana. It will be good for Guyana, the region, and the United States.
On behalf of President Trump, myself and Rosaura, I say thanks for coming tonight!