THE issue of development has always been on the agenda of every nation and every generation. As a developing country, Guyana’s leaders and technicians have been socialised over the years, and dare it be said for far too long, to plan on the basis of the dynamics taking place in European and North American societies. If for any reason issues such as rice, sugar or minerals have to be addressed, it is not uncommon to see deference to and reliance on the business approaches and dynamics of Europe and North America form centrepiece for guidance in discussions in framing policies, with apparently little or no regard for indigenous realities and needs. And this is not for want of ability on the part of Guyana or like countries, but more because of the sense of historical conditioning that others know what is best for us and should, by extension, guide us.
This region, during the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, has seen some of its finest acts of self-determination and cooperation with allies in support of what was considered a common cause. The aeroplanes flying from Cuba to Southern Africa stopped over in Guyana to be refuelled, then onward to their destinations. Apart from this significant contribution to the liberation of Southern Africa, what has not happened is that this level of cooperation did not translate into activities to boost economic trade among the countries and regions.
For years, the air links between the Caribbean and Africa are not direct. Travelling to Africa from the Caribbean and Guyana requires first going to the United States or Europe in order to get a connecting flight to one’s destination. This in itself makes travelling tedious, which could have a negative impact on the economy, both in tourism and trade.
South-South cooperation has been on Guyana’s and many other countries’ agenda for some time now. It is recognised that the economic structures that are in place and maintained by international and transnational companies, supported by several governments from the developed world, have contributed to developing countries such as ours being stymied or denied opportunities of exploiting business for our benefit at cheaper costs.
As the society continues to deliberate on the state of the sugar industry and what ought to be done about its future, technical assistance from Europe and North America is being relied on. This reliance comes at the expense of tapping into the technical capabilities of immediate neighbours such as Cuba and Brazil with similar experiences as ours. Cuba and Brazil’s experiences are more model-adaptable to Guyana’s experiences, given that these countries produce similar primary products.
Cuba has been able to stabilise its sugar operation by putting in place various measures, inclusive of finding alternative means for the sugar produced, and the lands that have become available after the closure of some of its estates. What Cuba has been able to do, among other things, is to improve its confectionery industry. As that society opens its economy to trade, opportunities are presented to investors, local and foreign, to compete for a ready share of this new and improved industry.
In Brazil, some of the defunct sugar factories are being converted into restaurants. These restaurants serve as employment and economic opportunities for the society and its tourist industry. Factories converted to restaurants have been able to maintain their historical legacy through storytelling and leaving untouched aspects of its infrastructure. For instance, a diner entering the restaurant, outside of fine dining experience, is exposed to educational opportunities through anecdotes recounted about the era during which the factory operated, its activities and workers, and so forth. This is an innovative way of keeping alive the bitter-sweet legacy of sugar in the Brazilian society and to its economy, as these converted factories simultaneously provide new income opportunities.
The majority of people who inhabit the Caribbean, South America, India and Africa have shared historical experiences of colonisation. Recognising this reality, it augurs well for working with these countries having the benefit of cultural experiences, including common value systems. South-South cooperation has its benefits and can be exploited among the countries, providing that the beneficiaries to this process seek to be the initiators and executioners of any programme. To make this a reality, Guyana and other countries have to move beyond waiting for the developed world to conceptualise and present to them an agenda, and recognise that the pursuit of economic self-efficiency requires taking the initiative, inclusive of risks, to control our destiny. (Reprinted)