THE IMPORTANCE OF READING AND HAVING A CRITICAL MIND: THE GLOBAL WITNESS REPORT

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ON Tuesday, February 4th, my social media accounts were inundated with excitable and flashy posts and comments. Everybody was sharing a report by Global Witness which purportedly documented the Government of Guyana signing away the nation’s newly discovered precious resource. It created the kind of public excitement that normally comes along with government scandals of volcanic proportions. Thankfully, my father taught me at a tender age about the importance of reading and having a critical mind.

He counselled me to guard against being a vessel for misinformation and disinformation designed to fulfil wicked agendas and enterprises. We live in the age of the disinformation wars; this advice has proven priceless. It is inexcusable in the time of Google and access to the internet for persons to be taken for an easy ride. It is against this backdrop that I proceeded to the source of all the hype.

I downloaded a copy of the report and made a physical copy so I could use my marker and pen to highlight important notes and information. By the time I got to page three, it became clear to me that this was a massive communication hatchet job and an attempt at a public relations coup d’état just 27 days from Guyana’s regional and national elections. Reading and having a critical mind have come to my rescue.

CLINICAL MODERN-DAY METHODS OF DISINFORMATION
First, Global Witness employed the classic modern-day methods of disinformation. They released a Facebook video about the report which, to date, has received 1.2k reactions, 388 comments, 1k shares and 162k views. This video became the main focal point of everything; nobody focused on the 28-page report. Global Witness and their cohorts are fully aware of the fact that some on Facebook will never read the report, the coloured screens are always chosen over the bland black and white pages.

The video appeared on the timeline of Guyanese on this social media platform, you can pay for this and the algorithms will allow the video to pop up on the pages of those whose interest may be piqued by this content. The main message in the video was two-fold; the contract between the Government of Guyana and ExxonMobil is bad and must be renegotiated and the people of Guyana stand to lose US$50 billion for 40 years. They used this short Facebook video as the main arsenal in their campaign.

This is the typical modern-day method of communication warfare. Once viewed by so many persons, the content is accepted as fact, despite the report expressing extreme caution about the highly doubtful suggested US$55 billion in losses. The truth remains buried in the report because it is not sensational enough.

THE REPORT AND THE HIGHLY SPECULATIVE US$55 BILLION IN LOSSES
Apart from the report using cautionary language and stating repeatedly that they found no evidence of corruption by the Government of Guyana, the main nucleus remained, the online headline which screamed, ‘Signed Away: How Exxon’s Deal Deprived Guyana of up to US$55 Billion.’ Global Witness requested a financial analysis from Open Oil on how much Guyana would lose through the deal with Exxon.

The Berlin-based entity specialises in this form of analysis and was given clear parameters on which to produce this assessment. They returned with the financial verdict but issued an inescapable caution which was de-emphasised by the London, Washington D.C and Brussels-based agency which was founded in 1993 . They warned in pellucid language that ‘Open Oil’s analysis focuses solely on economic factors and not geopolitical or other strategic considerations.’ There is a reason Open Oil issued this call to view this figure with skepticism.

They know they were being asked to assess ‘government take’ from an oil contract with a country in a border controversy since 1899. During the signing of the 2016 agreement with Exxon, Venezuela was in an angry mood and manifested a militaristic posture. We must not forget, President Maduro issued a decree creating the Atlantic Coast of Venezuela. He was coming for our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). How could this clear and present danger be excluded from a financial conversation on this oil contract with Exxon? Such exclusion can only be driven by sinister motives.

In its report, ‘How much Guyana will lose out on in Stabroek?’, Johnny West and Open Oil appealed for circumspection, ‘Although industry experts regularly publish estimates for government takes, caution should be expressed about the limitations of knowledge. Lack of access to data, and to the full text of contracts, mean that both often have to be estimated rather than known with any precision’. Further, the 28-page report, under ‘Assumptions and the Paris Climate Change Agreement’, provides ‘four critical assumptions’ on which the highly doubtful US$55 billion is based. It essentially argues that this figure is not written in stone and cannot be used as a basis for financial truth, it is shaky as a flag.

However, here is the thing and the problem which truth faces in the era of technology, the disinformation on the US$55 billion of losses has been crystallised as a fact, enabled by a sensational video and only those who read and possess a critical mind can discern, this is the sad reality of modern-day disinformation wars. Global Witness will raise their glasses and say mission accomplished and rejoice in the fact that nobody reads. They are sadly mistaken, because Guyanese do read and cannot be played so easily.

THE DISINFORMATION WARS
An important aspect of critical thinking is receiving information and asking yourself who is providing this information and for what purpose. This can save you from being pawns in somebody’s war. The Global Witness report is another saga in the oil-interest wars. These wars have been going on for decades and Guyana has now become a proxy in this battle. Global Witness receives its funding from grants made by foundations, governments and charities. Its main benefactor is the Open Society Institute, which is funded by business magnate George Soros. George Soros is one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, he is worth US$8.3 billion. Mr Soros has committed his resources to fight for freedom of speech, accountable governments and just and equal societies.

The Hungarian-born founder of the Open Society Foundation has donated over US$32 billion to fighting for the various causes he supports globally. This is no attack on Mr Soros, his work and contributions have done much for the human cause. He has been a thorn in the side of Exxon and other oil companies. This may not be Guyana’s fight but with our discoveries, we cannot escape being dragged into the disinformation wars. The thinking mind must understand the larger context of the Global Witness report.

What is the main purpose of the report and who benefits from this report? Let this be your guide. The release of the report is strategically designed to whip Guyanese public opinion against Exxon and bring public pressure to bear. Welcome to the big stage Guyana, having a critical mind has never been more important for citizens of the republic.