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Guyana and Brazil - Bridging for good times

A relatively small bridge between the sprawling giant, Brazil, and its neighbour on the Atlantic Coast, Guyana, has the potential for contributing significantly to Guyana's economic development and the export potential of Brazil's northern region.
The narrowest point at which the Brazil and Guyana borders connect is the Takatu River, alongside which lie the State of Roraima in Brazil and the area of Lethem in Guyana.  The bridge is scheduled to be opened before the end of the last quarter of this year, and maybe as early as March.
For centuries the native peoples of the area - the Amerindian tribes - have been traversing the river and cohabiting with each other.  Now, the Brazilian government, with the full agreement of the Guyanese government, has built a bridge across the river capable of carrying heavy vehicles to transport containers with a wide variety of commodities as well as people.
The Takatu Bridge is reported to be one of 335 projects identified by the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America, an initiative by South American Governments to construct a new infrastructural network for the continent, including roads, waterways, ports, and energy and communications interconnections. While it will be some years before all this infrastructure is in place, the plan points to a framework that will make it possible to transport goods and people across all of South America by road.
Guyana will be well-placed to benefit from the Takatu Bridge because it will allow Brazilian businessmen from Braizil's Northern-most State of Roaraima to truck commodities through Guyana to a port on Guyana's Atlantic coast and then to markets in North America and Europe.   This method will be considerably cheaper for businesses that now have to transport goods across the vastness of Brazil to its far-away ports.  
Both the Governor of the State of Roraima and the businesses located there are anxious for the opening of the Takatu Bridge, built at a cost of just under US$4 million.  They see it as the first necessary path to the Guyana port on the Atlantic.
The population of Roraima State and its capital, Boa Vista, has grown in recent years.  At approximately 400,000 people, it is now bigger than the population of Barbados, and bigger than any two countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).  So, in addition to the Bridge providing the means for Brazilian products to be exported more cheaply through Guyana, it also offers the opportunity for Guyana to market its products into Brazil. 
Significantly, 18 months ago, the Brazilian government held a seminar in Guyana for Guyanese business people on how to do business in Brazil.
Relations between Guyana and Brazil have always been solid.  Brazil is one of the few South American countries that accepted its borders on independence from the Portuguese and have made no territorial claims on its neighbours.  In the continuing claim by Venezuela for two-thirds of Guyana, the Brazilian government has been a steady voice of reason and support.
The Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez is known to be unhappy with the construction of the Takutu Bridge.  So much so, that construction of the bridge was halted for some years and it was only recently that work proceeded rapidly to bring it to the point of an official opening soon.  The Chavez government had also objected to Brazil establishing a Consulate in Lethem to look after the affairs of Brazilians and dealing with commercial paperwork between the two countries.   The Brazilian government appears to have overcome that problem and the Consulate will be opened to coincide with the bridge.
Over the last few years, there has been a steady influx of Brazilians into Guyana.  It is estimated that there are about 3,000 Brazilians now working gold mines in Guyana and making a good living from it while contributing to the economy.  They have brought in new technology and are getting higher production yields.  Consequently, the government is getting more taxes, and the Guyana Gold Board which purchases the production is selling it on the international market at a profit.
Brazilians have also drifted into Georgetown, Guyana's Capital City, and have opened various businesses including one of its most popular restaurants.  Unlike the treatment accorded to Guyanese in several Caribbean countries, the Guyanese have been extremely accommodating of the Brazilians and the government has sought to regularise the status of those who entered the country illegally.
The understanding and good neighbourliness between Brazil and Guyana is at such a high level that each country is allowing nationals of the other to enter each other's country up to a point where documents are not required.  Hence, theoretically Guyanese nationals can travel as far as Boa Vista in Roraima State, and Brazilians can go as far as Annai, an area in the Essequibo River.  Reports indicate that border controls are now being established in Boa Vista and Annai, but it is an indication of the openness of the two countries to each other that this system can operate at all.
Of course, while the Takatu Bridge is a necessary first step in the opening-up commercial activity that will benefit both countries, there is more to be done; the most important thing being the creation of an all-weather road from Lethem to Georgetown and the re-enforcement of bridges across Guyana's rivers.  The task is not difficult.  A dry-weather road already exists and transportation vehicles ply it every day.  Joint ventures either between the two governments or private businessmen from both countries could finance the cost of the road whose commercial traffic would repay its cost in good time.
Undoubtedly, new towns will develop along that road in areas that are now sparsely populated.  The road points the way not only for a cheaper outlet for Northern Brazil to the Atlantic and therefore to Europe and North America, but for a considerable boost to the economy of Guyana.
The opening of the Takutu Bridge is good news in otherwise bad times.

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