New York Times report on Guyana leaves a bad taste in the mouth – By Mohamed Hamaludin

New York Times report on Guyana leaves a bad taste in the mouth

By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

Down the years, some foreign journalists have written about Guyana in the most cavalier fashion, sometimes departing from the truth in startling manner. A few decades ago, there was a report making the rounds of one of them who actually wrote about the country without leaving Timehri – now Cheddi B. Jagan — International Airport, describing it as a place overrun with mud.

Clifford Krauss has lived up to that tradition with his lengthy July 20 New York Times report which I read online. Krauss, the bureau chief in Buenos Aires and Toronto of one of the world’s best newspapers, was writing about the discovery of oil in Guyana and cautioning about the potential blessings and curse of the oil industry. It is obvious in the story, headlined, “The $20 billion question for Guyana after oil find,” that he is knowledgeable of the industry. That is not surprising because he is also, according to a note at the end of the story, “a national energy business correspondent based in Houston.”But when it comes to Guyana, it is a different story. The opening two paragraphs are not only inaccurate but also downright offensive:        

“Guyana is a vast, watery wilderness with only three paved highways. There are a few dirt roads between villages that sit on stilts along rivers snaking through the rain forest. Children go to school in dugout canoes, and play naked in the muggy heat.

“Hugging the coast are musty clapboard towns like Georgetown, the capital, which seems forgotten by time, honeycombed with canals first built by Dutch settlers and African slaves. The power grid is so unreliable that blackouts are a regular plague in the cities, while in much of the countryside there is no electricity at all.”

In those seven lines, Mr. Krauss displays the disdain typical of some foreign journalists towards small nations. I am a native of Guyana who has been a citizen of the United States since 1989 and a journalist (now semi-retired) since 1968. I came to appreciate good journalism early on and, of course, especially the journalism practiced by newspapers of the caliber of The New York Times. So it was with a great deal of dismay that I read those two paragraphs.

Guyana is part of an area in South America known as the Guianas, a word that translates into “land of many waters,” that also includes the formerly named Dutch Guiana (now Surinam) and French Guiana (now Cayenne). Flooding is a natural occurrence, when it happens, similar to how Florida, where I live, is prone to hurricanes, and is not a result of poverty.  It explains why some houses have been built on stilts, as Mr. Krauss states, just as Floridian homes are constructed to withstand storms. But such structures are mostly found in the rural areas and not usually in Georgetown, the capital city, which is the dateline for Mr. Krauss’ report.

Georgetown has wooden homes and other structures, to be sure, but they include St. George’s Cathedral, perhaps the second or third highest wooden building in the world, and it most certainly is not built on stilts. There are million-dollar homes and there are traditional structures such as the Bank of Guyana building and several hotels, along with the more ornate Parliament building, making it far froma “clapboard town.”

And while some children who live along the many rivers of Guyanain remote parts of the country probably do go to school by canoe, that is by no means the usual mode of transportation. The country, and Georgetown, in particular, has a lot of cars – perhaps too many– as well as trucks, buses, bicycles and other means of getting around. No one travels by canoe in the capital city. The waterways are for drainage and are notthoroughfares. Children do not usually play naked in the mud.

The majority of the 800,000 or so Guyanese live along the coastline because that is where their forebears were settled by the British, in particular, when the country was occupied under colonialism. The lands adjacent to the sea were found to be fertile for growing sugar cane and then rice. But besides the flatlands of the coast, there is a varied topography, including mountain ranges in the hinterland, among them the spectacular Mount Roraima, and waterfalls of various kinds, including the famed Kaieteur Fall which has the sheerest drop in the world, at 741 feet.

I had hoped that any part of any story in The New York Times would be fully fact-checked and adequately edited so as not to give the impression that the writer may be doing a hatchet job on the subject – in this case against the people and government of a democracy — as Exxon-Mobile gets set to exercise the rights of King Oil in yet another “backwater” — perhaps literally so — country. That is probably not what Mr. Krauss set out to do but did he visit Georgetown to do his reporting? those two opening paragraphs leave a really, really bad taste in the mouth.

—-

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every two or three weeks for The South Florida Times. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

Below is the article in the New York Times

The $20 Billion Question for Guyana

This largely underdeveloped country on South America’s northern Atlantic coast is the unlikely setting for the world’s next big oil boom. But is it ready to handle the riches?

CLICK LINK BELOW TO READ THE ARTICLE

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/business/energy-environment/the-20-billion-question-for-guyana.html?

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 1:35 am

    Fitzgerald (Gerry) Yaw wrote:

    Some would say it is pessimistic. However we need to be realistic about Guyana’s possibilities based on potential oil revenues. The country is already undergoing transformation from the start up investments prior to actual oil production.

    At The University of Guyana we are experiencing that with partnerships with universities in Trinidad & Tobago for UG to offer programs in the petroleum sector, internships with oil and gas companies, an MOU with the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission to support equipment upgrades in its Faculty of Engineering & Technology and across the university, etc.

    The challenge for Guyana as hinted in this article is how do we improve our governance and improve human resources to ensure that oil and gas helps pull the country into the 21st century and not just enrich a few?

    We have the example of the gold, bauxite, sugar industries as graphic illustrations that we can’t take positive overall benefits from the oil and gas economy as guaranteed. We have a lot of work to do and deep involvement of the Diaspora is essential.

    Marginalization of the Diaspora based on the flawed case that they have not been pat of the “hard times” would only ensure the “hard times” continue.

    • Ronald H. Lammy  On July 22, 2018 at 7:53 am

      Dr Yaw, I missed your comments earlier and reading the full thread now I see much poignancy in your remarks. The marginalization of the Diaspora and vindictiveness are very relevant. A critical element is to “improve the human resources”. Many in the diaspora are available and especially the baby boomers who are proud of their native birth. A recent 75th birthday celebration of a mentor was revelatory.

      Semi-retired for a few years he had an indoors full-time security staff position that was walking distance from his home. It permitted him to be active daily, and “spoil’ himself with the extra income. Periodically he would give off the record advice to his manager about missteps on the job. One of those led to a discussion with the general manager. It led to his a job offer that moved into a regional management responsibility that includes his former location. His depth of transferable skills was grabbed and he is being compensated at four times his previous rate.

      While many in the Diaspora might not take full time year round positions some can work on task force type assignments; hands-on consultancy and training; research on best practices in certain functions, and such.

      The leadership challenge is motivating those who feel that they ‘stay and burn’ away from undermining the return of the Diasporees with superior skills.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 2:03 am

    Mister Hamaludin, I do not think the essay was that lopsided. The author chose to focus on the have-nots, as opposed to the embarrassing hyperbole we read and hear about daily within our community concerning who got what and how they got it.

    Clifford Krauss’ introduction is an excellent backdrop to the windfall of gushing oil … the question is how do we get from Krauss’ realistic picture to your fantasy?

    All the answers appear to be disconcerting – read what Gerry Fitzgerald wrote, for example.

    Realistically, some of us see this as a ‘second chance’ to get it right ….

    Therefore, we need to start with a realistic picture of what is and not what we wish it would be. The essay by Clifford Krauss is a good start.

  • Ronald H. Lammy  On July 22, 2018 at 3:10 am

    Thank you for pointing out the insulting descriptions in the opening paragraphs. Disgraceful.

  • dhanpaul narine  On July 22, 2018 at 5:27 am

    Here’s the thing: In 25 years Guyana will be a totally different country, whether we like it or not. This is what oil does to a hitherto struggling economy, it transforms the society. The cases of Ghana, Nigeria has other countries come to mind. Are we ready for the transformation in Guyana? As Dr. Yaw has pointed out, UG is entering into partnerships to create professional awareness of the impending change, but more needs to be done. Yes, the diaspora has to be involved as it can provide tremendous help. But there has to be a policy and we are not there yet, despite the talk.
    The article by Strauss should be taken seriously. He has discussed the state of readiness to becoming a major oil producer. We are not ready, he suggests. We need the infrastructure in place and time is running out, and there is an election, and a fractious Coalition, and race problems and blackouts too.
    But we have a beautiful nation. We are a wonderful people. If only we can bring them together…

    • Ronald H. Lammy  On July 22, 2018 at 6:20 am

      True, readiness is a critical factor but preceding it has to be Awareness orientation – new conditions present and coming; something will be unknown – and Willingness – to take action mindful that the responsiveness may not all be perfect but not limited by fear.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 6:53 am

    What you are talking about requires a new way of thinking, a different management and economic development/approach across the board.

    A better/modern curriculum from primary school up. So far, what I have been reading for the past thirty-five years, the system has not prepared Guyana and Guyanese for this millennium.

    A word of mouth and a paper based economy is for the history books. How many Guyanese have been sent to the HQ of major oil companies to study oil and gas extraction and refining as it pertains to the management of such?

    How many Guyanese understand the politics of OPEC and its economic structure?

    Not taking the stated into consideration Guyanese would be relegated to that of bauxite workers of the last century; level 1, 2 and 3 laborers and no upper management skills.

    Derrick “John” Jeffrey

    • Ronald H. Lammy  On July 22, 2018 at 10:05 am

      Derrick;

      Your proposition is striking on two or more levels. Reflecting on my bauxite industry experience I am thinking of what we know to do and have done, decades ago. The best practices have been abandoned through small mindedness, vindictiveness and envy/fear. Mid and longer term social conditions were not addressed adequately when other admirable actions were taken.

      I was one of a significant number given international tertiary education and management training by Guybau/Guymine. Most of us returned and were on paths to senior management; some on fast tracks. . I was one who was assigned to a major USA contractor to develop functional skills through hands-on exposure. .(The first apartment styled building was erected in Watooka/Richmond Hill to give independent living spaces to the cohort who left single and were returning married or soon to be)

      Within a year to 18, maybe 24 months 6 to 8 or more of my cohort exited.The political changes that provided opportunities for those who did not have elite high school backgrounds, had an unexpected impact. The social conditions were increasingly unappealing in an environment of unusual political tactics. The expatriates had gone and the natives at managerial levels were leaving too. Most had mid and senior management skills. We all achieved success from the foundation in the bauxite industry. Teaching lessons are there for this new era.
      Ronald H. Lammy.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 8:29 am

  • walter  On July 22, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I never bet against Guyanese, shown such resilience in the past, I don’t see all the dark clouds. Intelligence, ability to change gears, to adapt, lots of that in Guyanese.. A hint of the brilliance is shown with the success so many attain in developed Countries. Bring on your Oil, they going to handle it, great challenge..

  • Tony Swamy  On July 22, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Is there a web site in Guyana where I could do a search for someone I grew up with in the 60’s ?

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Reginald Chee A Tow wrote:

    Actually, Hamalludin’s response is pretty much on the ball.

    The article in the NYT paints a rather romantic description of Guyana, more appealing to foreigners than the people who actually know Guyana.

    However, the thesis of the article is quite solid with respect to the management of the expected windfall of the oil revenue.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 22, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    The Story Within The Story… ‘Eyepass’ of a New York Times article on Guyana

    Leonard Gildarie | KNews

    We have so many things that should get us angry daily. Like the continued bureaucracy in some Government offices. Little has changed, they say. Many of the folks under the previous administration have remained in the same place.

    At the housing authority, the people who everyone knew are in the same position and are again appearing so often in the newspapers, telling us what we have to do to get a house lot or a turn-key home. Nothing much has changed in this sense.

    However, from my side of the desk, things have improved. I see Guyanese becoming more and more, fiercely angry and protective of this land.

    Is it the oil? Is it an awakening?

    On Friday, this was never more evident during a discussion of a New York Times article on the coming of oil in Guyana.

    The reporter, Clifford Krauss, immediately faced the wrath of Guyana. There was indignation over his description of Guyana being hopeless, with little going for it.

    Krauss earlier this year travelled to Guyana to examine the feelings of ExxonMobil’s huge oil find in Guyana and the likely prospects for the country.

    He visited the drillships, the rice fields, the offices of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and even spoke to Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman.

    From it came a piece titled “The $20 Billion Question for Guyana”.

    What did Krauss say that caused so much anger? We examine a few lines with the words in bold print seeming to be the origins of the peeves:

    “Guyana is a vast, watery wilderness with only three paved highways. There are a few dirt roads between villages that sit on stilts along rivers snaking through the rain forest. Children in remote areas go to school in dugout canoes, and play naked in the muggy heat.

    Hugging the coast are musty clapboard towns like Georgetown, the capital, which seems forgotten by time, honeycombed with canals first built by Dutch settlers and African slaves. The power grid is so unreliable that blackouts are a regular plague in the cities, while in much of the countryside, there is no electricity at all.”

    The reporter went further. He visited the Brickdam offices of Newell Dennison, Commissioner (ag) of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. This is how he described it:

    “To visit the most senior oil regulator in Georgetown, one needs to climb an exterior staircase of warped wood that could sorely use a fresh coat of paint.

    At the top is the tiny office of Newell Dennison, the acting head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, whose desk is stacked high with folders beside a single metal filing cabinet. His office is spare of decorations, aside from two bouquets of artificial tropical flowers.”

    Really Mr. Krauss? Really? Guyanese would have some choice words for him, “Cross” likely to surface for those that don’t use the bad words.

    Sadly, the New York Times has gotten it very wrong.

    I have always said it and those who have had the fortunate experience to travel, would know.

    Yes, we are rated one of the poorest in this part of the hemisphere.

    On the flipside, one of the richest was Trinidad and Tobago. Venezuela and Brazil too were on the rise. Where are they now?

    People were leaving in droves in the 80s and 90s in search of a better life.

    Today, before oil, we were indeed chugging along. The prospects are dizzying now, the pundits predict. The calculations of what Guyana is to get are there for all to see.

    Krauss’ coverage paints a picture of simpletons who are backward and live in the countryside where there is no electricity.

    Yes, there are pockets of places up the Mahaica Creek, and few other places and of course the hinterland areas, where there are no power.

    Sadly, the picture of what Krauss painted does not depict Guyana.

    We are fortunate. We have our struggling industries intact – like rice, gold, bauxite and forestry. Sugar, well we all know where that is at.

    Had Mr. Krauss done his homework, he would have known that people here don’t receive food vouchers. That we are not really starving. That many families fish and farm, and the challenges of our population are that communities are scattered.

    He would know we have a virtually untouched forest. He would know that there are many places in the USA that are worse than Guyana. Parts of New York? Louisiana?

    We don’t have people walking into schools with semi-automatics and taking the lives of our young ones.

    Guyanese, while a few stay, are visiting, shopping and returning home from the USA.

    We are a developing country, Mr. Krauss, and though we are simple, we do have our pride.

    We also thank you for giving us the opportunity to tell the world who we are and hope that you tell that side of the story too.

    Mr. Krauss should tell the story of the droves of Brazilians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Canadians and of course Americans who are coming here, hoping to get a piece of the pie.

    We are good friends to the USA, Mr. Krauss, but we are not backward.

    • Emanuel  On July 22, 2018 at 10:44 pm

      I’m offended by Krauss’ crass comments. He should issue an unqualified apology to all Guyanese for his ignorance and arrogance,
      Shame on him!

  • dhanpaul narine  On July 23, 2018 at 12:29 am

    Gildarie agrees with most of what Krauss has written and yet calls Krauss’ article an ‘eyepass.’ Gildarie criticizes Krauss in one sentence and agrees with him in another. Krauss is making the point, that on the eve of an impending oil boom, Guyana does not have the structures in place to accommodate it.
    Perhaps Gildarie can enlighten his readers on the state of readiness a country needs to be in to have a seamless transition from an agri-based economy to a major oil producer. Rather than ask Krauss for an apology, the Guyana government, and other parties, should seriously begin to lay down the framework for the oil boom, and be transparent about it.

    • Emanuel  On July 23, 2018 at 2:40 am

      Did I miss something? Please provide a quote where Gildarie agrees with Krauss. I think he takes exception to his offensive remarks in no uncertain way.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 23, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Emanuel: You must have failed English comprehension ….

    Get over yourself, please!!

    • Emanuel  On July 23, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Please provide quotes where Gildarie agrees with Krauss. In fact, Gildarie thoroughly puts him in his place and says nothing that is untrue.

      • Emanuel  On July 23, 2018 at 6:29 pm

        Duncan: Instead of insulting someone by assuming they failed English comprehension, why not provide the info requested? That is the only way to have a debate.

    • Emanuel  On July 23, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Please provide quotes where Gildarie agrees with Krauss. In fact, Gildarie thoroughly puts him in his place and says nothing that is untrue.

  • dhanpaul narine  On July 24, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Emanuel, thank you for your query. Please re-read Gildarie’s carefully. It is how not to write an objective piece. Let us analyze it:
    1. Gildarie begins by saying that there is ‘continued bureaucracy in government offices and little has changed.’ Many people from the previous administration are still in the same place.
    2. The housing authority is in a mess. Nothing much has changed, he says. But wait, things are getting better. How? People are more protective ‘of this land.’ He is not sure whether it’s oil or an awakening. Nor are we.How is this different from Krauss?
    3.Gildarie then decides to examine Krauss’ article whom he says ‘immediately faced the wrath of Guyana.’ Really? The majority of Guyanese know little about the details of oil or have access to the NY Times. You may want to check this out independently.
    4.Gildarie decides to examine ‘a few lines and the peeves.’ He does this by rehashing Krauss and at one stage Gildarie runs into a trap of his own making. For example, Krauss describes his visit to the acting head of the Geology and Mines Commission. He said that the man’s office had lots of folders, a single filing cabinet, ‘and two bouquets of artificial flowers’ and that the place could do with some paint.This is Krauss’ observation. What is Gildare’s response? Rather than refute Krauss for his inaccuracy about the state of the office, Gildarie offered, ‘Really Mr. Krauss, Really. Guyanese would have some choice words for him etc’ That is weak and is neither here nor there.
    5. Gildarie runs into further problems in the middle of his article. He says that, ‘sadly the New York Times has gotten it very wrong.’ How? According to Gildarie, ‘I have always said it and those who have had the fortunate experience to travel would know.’ Would know what? Gildarie gives the answer: ‘Yes, we are rated as one of the poorest in this part of the hemisphere.’ What is Krauss saying? And what is ‘those who have had the experience to travel would know’ have to do with ‘we are rated as one of the poorest in this part of the hemisphere?’
    6. But there is a flipside. We are rated poor but so is Trinidad etc as if this makes it right.
    7. Gildarie says further, ‘today before oil we were indeed chugging along.’ This is not only faulty reasoning, it’s highly inaccurate. We don’t have oil so we must chugging along. Krauss says the same thing, though differently. And Gildarie himself told us that we are rated among the poorest.
    8. Gildarie gives us more verbiage when he says that the ‘calculations of what Guyana is to get are there for all to see.’ Really? Where are these calculations? Who made them and what exactly will we get? Exxon keeps changing the estimates; no one knows what this means in hard currency.
    9. Here is another contradiction in Gildarie’s writing: He says that Krauss ‘paints a picture of simpletons who are backward and and live in the countryside where there is no electricity.’ Gildarie’s next sentence should have been a refutation. But he does not do this, instead he agrees with Krauss. Gildarie says, ‘Yes, there are rare pockets of places up Mahaica creek, a few other places, and of course the hinterland areas, where there no power.’ Where then is the electricity good? Gildarie does not say. Blackouts are a familiar occurrence in Guyana.
    10. Gildarie says that Krauss article does not depict Guyana. Why? ‘We are fortunate. We have our struggling industries intact.’ This means that there has been no improvement. They continue to struggle and they are gold, rice, bauxite, and forestry. They are all ‘intact.’ They are all struggling. It’s the wrong use of the word ‘intact,’ And sugar? He says ‘Well we all know where that is at.’ We all don’t know, and Gildarie should not make this assumption.
    11. We can go on; the rest of Gildarie’s article is more verbiage. It is a bad piece of writing. Please read critically what is written; the more Gildarie went on, the more he weakened the case. Contrary to what you say, Gildarie does not thoroughly put Krauss ‘in his place.’ He was far from ‘thorough.’ And if you are in touch with Gildarie please let him read this and respond.
    Do have a pleasant day.

    • Emanuel  On July 24, 2018 at 6:34 pm

      Mr. Gildarie may not have been too sophisticated in citing examples to support his points of view, as you point out, but he decidedly takes exception to Krauss’ crass battery and mean criticism our homeland.

      Guyanese may not read the NYT but they can read Krauss’ replicated ignorance and arrogance.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 24, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    Thank You, Teacher Narine, for your patient instruction … I ain’t got it – for sure!!

  • albert  On July 24, 2018 at 10:36 pm

    Don’t think Guyana with its small population has the capacity to absorb those large estimated sums of oil money. Much of it would have to be held abroad as reserve like the Mideast oil countries did with petro dollars years back.

    On the American side my gut feeling is that Trump, possibly thru Israel, will start a war with Iran. Iran will block/hinder oil transported thru the straits of…? (Think over 50% of global consumption passes through there) … and bingo oil price will soar. Remember I said so first.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 24, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    Teacher Narine: I had a second line to my comment above, but I tortured myself and kept my hands off the keyboard to avoid what we are witnessing ….

    I would a lef he in he ignorance!

  • dhanpaul narine  On July 25, 2018 at 12:57 am

    Thanks Clyde to you and the other contributors. Thanks to Emanuel too. He cares about Guyana and wants it to do well. Rather than dismiss Krauss, we should begin to put in place structures to manage our resources. Hopefully, the talks between the government and opposition will have oil on the agenda.
    As Dr. Yaw has pointed out, training is essential, and the role of the diaspora cannot be overlooked. We do not have a diaspora policy, unlike Jamaica, Israel, India, Mexico and so on.
    In another post, I stated that we must protect the patrimony. This is a point I made in my Commencement Speech at UG last year. Every Tom and Harry will want to be a Guyanese. They will find various ways of entering and staying in the country and by 2050 there will be more foreigners in Guyana than locals. The Dubai syndrome will be played out in Guyana. The Guyanese passport will be a prized possession.
    Two days ago, it was reported by the Guyanese Foreign Affairs Minister that they could not account for over a hundred foreigners in the country. Who are these people, where are they and what are they doing in Guyana?
    If we can’t account for these few how can we handle the many thousands that will enter the country in the next few years?

  • Albert  On July 25, 2018 at 11:13 am

    ‘by 2050 there will be more foreigners in Guyana than locals’

    Thirty years is a long time. Think it will happen earlier.

    Caracas is a beautiful city. Outside the city there are miles on miles of hills inhabited by desperate poverty stricken people. According to friends they are beginning to sneak over to Guyana in search of food. In a few years Guyana’s tiny military cannot stop a major border crossing from Venezuela and Brazil.

    British Honduras had the same problem a few years ago with an overwhelming Spanish speaking population at their border. Guess they all speak Spanish now.

    • Emanuel  On July 25, 2018 at 11:59 pm

      One of the first and most important projects the Guyana government must undertake is the building of a refinery. It is a vital expediture.

      This will ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of energy to meet the needs of the country. It will also mean lower cost for us locals.

      So far as I know, a refinery is not on the agenda. Why not?

    • Thinker  On July 28, 2018 at 9:39 am

      There is no way that an oil country of 83,000 sq miles and less than a million people will be able to avoid massive emigration over the border. A clear policy has to be elaborated as to what constitutes Guyanese citizenship and how it can be obtained. What about the ability to buy land? What about the rights of the Indigenous Peoples? A lot of serious thinking should be going on NOW.

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