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Looking South

A pontoon ferry putters on demand across the Takutu river not far from the small border towns of Lethem in Guyana and Bomfim in Brazil. It is the only surface link between two countries that have traditionally ignored each other. Guyana, though geographically part of South America, has colonial and linguistic links with the English-speaking Caribbean. Most of its 750,000 people live within a few miles of the Atlantic coast. Portuguese-speaking Brazil has looked to its Spanish-speaking neighbours. This mutual indifference is slowly changing. In December Brazil's government agreed to spend $3m on a bridge over the Takutu; work may start later this month. Or rather restart: an earlier attempt ground to a halt five years ago, when the Brazilian courts detected financial irregularities. There are bureaucratic hurdles to cross too. A road-transport agreement has not yet yielded a system for insuring vehicles on short cross-border visits. A trade agreement was signed in June 2001, but Bomfim is not yet an official point of entry for goods. While legal Guyanese exports are blocked, illicit cross-border trafficking in guns, drugs and diamonds thrives. A dirt road links Lethem to Georgetown, Guyana's capital, but carries only five or so vehicles a day each way. Most cross-border travellers are Brazilian GARIMPEIROS, who mine gold and diamonds in Guyana's interior. A Brazilian airline runs a turbo-prop service from Georgetown to the Brazilian town of Boa Vista. There is potential for much more. A Brazilian company wants to grow sugar cane for ethanol on a large scale in eastern Guyana. Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, a Brazilian mining giant, is interested in Guyanese bauxite, and there is talk of Petrobras getting involved in oil exploration. The interest is mutual. "More people are looking south. We see it as a huge possibility," says Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana's president. "We have a deep water harbour. If the road from Boa Vista was upgraded, it would cut three days for traffic from Manaus to the Atlantic." Maybe, though there are environmental objections and the deep water port has yet to be built. But diplomatic ties are growing. Guyana attends the annual South American summit; last year it chaired the Rio Group of Latin American nations. Georgetown is "twinned" with Boa Vista. The bridge may serve a purpose. (via
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