Trinidad and Tobago businesses eyeing Essequibo situation

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Roger Roach –

TWO businessmen told Newsday on Tuesday that TT businesses operating in Guyana were closely monitoring the situation with Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo, with one man saying businesses were already making small adjustments to their daily operations.

Newsday spoke to TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA) head Roger Roach and Caribbean Chemicals head Joe Pires.

On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed a massive victory in a referendum on Venezuela’s stance on Guyana’s Essequibo region, amid a reported 10 million turnout of 20 million electorate who variously supported five questions on Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo and a rejection of the remit of the International Court of Justice by margins of 95.4-98.11 per cent.

However, several international news media disputed the reported turnout as did several Venezuelans throughout that country whom Newsday interviewed.

Roach reckoned it was still early in proceedings, with a lot of room left for diplomacy.

“Certainly we are monitoring the developments in Guyana, just like the rest of the world.”

He said TT had a number of companies operating in Guyana.

“We have local companies who have invested in Guyana – Republic Bank, Massy, Ansa McAl, Coosal’s, Junior Sammy. There are a number of TT companies who are not only registered in Guyana but are operating in Guyana – Ramp Logistics and so on.

“So we are monitoring the situation closely. Our products are distributed throughout Guyana, inclusive of the Essequibo area.

“We are monitoring it closely and as the developments unfold, we’ll probably be in a better position to make a more comprehensive statement.”

Newsday asked if it was yet time for TT companies to consider emergency/evacuation measures for their staff from Guyana.

Roach replied, “Businesses usually have business continuity plans, but it is too soon.

“There has been no declaration of any adversarial threat. Right now we think it’s still a diplomatic issue, between Guyana and Venezuela.”

Roach said Caricom had made a statement calling for peace.

“But it hasn’t reached a stage where we should be concerned. If it did, then the trigger for that would be Guyana themselves attempting to move their citizens who live in that area. That has not happened.”

It was still at a stage for peaceful diplomacy, he said.

“We are seeing in the news that Brazil has put some troops on the border but we think there is still a lot of room for diplomacy.”

Pires said his company, founded by his father, had been doing business in Guyana for the past 35 years.

“So we are very much aware of the ongoing issues in Guyana and we are very much monitoring it on a regular basis. We are also monitoring it for our employees.

“We do have a location out in the west, a retail store with staff in it, as we service the whole Guyana agriculture sector. We are in the Essequibo area for all the time.”

Newsday asked if referendum tensions had affected the business climate for TT firms operating in Guyana.

Pires replied yes. “If you are sending a truck out there for delivery, you don’t allow them to spend the night any more. They have to come back.

“You have precautions with locks and trucks because you just don’t know what could happen at any point in time. You are dealing with an area where at any point in time a war could break out.”

But he said one drew some comfort from the heavy presence of US companies and the thriving oil sector.

“There is an underlying feeling the US will be there to protect Guyanese and that the US will protect their assets.

“So I think there is some sort of calm but at the end of the day people are still preparing, taking precautions and preparing just in case, especially those people living out in the west and close to the Venezuelan border.”

Newsday asked if people were each making their own little evacuation plans.

Joe Pires –

Pires said, “In TT I haven’t heard of the (Guyana) government preparing any evacuation plans.

“Of course there are people in the Guyanese community in the Essequibo area saying, ‘Let me have my passport ready. Let me have some key things ready just in case I have to grab and go, or in case I have to evacuate my family urgently.’

“Nobody has an air plane ticket booked not anything like that, but you do have where you are thinking about what is happening and the ‘what if’? You always have to plan for the ‘what if’, especially in business.”

Newsday asked how he’d like to see the situation resolved and what advice he would offer Maduro.

“My recommendation would be, ‘For every action, there is a reaction.’

“With the amount of oil discovered in Guyana which is very attractive to Venezuela, I don’t think the assets that are there, the country it belongs to (Guyana) it is not going to be handed over very easily.”

He said if Venezuela was planning an invasion, they ought to first weigh up the likely US reaction.

“Be prepared for the aftermath.”