Photo: C-Span. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Guyana.

GEORGETOWN, Guayana–September 18th,2020– He came, he saw, he signed an agreement on drug-trafficking, and he talked a bit, then he flew away.

That is the short version of the one-day visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Guyana. The visit is the first by such a high-ranking U.S. official and highlights Guyana’s increasing strategic importance. The country shares a border with Venezuela and is a now major oil producer, making it an attractive ally for expanding U.S. political and economic influence in the region.

The sudden wealth has caught the attention of major international actors and spurred a race between the U.S. and China to solidify ties. A supporter of Maduro, China likely sees Guyana as a geographically strategic ally. The nation has expanded its influence in Latin America and Chinese companies are developing infrastructure projects in Guyana.

President Ali and Pompeo gave a joint press conference that was broadcast by the US public service C-Span, that gave reporters some idea of what was discussed and what was not discussed.

Photo: C-Span. President Ali held his own in a joint press conference with Mike Pompeo.

The press wanted to know if Venezuela had been discussed, but President Ali said no. However, the two countries signed a Shiprider Agreement during the visit.

Under the Shiprider Agreement, Guyana may designate qualified law enforcement officials to act as law enforcement shipriders. In keeping with Guyanese law, these shipriders may embark on US law enforcement vessels and authorize the pursuit by the US law enforcement vessels on which they are embarked, of suspect vessels and aircraft fleeing into or over Guyanese territory and waters.

Several Caribbean countries have similar agreements with the US.

Pompeo, however went on to say that the government of Venezuela needs to be removed as President Maduro and several top officials have been indicted on drug-trafficking charges and are subject to international arrest warrants.

Briefly the charges–according to the indictment— are that Maduro and 14 other officials, while interdicting some cocaine-trafficking aircraft, allowed others to pass unhindered in exchange for massive bribes that enabled the named officials to live a luxurious lifestyle that did not match their declared earnings.

For example, one official claimed on a US visa application that his income was $12,000 per year, and yet could be shown to have personally spent 3 million dollars over the last 4 years in the Miami area.

Pompeo also pumped the role of American banks and businesses in building infrastructure in (the soon to be oil-rich) Guyana and warned that Chinese development aid could be risky and come with unwanted strings attached.

This warning comes as it was revealed yesterday that China has become the EU’s largest trade partner for the first time, according to the most recent financial data.

The latest data from Eurostat shows China has become the EU’s largest trade partner for the first time, surpassing the US by 5.2 billion euro ($6.16 billion). From January to July, trade between China and the EU rose 2.6 percent to 328.7 billion euro amid COVID-19.

China is now the EU’s largest source of imports, accounting for 21.9 percent of its total imports, and the third-largest export market at 10.3 percent, Eurostat said.

Guyana’s sudden wealth has caught the attention of major international actors and spurred a race between the U.S. and China to solidify ties. A supporter of Maduro in Venezuela, China likely sees Guyana as a geographically strategic ally. The nation has expanded its influence in Latin America and Chinese companies are developing infrastructure projects in Guyana.

However Chinese infrastructure projects in Guyana have in the past not always been successful. The prominent Chinese logging company, Baishanlin was closed and taken over by the Guyana Forest Commission in 2016.

When Baishanlin arrived in Guyana over a decade ago, its promises followed a familiar pattern set by other Chinese state-owned companies. It would be given access to millions of acres of vast timber reserves in exchange for hiring local workers and leaving behind a tangible example of Sino-Guyanese friendship: a wood-processing plant that would develop Guyana’s timber industry.

But grievances against the company mounted over the years leading to the seizure of assets and equipment to recoup losses that Baishanlin took in tax and export exemptions.

What’s more, the company has been accused of flouting local labor laws, failing to pay Guyanese employees adequately, and never delivering the wood-processing facility.

However, some critics fear that Pompeo has other motives in warning against China, which the US also fears as a commercial rival.

He accused the World Health organization of being under control of the People’s Republic of China and implicated China as being behind the significant number of deaths in the UK as a result of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak.

Pompeo has also stood behind President Trump’s attempts to ban Chinese social media apps like Tic-Toc from the US on the grounds that they harvest personal data that may be used for Chinese Communist Party espionage on US officials.

No one really knows how objectively realistic this threat is, but US officials certainly appear to be alarmed over it.

Guyana appears to have received its guest cordially, but remained noncommittal on tricky issues like Venezuela and Chinese trade deals.

The normally prolific Guyana government department of information had issued no official press statement about the visit at the time this report went to press.