Guyana calls for British control over the Amazon

Guyana calls for British control over the Amazon

Page last updated: 15 May 2008

by Daniel Gallas

In November 2007, while scientists were debating climate change at the UN conference in Bali, Indonesia, an unusual proposal arrived from the other side of the world.

The president of the South American country of Guyana, which has a population of just 750,000 inhabitants, proposed that the whole of its Amazon rainforest should be put under the control of its former colonial ruler, Great Britain.

According to President Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana does not have the financial means to preserve the rainforest as it is the smallest economic power in South America.

Jagdeo stated that economically, Guyana would have more to gain by cutting down the forest.

In Jagdeo's opinion, it is only rich countries that have the resources to keep the rainforest intact.


The idea of foreign control isn't new in Guyana.

In 1989, the country decided to place the one-million acre area of the Iwokrama forest in the hands of the Commonwealth.

Seven years later, under decree, the Iwokrama Centre was set up.

The centre, which combines tourism, timber operations and tour guide training, is a prototype that

President Jagdeo is now extending to the whole of the country's Amazon region.

Isolated in the middle of Guyana, the centre can only be reached by a road crossing the Amazon, or by a small landing strip.

The centre can hold up to 50 tourists at once.

The centre's tour guides and staff are recruited almost entirely from Iwokrama's 16 native communities.

Initially, the Iwokrama Centre was sustained purely by international donations.

Nowadays, almost 20 years after its conception, the Centre struggles to survive by its own means.

"After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the worlds' attention has been focused on combating terrorism and the centre has lost a lot of donations" the Centre's Director, Ray Imhoff told BBC Brasil.

"It was then that Iwokrama realised that it needed to become economically viable, without having to solely depend on donations."

Recently, the loggers who work in partnership with the Centre received international accreditation for work in the Amazonian forest.

According to Imhoff, this should help to stimulate the economy of the region.

For Ron Allicock, one of the tour guides born in the region, the preservation of Iwokrama wouldn't be possible without the help of the international community.

"Without external help, it is very difficult for local people to conserve the Amazon rainforest alone. The more people that participate, the better it is for the forest", he says.

The involvement of the international community is a delicate subject in South America.

Officially, Brazil has not expressed a view on Guyana's proposal to hand over control to the British.

However, historically the country is against foreign presence when it comes to managing the Amazon.

The question was also not debated within the ambit of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, the agreement which unites Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela, as well as Brazil and Guyana.