Paramaribo (Suriname): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Suriname’s Foreign Minister Albert Ramdin upon his arrival in Paramaribo on Thursday.—Reuters
Paramaribo (Suriname): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Suriname’s Foreign Minister Albert Ramdin upon his arrival in Paramaribo on Thursday.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state on Thursday to visit Guyana and Suriname as the discovery of oil fuels a sudden new interest in the small South American nations.

The stops came at the start of a three-day tour that will also take Pompeo to Colombia and the Amazonian border areas of Brazil, part of his campaign to highlight the economic devastation in Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela.

Pompeo will meet freshly elected leaders in Guyana and Suriname, which are also being courted by China as the two nations — underdeveloped and with sharp ethnic faultlines — seek a surge of investment.

“I used to work at the State Department and getting any secretary of state to travel anywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean was a heavy lift,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas.

“For him to go to both of these countries is extraordinary and shows that something big is happening.” ExxonMobil in 2015 announced it had found one of the world’s largest oil reserves in years in the waters off Guyana, with the US giant also heavily involved in Suriname.

Guyana — best known to Americans as the site of the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide — was forecast before the Covid-19 pandemic to grow a staggering 85 percent this year, the highest of any nation in the world.

Pompeo’s trip comes as Guyana reviews its deal with Exxon in which the country would keep about half the oil revenue — an arrangement that some advocates for developing nations say is too paltry.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2020