Pompeo on Thursday became the first US secretary to visit two small South American nations, long enriched with wood and minerals, but where the discovery of oil suddenly drew new global interests.
Meeting with Suriname’s newly-elected President Chan Santokhi, his Dutch colonial-era residence in the capital Paramaribo, Pompeo said it was an “exciting time” for the economy and that the United States is “eager to partner”.
“No privately owned operation can beat the quality of products and services of American private companies,” Pompeo said at a joint news conference in a tent set up outside in the tropical heat.
“We have seen the Chinese Communist Party investing in countries, and it all sounds great on the front end and then it all falls off when the political costs associated with it become clear,” Pompeo said. .
“And we do our level best wherever I make the case to travel, to make sure everyone understands what they are doing.”
Travel to Guyana
Pompeo later flew in from neighboring Guyana to deliver such a message to this country, which would increase by 85 percent this year – the highest rate of any country in the world.
Pompeo was welcomed with a hoarding of his likeness and a dinner in honor thrown by another new leader, President Irfan Ali, wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with rifle-holding honor guards.
The stops come at the start of a three-day tour that will also visit Colombia and Brazil’s Amazonian border, which is part of Pompeo’s campaign to highlight the economic catastrophe in Venezuela by President Nicolas Maduro.
The yatra is a vote of confidence in new leaders in both Guyana and Suriname, who are seen as a generational pageant.
Ali, 40, was inaugurated last month after defeating an incumbent who challenged the results, prompting US sanctions on members of the former administration.
In Suriname, Santokhi defeated a longtime ruler Desi Bouters in July, challenging a prison sentence in 1982 for killing political opponents.
“Like its neighbors in Guyana, the people of Suriname spoke fluently, choosing a new leader and securing your future as a democratic nation,” Pompeo told Santokhi.
The Suriname leader promised to “protect democracy and work with strong democratic institutions, rule of law, good governance and human rights” in the US.
But he said he did not see a competition between the US and China, which has invited both Suriname and Guyana to the initiative to build their huge belt and road infrastructure.
“It was not a matter of discussion, so it is not a question of making choices,” Santokhi said.
Guyana, a former British colony and Suriname has a population of under a million people and has long been undergoing racial discrimination between the descendants of African slaves and indentured laborers of the Indian subcontinent.
ExxonMobil suddenly made headlines in 2015 when it announced that it had found one of the world’s largest oil reserves in Guyana waters over the years.
Ali’s government is reviewing the arrangement with ExxonMobil, which will provide nearly half of its revenue to Guyana – a deal that some development activists call very palette.
Small-scale Chinese investment is already ubiquitous in both countries. The first billboard in Pompeo’s view as he exited the Paramaribo Airport was an advertisement for China’s powerful Quichovo Mutai liquor bearing the image of the forbidden city.