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In pictures: Guyana’s pipe dreams

Fishermen are repairing nets on the dock in Georgetown, Guyana's capital.

In issue #24 of Delayed Gratification, which is out now, Susan Schulman tells the story of how oil has given hope to poverty-stricken Guyana. The country’s oil boom officially started on 5th August of this year when ExxonMobil applied for permission to begin production off Guyana’s coast. The resulting revenues could transform Guyana from one of the poorest nations in South America to one of the richest – but corruption and crime loom large.

Susan Schulman travelled to Guyana to document the hopes and fears of its population. Here are some of the photos she took which we couldn’t fit in the print magazine, but wanted to share with you anyway.

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Shineza Atwell, 30, stands proudly in front of the shack she wants  to use to open a shop selling chicken and chips in the deprived area of West Ruimveldt, Georgetown. Crime is rampant in Guyana, with many young people seeing no opportunities in the legal economy.

“Many days you have nothing to eat and you take the easy way – the illegal way,” explains Laurice, 40. “You might start with petty crime and step up to major … Then you get someone stand in your way and you kill them.”

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The scar of a gold mine interrupts the surrounding forest north of Georgetown. Guyana has historically been dependent on sugar, rice and gold, but the price of gold has been in a steady decline, losing 25 percent of its value over the past five years.

“Gold is the only thing keeping the economy going,” says former auditor general and advocate for good governance Anand Goolsarran. “If there is a further dip in the gold price, we will be in big trouble,” he warns. Even when the gold price is strong, between 50 and 60 percent of the country’s production is lost to smuggling and corruption.

A miner in the “backdam”, the heart of the gold-mining territories near the northern town of Port Kaituma. Police have a vanishingly small presence here, with violence and criminal activity flourishing in the vacuum.

Here in the backdam, no one thinks much about Guyana’s impressive oil finds. Everything is about gold here, and livelihoods rise and fall on its market price.

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Ondina Santiago sits in a hammock with her children. The family are Warraus indigenous Amerindians living on the Anabisi Canal bank in northern Guyana. The appropriation of indigenous territory by mining concessions has left many eking out an existence in poverty on the margins of society and struggling to maintain a threatened traditional life.

Santiago’s family rely on the little money her husband brings back from the gold mines. It is not enough. ​“Money isn’t coming in so I can’t buy clothes. If my children get sick, I have no money to get to the hospital,” she explains. Meat has all but disappeared from their diet in recent years. “We grew up deep in the bush – but things are different now for my children,” says Santiago. “I am very scared for their future.”

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Guyana’s recent oil finds amount to 1.4 billion barrels so far, worth more than $60 billion based on the current oil price. It is being described as “game-changing” in the oil and gas sector and ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, has started to pour in investment. As major expectations set the oil world abuzz, Guyana finds itself on the threshold of a windfall, poised to become the newest member in the exclusive club of global oil superpowers.

But many are sceptical about the potential of Guyana’s recently found oil to transform the country. Georgell Wickham, 63, has been fishing for 39 years. “Resource revenue for the past 23 years has been squandered,” he says. “All of it. If it was being used properly, Guyana would be the most beautiful, wonderful country in the world.”

Wickham would like to see investments in infrastructure, industry, education and jobs. “We need the investment for the country but we need to know what benefits it will bring for the children of Guyana,” says his friend Hercules Orin.

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