The gigantic land area of Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, also provides a huge border region with most continental countries in South America, with the exception of Chile and Ecuador.
Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay participate in Mercosur together with Brazil. Bolivia also has an important relationship with the national economy thanks to the export of gas. Colombia and Peru are two of the favorite destinations for Brazilians on the continent, while Brazil has become a refuge for Venezuelans during the country’s economic crisis.
But what about Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname? Why do these two countries and the overseas territory of France have little or no connection with Brazil and the Brazilian people?
According to professors at UFRR (Federal University of Roraima), there are many reasons why these territories, despite being neighbors, have a huge distance from the rest of the continent.
Colonized by France, Holland and England, the language barrier with South America, predominantly Portuguese and Spanish, is one of the many obstacles.
According to the professor of international relations at UFRR Américo Alves de Lyra Júnior, the three nations to the north of Brazil are closer to the Caribbean countries, despite the geographic barrier created by the Atlantic Ocean.
“The eyes of these countries are more focused on the Caribbean. Just remember that the headquarters of Caricom, the Caribbean community of nations, is in the capital of Guyana, which is Georgetown”, explained Lyra Júnior in an interview with R7.
A good part of the population of these territories, which together add up to about 1.5 million people, resides in the coastal region, farthest from the Brazilian border and closer to the Caribbean. According to the professor of the master’s degree in Society and Borders, at UFRR, João Carlos Jarochinski Silva, the Amazon forest itself is a factor that separates the region from Brazil.
“The first element that leads to this ignorance is the fact of where [os territórios] are geographically located. They are in the north of the Amazon rainforest, in a region of very dense forest and with little population presence”, he explains.
Ignorance is reflected in Google searches
The internet facilitates access to information with the improvement of search engines. At the distance of a click, internet users can find out about the world, and that includes Guyana and Suriname, as well as the overseas territory of French Guiana.
An exclusive survey sent by Google to the R7 shows that the main searches of Brazilians related to the three northern neighbors are: location, capital and currencies. There are also surveys to see if Guyana and Suriname are safe.
The states that most search for information about territories on Google are, consequently, those that border the region. The population of Amapá researches six times more about Suriname and 30 times more about French Guiana than the rest of Brazil. Roraima, Guyana’s neighbor, seeks up to 51 times more of the country than the Brazilian average.
Although the inhabitants of these two northern states are the ones who do most research on their neighbors, the distance between most residents of the region is the same as in the rest of Brazil, according to Lyra Júnior.
“The perception that Brazilians in the South region have of this distance is also ours, in the North region. We have something very timid there, something more purposeful on the part of Suriname, in terms of educational cooperation.”
The little relationship that the Brazilian population has with these countries is with the sacoleiros who cross the border in search of lower prices and the miners who have moved from the Brazilian Amazon to the three northern territories in recent years.
“When you have a decrease in mining activity, a fight against the mining activity in the North region of Brazil, part of this population that was dedicated to this type of activity ends up heading to Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname” , explains Silva.
Expensive and difficult tourism
One tool that could bring Brazilians closer to these three territories in the north of the continent is tourism. However, the beaches in the region do not carry the beautiful image of the Caribbean coasts.
“There is not a very strong tourism because there is a difficulty in circulation, from a structural point of view. Tourism in the Caribbean region is linked to the issue of beaches and [no norte da América do Sul] you have a predominance of a coast with formation of mangroves”, highlights Silva.
O R7 did a search to find the cheapest flights departing from Sao Paulo to Cayenne (French Guiana), Georgetown (Guyana) and Paramaribo (Suriname) between July 28 and August 28. Tickets, which do not include the return trip, ranged from R$1,359 to R$14,100, with stops in up to two countries.
To Georgetown, the cheapest flight costs R$4,289 and requires a 35-hour pilgrimage and two stopovers. The passenger takes off from Guarulhos airport, lands in Bogotá, Colombia, waits 12 hours and flies to Miami, United States. After another nine hours between stops, the journey finally has its final leg with arrival at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana.
Traveling from São Paulo to Paramaribo is easier and cheaper. With R$1,359, the passenger takes off from Congonhas and lands in Brasília, where he waits for five hours for the flight that will take him to Belém, Pará. Another hour of waiting, and the tourist makes the final leg of the trip, to the international airport Paramaribo-Zanderij.
Using Google’s flight search tool, the R7 could not find flights to Cayenne. Silva warns that it would be easier to travel for tourism to France, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, than to the capital of French Guiana.
“In France you can enter with a tourist visa, but not in French Guiana. You have greater control, you need an authorization from the French State to be able to reside there or even do tourism in this space.”
The geographic limitations caused by the Amazon rainforest, linked to territorial disputes between countries, hamper Brazilian efforts to build a road network that more easily interconnects the region.
“We have a problem with the construction of roads itself. You have an area in Guyana that is still contested by Venezuelans and in which several Brazilian attempts to invest in highways were thwarted by the Venezuelan State’s stance”, emphasizes Lyra Júnior.
One of the few land connections between the last city of Roraima (Bonfim) and the first city of Guyana (Lethem) is the Prefeito Olavo Brasil Filho bridge, better known as the Tacutu river bridge. The curiosity of this work is that it forces Brazilian drivers to change to the right lane on the Guyana side, as the country adopts the English hand, a legacy of the British colonial past.
“The very lack of a more purposeful dialogue from the point of view of diplomacy makes these places unattractive for Brazilians and, in some way, for them as well. [do outro lado da fronteira]”, says Lyra Júnior.
“We end up being more concerned with countries that are seen as more powerful, more relevant in the international system, and, even in the context of South America, countries with which we have a more intense relationship, whether economic or political disputes”, concludes Silva.