A recent video (see below) which I posted on the Guyana, South America Facebook Page, drew some concerns from fans: there seems to be no security checks for persons traveling between Guyana and Brazil.
The purpose of the video was to give a glimpse of what it looks like to cross over from Brazil into Guyana. But it did a little more than raise a few eyebrows: it raised a very serious question: are there security checks for persons traveling between Guyana and Brazil at Region 9? The answer is both yes and no. And I’ll explain.
The Region 9 border with Brazil is doubtless one of the world’s most porous borders. With the Guyana immigration center on one side of the Takutu River Bridge, and the Brazilian Federal Police and Immigration Center on the other, persons go and come on a daily basis without the need to stamp in and out of either country, and without the state security apparatus seeming to give a dime about it.
So why exactly is this? To answer this question effectively, we must examine it against the backdrop of the evolution of the Rupununi Savannahs. Before Lethem developed into the ever-expanding and growingly popular town that it is now, the Rupununi was an isolated hinterland community cut off from Georgetown and the rest of the world. It lagged behind in technological advancement and was more of a cowboy country. This in turn gave birth to the now world famous Annual Rupununi Rodeo.
From as far back as the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, there were only a few small guest houses and hotels, the oldest of which is the Takutu Hotel in Lethem. While most Guyanese had strong ties to the USA and Canada, and traveled there often, very few people from the coast cared to visit the Rupununi Savannahs or Brazil.
Through all of this, one country opened its doors to the people of the Rupununi: the friendly, peace-loving giant, Brazil. And returning the favor, the Rupununi opened its doors to Brazil. Consequently, many Rupununians have family in the neighboring municipalities of Brazil, and vice versa. People of the Rupununi therefore evolved to adopt a more Brazilian culture than the general Guyanese culture. Football is the game of choice in the Rupununi with several active football clubs, but cricket is hardly ever played. Many residents of the Rupununi can communicate in Portuguese, and “forro” is the music of choice when partying, although other cultural expressions have been gaining traction recently.
Due to the bad state of the Lethem-Linden trail, and the high cost of airfare between the Rupununi and Georgetown, residents of Rupununi depend on Brazil for most of the goods they cannot produce. These include food, clothing, and building material. People of the Rupununi have also adopted Brazilian cuisine, with farine being a staple in both Brazil and Region 9. Residents of the Rupununi are more likely to take a vacation in Boa Vista, Brazil, and further into Brazil than to Georgetown or Guyana’s coasts.
Given all of the above factors, the cultures of Region 9 and neighboring Brazilian municipality of Bonfim have become so intertwined that the government designated a “freezone” that extends into Brazil up to Bonfim and Normandia and in Guyana up to the Kurupukari Crossing. The freezone decree allows the free flow of traffic and goods between the two countries. This allows Brazilians to travel up to Kurupukari without needing to consult the immigration office, and Guyanese up to Bonfim.
Everyday, thousands of Guyanese and Brazilians use to the Takutu River Bridge to travel from one country to another, largely unmonitored. Security checks may be done occasionally, or when the police is trying to combat crime.