U.S. Southern Command has begun the annual “New Horizons” training exercise. This is an annual training and humanitarian exercise, led by the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) with partner countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, throughout SOUTHCOM’s Area of Operations. This year’s exercise will take place from May through in August in Guyana, a small, long-overlooked country on the northern coast of South America.
New Horizons comes at an important time and place; Guyana is at the center of regional geopolitics right now for two reasons: its neighbor and its energy future. ASP hosted an event and wrote about Guyana’s Energy Future in October 2018.
First, Guyana borders Venezuela, where economic collapse, political unrest, and a refugee crisis are combining to form a growing crisis. As Venezuela collapses, it will be important to ensure that neighboring countries do not feel repercussions as well.
Second, Guyana is poised to become the Kuwait of the Western Hemisphere: a small country with huge oil reserves. Within this year, an oil production consortium led by ExxonMobil is expected to begin commercial production of oil from Guyana’s offshore continental shelf. This oil production will transform Guyana. The decisions of the Guyanese government and the international community will determine if the oil is a blessing or a curse.
And, to combine these two pressing issues, the Venezuelan navy – which claims economic rights in Guyana’s internationally recognized waters – has threatened drilling operations that come close to the maritime border between the two countries. The U.S. has supported Guyana’s rights to its maritime territory and is supporting the country in an international tribunal that will adjudicate the borders.
Humanitarian exercises like New Horizons are an important part of taking the American message abroad; as U.S. military civil engineers build things important to communities and U.S. military doctors give needed treatment to local populations, they show American goodwill. There are few better representatives of American values than members of the U.S. military. They show that the U.S. military is a force for good in our hemisphere. And, as the U.S. military works with partner militaries, like the Guyana Defense Forces, they help to build important connections and increase the capacity of the force.
For the duration of the exercise, the American military will be based at Base Camp Seweyo, a GDF training base, which American military engineers will work to upgrade during their stay. U.S. military medical teams will deploy as a part of New Horizons – the first team was ophthalmologists who provided cataract surgery to needy Guyanese patients.
Military engineer teams will help build community centers and a women’s shelter at various locations around Guyana, including in the capitol city of Georgetown.
Throughout the Western Hemisphere, policymakers in Washington are focused on how competition from competitors like China and Russia are threatening American influence. Guyana has benefited from Chinese largess, as its new airport, financed by China, can attest. Even so, small scale, cheap exercises like New Horizons show how America can sell itself to the world as a force for good.
In the coming months, Guyana is expected to hold an election, part of which will determine the future of track of the country. Small public diplomacy efforts like this will help to give the public a positive view of the United States.