(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto. The view expressed are entirely his own)
It is long past time for good sense to prevail in Guyana amongst the leadership of the APNU-AFC coalition that has been a caretaker government since the March 2 general and regional elections.
Without exception, the regional and international community has clearly indicated that the result of the elections – now awaited for four and half months – must be declared on the basis of a national recount of the votes that was scrutinised by a CARICOM team and observed by the Organization of American States (OAS).
Being entered into the Guinness Book of Records is usually for a remarkably deserving event. Guyana has now been inscribed in its pages for the unworthy event of having achieved the longest delay, in the world’s history, between an election and the declaration of a result.
The unfortunate, but obdurate, response of the APNU-AFC leadership has been to lash-out at everyone that has urged that they concede defeat, and allow the Guyanese people to move on, taking advantage of their newly found oil wealth that could transform the country from being the second poorest in the Caribbean to the richest.
It seems everyone is wrong but they. And the list is long. It ranges from the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, through the former Chair and present Chair of CARICOM, Prime Ministers Mia Mottley and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, two former Caribbean Prime Ministers, Owen Arthur and Bruce Golding, who led the Commonwealth and OAS Electoral Observer Missions, Sir Hilary Beckles, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and even the smaller countries of CARICOM.
The latter were accused of having populations “too sparse” to understand Guyana’s history, politics and nuances, or to “rightly tell us what to do or give us even proper guidance as to what to do.” Ignored in this false narrative are the facts that, apart from the coup d’état in Grenada in 1979 – and unlike Guyana – the countries of the English-speaking Caribbean have a proud history of free and fair elections and abiding peacefully by the results; they have also been the refuge for Guyanese who have been fleeing Guyana since the 1960s. Putting aside, the institutional treaty relationship of CARICOM, both on their own democratic record and their accommodation of Guyanese, CARICOM countries have a right to speak.
Whether ill-advised by their lawyers, or ill-instructing their lawyers, the APNU-AFC, using surrogates, have indulged in the worst form of abuse of the Court system to delay the delivery of democracy in Guyana. Guyana’s highest Appellate Court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), has pronounced authoritatively on this matter. As Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the current Chair of CARICOM observed in a “Personal Editorial on Guyana”, published on July 15 (and Dr Gonsalves is himself an experienced lawyer in Constitutional matters), “any attempt, however ingeniously clothed, to litigate all over again this or that matter upon which there has been a final determination or upon which the CCJ has pronounced authoritatively, is tantamount to an abuse of process of the court or is frivolous and vexatious”. In other words, democracy delayed is democracy denied.
In truth, Guyana has many friends and admirers in the Caribbean and beyond, and that applies to some of the leaders of APNU-AFC whose implacable positions have been cause for sadness. They would have preferred these leaders to accept the elections result gracefully and carry on their lives, political or otherwise, in dignity. They are astonished at the egregious rejection of democracy whose vicissitudes, at the will of the majority of their electorates, they have had to respect. In this regard, democracy in Guyana is not the exclusive domain of any political party; it belongs to the nation of Guyana and to the CARICOM region of which Guyana is an integral part.
No one, outside of Guyana, has any interest in one political party or the other winning the election. The only interest is in a credible election result and the peaceful transition to an elected government.
The situation in Guyana has become a political circus of tiresome ploys to hold on to power in a country that has not had a Parliament for a year and a half. The patience of the regional and international community has worn thin. Not surprisingly, action is now being taken in frustration over the recalcitrance of officials of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the caretaker government.
Those, in the leadership of APNU-AFC and others, upon whom the U.S. government has imposed visa restrictions because they “have been responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Guyana” have brought this upon themselves, as they have brought the humiliation to Guyana. The U.S. has not identified these persons; they will be denied visas when they seek to travel. The fact that, because of privacy laws, the persons have not been officially named, should be no comfort to anyone. It is the beginning of sanctions that will be graduated in proportion to further violations of democracy and the rule of law.
That the governments of Canada, Britain and European Union countries are contemplating similar action demonstrates that they have reached the end of the long rope they gave to Guyana officials to pull back from the precipice to which they took themselves.
The Permanent Council of all 33 member states of the OAS will meet on July 21 to consider the situation in Guyana. The matter will not end there, particularly as three of the largest OAS members, Brazil, Canada and the US, have now announced strong positions publicly.
The next step would be a ‘Ministerial Meeting of Consultation’ at which all member states could be urged to take actions, including sanctions, in accordance with their own laws and capacity.
The people of Guyana, who have shown remarkable patience, deserve freedom from the suffocating circumstances into which they have been plunged. And, any government that comes to office must honour the Guyanese people by delivering good governance and policies of equality and transparency that tolerate no form of discrimination.
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