Norton’s statements on foreign policy irresponsible

Dear Editor,

Permit me please to respond through your newspapers, to an article in the Kaieteur News dated February 7 captioned ‘Guyana’s foreign policy is in a mess -Aubrey Norton.’ It is not very often that I respond to articles in the newspapers and indeed in the media in general since I value very much freedom of the press and whenever it appears, constructive criticism. However, it will be a dereliction of duty on my part if the aforementioned one goes unanswered.

Let me at the outset indicate that I reject completely this irresponsible and uninformed statement by Mr Norton with respect to the status of Guyana’s foreign policy. Notwithstanding his association with the Foreign Ministry in the past, Mr Norton is not the only one that understands foreign policy, even if he would want the public to believe so. To accuse the current PPP/C administration of not understanding foreign policy is just a demonstration of denial of the facts but maybe moreso a pitch to urge consideration by the powers that be to allow him to return to the hallowed halls where lawmakers meet.  But lest it be forgotten, let me remind Mr Norton, that it was during this PPP/C administration’s tenure that Guyana received kudos for many foreign policy initiatives. Perhaps leading these will be the successful settlement of the maritime boundary dispute with Suriname. He should know that this is the only border issue that was settled since Guyana’s independence and it was a foreign policy decision of the PPP/C administration to take that matter to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

It was under this administration, that the Norwegian Government, hitherto not having any strong bilateral ties with Guyana, signed an agreement on forests from which we benefit today. This agreement was in recognition of Guyana’s groundbreaking Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Guyana is also the beneficiary of a Tropical Forest Protection Project under an agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany. It was under this administration that no other than the then President of Guyana Bharrat Jagdeo was named a ‘Champion of the Earth.’  It was under this same PPP administration that the Takutu Bridge was built, physically linking Guyana with Brazil.  Notwithstanding his utterances about Caricom, it was this PPP/C administration that finally honoured Guyana’s obligation under the Headquarters Agreement of 1976 to provide   “permanent headquarters premises” to “include a suitable and adequate building for the Secretariat.”

And yes, it was under this PPP/C administration that Guyana’s economy recorded positive growth for many years and brought Guyana back to a respectable place in the international community, where we can speak with our heads held high because we live in a democratic society where elections are free and fair. These could not have been achieved if, as Mr Norton claims, the government had “no understanding of foreign policy.”  Mr Norton must be suffering from a hitherto unknown condition which I must regard as selective amnesia.

Concerning his comment about the New Global Human Order, Mr Norton might not be aware that the Secretary General of the United Nations convened a meeting last year to discuss the issue of “Equity” where I was invited to speak. This meeting was a direct result of the work done by Guyana at the United Nations and supported by other member states of the international community on the NGHO.  Since he regards himself as Guyana’s foreign policy expert, he cannot be excused for not knowing that fact. Indeed the issue of equity, long spoken about by former President Cheddi Jagan and adumbrated in the NGHO, is now at the centre of many international debates, since it has been recognized that growth without equity is unsustainable.  His comment on the LCDS and the NGHO is therefore unfortunate; the two are not mutually exclusive.

Concerning his declarations on the Economic Partnership Agreement, yes, we made a lot of “noise” about the EPA and we have no regrets. We stand by the principled positions we took then and we have been vindicated.  It was this “noise” that resulted in the Europeans agreeing to a five-year review of the EPA and Guyana finally signing the agreement. Once signed, Guyana was one of the first countries to put in place the necessary legislative and administrative measures required under the EPA, including the ratification of the agreement and the tariff liberalization measures. This is contrary to Mr Norton’s outburst about this government not taking any action to benefit from the EPA. It will do Mr Norton well to check where other Cariforum countries are at in this regard. We continue to put in place other measures to fully benefit from the agreement where possible.  I would have expected that whether in or out of parliament, the former MP would be following these developments.

I have noted his comment “One time we are with Unasur, next time it is with Caricom, and we are all over.”  Such a statement is unexpected from someone who as a former member of parliament voted for the ratification of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) Constitutive Treaty when it was being considered in parliament in 2009.  At that time, I had said that Guyana sees our membership in Unasur as complementary to our membership in Caricom.  The Government of Guyana also ensured that Guyana commitments as these relate to Caricom were preserved in the Unasur Treaty.   These are two integration mechanisms that are both beneficial to Guyana and do not collide.  I don’t think there is any right-thinking person that would suggest we should not be a member of Unasur while we are a member of Caricom.  Indeed, it was Mr Norton who said in his presentation in parliament “Mr Speaker, the People’s National Congress Reform, has no problem with this in principle. We believe Latin American integration is critical …”   I can only imagine that something serious has happened which created  a “mess” with his memory.

On Mr Norton’s assertion that “Guyana cannot produce diplomats by keeping foreign service officers at home,” I agree that there must be a good balance in terms of the time officers spend abroad and at home while considering the resources of small states like Guyana.  However, this comment appears to suggest that we only keep FSOs in Guyana. I therefore wish to repeat, as I have done in the National Assembly, that within the last 18 months we have posted officers to Brazil, Suriname, Venezuela,  Washington, New York, London, Barbados and South Africa, and reposted others to Georgetown. Being posted is just one aspect of a diplomat’s career grounding and development.  Our diplomats are constantly exposed to local and overseas training as well.

Finally, with respect to his comment about my competence, I am not unaccustomed to him questioning my competence but that I leave for others to judge. Suffice it to say I remain a member of the cabinet and the National Assembly.  Unfortunately, Mr Aubrey Norton is turning his wrath and bitterness towards the wrong entity.  Certainly we are not responsible for him remaining in the wilderness. Indeed, I was tempted to sympathise with him but his utterances have confirmed how far removed he is from reality and vindicated the decision that was supposedly made.

Yours faithfully,

Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett

Minister of Foreign Affairs

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