Undoubtedly Guyana and the United States must each do their best to build friendly relations. At the same time, we ought to make an informed decision about the USA LEAD “democracy” project. What is democracy? What do we need to do to improve democracy in our society? Democracy starts with people voting for their government. In 2012 the voter turnout for the US presidential election was 57.5%; for the federal elections it was 53.6%. Our 2011 elections got a voter turnout of 75%. What can we share with the USA to help them get a better turnout? In the United States the presidential candidate who spends the most, wins the election. How can we ensure that we do not inadvertently adopt American processes and values which might lead to elections in Guyana also becoming “for sale?”
One of the most important features of a democracy is respect for the rule of law. In the 2014 Rule of Law Index, the USA is ranked 19, below Scandinavia and Western Europe. Why are we starting at number 19, and not with any of the 18 countries which are doing better than the USA? Norway comes in at number 2. The Norwegians have already engaged with Guyana on deforestation. Might NORAD be a better option than USAID on democracy?
A basic requirement of democracy is that a government must pass a budget showing how they will use the people’s money. We managed to get a budget passed recently even if the quality of debate was at times rather embarrassing. The USA has not passed a proper federal budget since 1997.
On the contrary the USA has perfected “pork barrel” politics by which taxpayers’ money is spent on special projects to benefit a small section of the population in order to get their votes. Under a previous Democrat regime, the American people paid about US$14.6 billion to relocate 3.5 miles of road for Boston drivers. Using public assets to benefit a political party or private interests is a classic form of corruption. We would have to take into account the fact that the USA is probably not the best teacher for us on this issue.
In a democracy, people have freedom. The International Centre for Prison Studies reports that we jail 284 out of every 100,000 persons. This is much higher than the median rate of 175 per 100,000 for South America. On the other hand, the USA locks up 743 out of every 100,000 persons. That is more than Russia or China or India or any other country. The American Civil Liberties Union calls the USA “the biggest jailer in the world”. This is not a good model to follow.
A fundamental element of democracy is respect for the inherent dignity of each human being. Ambassador Hardt has rightly spoken out against the evils of trafficking in persons (TIPs). In 2013 the Guyana Women Miners Organisa-tion (GWMO) rescued 29 women who were trafficked. GWMO are rightly recognised for their courage and compassion. But let us be realistic. Trafficking in persons is big business. In 2013 TIPs generated US$9.5 billion (G$1,900,000,000,000) in the USA alone. The USA does not have much to teach on this issue either.
James Madison reportedly said that, “popular government [i.e. democratic government], without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy: or perhaps both.” Before any decision is made about the LEAD project, the Guyanese and American governments should make all the project documents publicly available so that the average interested Guyanese citizen can read what the project is about. Then let us have an informed debate, seek the truth and build a national consensus.
In the meanwhile, let us not waste time and energy on fighting one another. Let us get on with our own democracy in a peaceful way and hold local elections.