Best appointment to head GDF was welcomed by US – cable

President Bharrat Jagdeo’s move to sidestep senior officers in favour of Commodore Gary Best to head the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) back in 2007 was viewed positively by the US Embassy in Georgetown, which expected that it would strengthen relations.

According to an August 24, 2007 diplomatic cable sent to Washington by former embassy Charge d’Affaires Michael Thomas, although Jagdeo side-stepped four colonels in the GDF and promoted four others—Commodore Best along with Colonels Bruce Lovell, Andrew Pompey and Mark Phillips—the Embassy viewed the development positively. This was since all four of the newly-promoted officers received significant training in the US and were familiar with US joint operational methodologies.

The cable noted that Colonels Pompey, Lovell, and Philips all completed the US Army Command and General Staff College, the premier training environment for operational level leaders and staff officers. Best, however, had declined an offer to attend the Command and General Staff College since he was completing a law degree at the time.

“We will now work with officers who share a similar training background and, hopefully, a similar outlook on the U.S. /GDF relationship,” the cable, made public by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks said.

Jagdeo had angered some in the army as by promoting the four officers–Colonel Pompey never took up the position as second in command of the GDF as at the time he was serving for the UN in Cambodia and has not returned to Guyana since–to substantive colonels meant that then Colonel Lawrence Paul was overlooked to replace outgoing Chief of Staff Brigadier Edward Collins, while Colonels Linden Ross, Frank Bishpam and Gordon Benn were superseded.

The president had later defended his decision, saying he had acted in accordance with the Defence Act, which gave him the authority to appoint the Chief of Staff. He had described the elevated officers as members of a new team, which he said would lead the army into the future. He also said that they were bright and well respected.

Thomas indicated that Jagdeo’s decision to side-step more senior colonels caused some grumblings within the GDF and received mixed reviews in the media. He noted that some senior GDF officers complained to the press and others that Jagdeo’s move violated what they claimed was a long-standing tradition that the Chief of Staff be appointed strictly based on seniority.

“These officers forget that two of the seven Chiefs of Staff since independence, both appointed by PNC presidents, came from outside of the GDF entirely. Forbes Burnham elevated a Deputy Commissioner of Police to be GDF Chief of Staff and a few years later President Desmond Hoyte made the Director General of the now defunct Guyana National Service Joseph Singh Chief of Staff of the GDF. The four new officers are all solid officers and are well respected within the GDF,” Thomas, however, noted.

He also observed that the newspapers were filled with letters to the editor questioning the motives behind the move—many saw it as Jagdeo selecting and promoting only those officers who are loyal to him and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Thomas noted that PNCR leader Robert Corbin, speaking at a rally against the shake-up, had said: “I want to sound a warning to that gentleman… He is touching the wrong people… and now they are tinkering with the army, and I want to say to you, long time gone, short time left.” And then PNCR Chairman, Winston Murray, had told the rally that the party was willing to offer leadership to those Guyanese who might want to “come out to the streets and demonstrate to the government that they want them out.”  The “mass rally,” Thomas said, attracted only 300 participants, 200 of whom were delegates to the conference of the Guyana Youth Socialist Movement.

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