Ex-ambassador felt US was losing PR battle to Cuba, China on assistance

Former US Ambassador Roland Bullen had complained about the amount of publicity that gifts from Cuba and China, which he labeled “ill-placed, shoddy and unsustainable,” attracted, compared to aid from the US, which he said had greater impact.

Bullen, in a June 29, 2006 diplomatic cable, released via WikiLeaks, criticized the Cuban eye care programme and the International Convention Centre, which was a gift from the People’s Republic of China. He noted that while gifts from these countries received a lot of publicity, the government greeted assistance from the US, Canada and Europe by asking for more.

Guyana, like many of its Caribbean neighbours, was receiving various high-profile gifts from countries pursuing diplomatic objectives, Bullen had noted. “Despite initial fanfare and high-profile media attention, however, many of these offers are proving ill-placed, shoddy, or unsustainable U.S. aid has a greater impact, but struggles to win the public relations battle with such “gift diplomacy,”” he said.

According to Bullen, US aid to Guyana focused on areas such as improving democracy and governance, spurring exports and economic growth, and preventing and treating HIV/AIDS. He said that bilateral assistance “will total about USD 30 million in 2006 — over 3 percent of Guyana’s GDP.”

“Broad debt relief packages over the past two years have also provided a massive boost.  All of these programs generate tremendous benefits for Guyanese, but fail to garner the same headlines or GoG [Government of Guyana] appreciation as Chinese or Cuban ‘gifts’ do,” he complained.

Bullen said the Guyana government accepted Cuba and China dollar diplomacy with open arms and not a trace of concern about their repressive regimes.

“[On the other hand] the GoG greets assistance from the U.S., Canada and Europe  simply by asking for more,” he said, while adding that the embassy had taken steps to counteract the publicity those countries received with enhanced publicity for US aid programs.

Bullen had noted that the most visible of the “gift diplomacy” efforts at that time was the Cuban eye care and science scholarships. He had noted that letters to newspapers from patients in the program frequently praised the effort. “Nevertheless, several recent news stories have begun to chip away at the image of Cuban largesse,” he had pointed out. He made mention of a report in the Kaieteur News, in which it was stated that that as many as five hundred Guyanese eye patients were yet to recover from surgeries performed in Cuba the previous year and that some had even undergone surgeries locally to correct what the Cuban doctors did.

“The irony was not lost in Guyana when Dr. Roger Luncheon (Head of the Presidential Secretariat and President [Bharrat] Jagdeo’s deputy) recently sought… emergency eye care in the U.S. rather than Cuba,” Bullen noted.

The former ambassador had said also that the response to a new batch of Cuban scholarships announced in February of 2006 had been underwhelming, with local media reporting that few Guyanese students signed up for them, and with more than 300 them remaining unfilled.

Meanwhile, Bullen said that China had funded the most recent addition to the “Georgetown skyline, a USD five million convention center.” For that project, he said the Chinese labourers brought to Guyana to work on the project completed their work in late 2005.

“Since then, the Office of the President (OP) has held several high- profile events there, which have been near-fiascos due to a various technical difficulties,” he reported.

He mentioned that the kick-off of the national Information Communication Technology (ICT) strategy in March of 2006 was delayed nearly two hours because the audio-visual system did not work. Further, local staff were observed “feverishly trying to change the display on the main hall’s monitor, the instructions for which were written in Chinese. Complicating matters further, the convention centre’s electrical outlets are designed for Chinese plugs.”

There was also the problem with the air conditioning system during the Presidential Summit on Private Sector Development in May of that year, which “left the VIP audience sweltering.”

And in June of 2006, Bullen noted, there was a problem with the lighting at the convention centre that forced the government to move the meeting of Rio Group trade ministers to the Japanese-built CARICOM Secretariat building next door.

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