Last week the Government of Guyana revoked the work permit of the head of the USAID Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project, Glenn Bradbury, for activities contrary to the immigration laws of Guyana. Since December last year the government had raised objections to the project, which had gone ahead nonetheless with the participation of the other stakeholders involved. The administration had criticised the US decision, and had said that it would not engage the US Embassy in discussions on the matter until implementation ceased – a position reiterated by President Donald Ramotar only recently. That notwithstanding, government did meet with US Ambassador Brent Hardt for discussions on the project subsequently, and it came as something of a surprise, therefore, when Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon announced the withdrawal of the work permit of the Canadian head of LEAD at his press briefing on Wednesday.
The project was launched in July last year in the presence of various parliamentarians from the three parties, including Ms Indra Chandarpal and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Frank Anthony from the PPP/C. Its larger aims were described by the US Embassy as being the promotion of understanding and consensus building within the National Assembly; greater citizen engagement with Parliament; civic education on local government; and greater civic engagement among women and youth. It was crafted with a view to implementing the objectives in the USAID Agreement for Governing Justly and Democratically which was signed between the Government of Guyana and the US Government in 2009.
The Guyana Government’s earlier objections had revolved around the claim it had not been adequately consulted – an allegation which the US strenuously denied. In any event, it might be observed that at the time of the launch mentioned above, the ruling party was very much represented, which is hardly suggestive of a project from which they considered they had been excluded at the time. In addition, since this came within the framework of the 2009 agreement, it would be inconceivable that the United States would omit holding full consultations with the government at various levels; any diplomat would know that that would be to damn the $300M project from the outset.
The government then made the accusation that the project would give funding to the opposition parties and also had the objective of amending the constitution, both of which were not surprisingly denied by the US Embassy. These criticisms constituted nothing more than propaganda, since clearly the first was not part of the budget for the project, and where the second was concerned, fundamental changes to the constitution simply cannot be accomplished through any project designed by an outside agency; the sections which might be in need of amendment require a two-thirds majority, which the governing party could thwart whenever it suited them.
That nonsense aside, what is the government’s real objection to LEAD, which so many civic groups have publicly supported? There may be different elements involved, the first of which is simply the obsession for total control. This is a project over which they do not have direct control, and they may feel that the opposition has more of an input in it than they are normally prepared to tolerate. Secondly, and most important, while the PPP/C may not be quite ready for a national election yet, they are still doing everything possible to avoid local elections, the outcome of which is at best uncertain, and could expose their decline in support. In other words, their own constituents would be more likely to register their discontent at the local level than at the national one.
For all of that they probably recognize that their best efforts notwithstanding, they may be obliged to call local government elections in the not too distant future, and as such, they would view the project’s civic education programme in relation to local government polls and women and youth as anathema. They no doubt genuinely fear that it would run counter to their time-honoured propaganda which is given its full expression prior to and during election seasons, and which owes everything to emotion and stereotyping of one kind or another, and precious little to rationality. The retention of power, as the governing party perceives it, requires adherence to time-honoured campaign methods.
In any case hovering in the background of the PPP mindset has always been a strong emotional antipathy to the United States, despite the fact that so many relatives of their constituents actually live there, and more pertinently, that the US played a critical role here in terms of the restoration of democracy in 1992. The new regional arrangements, however, with Venezuela (and Cuba) and its extended Alba and PetroCaribe connections, and beyond that, Russia and China, provide a context which causes Freedom House to feel altogether more relaxed and at home. It allows the ruling party to indulge once again their ‘back story’ of historical injustice at the hands of the US and UK, and their paranoia about history repeating itself.
This, at least, in an indirect way the party has been open about. “The PPP wishes to remind the US administration,” intoned a Freedom House statement sanctimoniously, “that Guyana has had a long and glorious struggle against foreign domination and dictatorial rule and can therefore do without being lectured on the elements of democracy and political leadership.”
More directly, perhaps, the statement also said that the project would not achieve its objective in its current form, “but apparently forms part of a much broader political agenda which could undermine the country’s fragile democracy.”
It is the regional and associated international context, perhaps, which gives the government the confidence to thumb its nose at the United States quite so publicly, and to be indifferent to the obvious argument that its objections to the project should have been addressed long before the launch. In his explanation for continuing in the face of government opposition, Ambassador Hardt said the programme had already been budgeted, contracts had been signed and deadlines had to be met. The US Embassy in its response to the news of the work permit revocation adverted to the 2009 agreement, and the fact that the permit had been rescinded “contrary to our understanding of the Government of Guyana’s commitment to review together the LEAD program and to the spirit of the discussions proposed by the Government of Guyana itself.”
Whatever the demerits of the project in the administration’s eyes, it is extraordinary that it would be prepared to act with perfidy in relation to it at such a late stage, and in the process bring relations with the United States to such a low point. Exactly what the consequences would be is hard to predict, and as we reported yesterday, those with experience in the diplomatic field had varying opinions on the subject. Even if nothing happens now, it may come back to haunt us in a different form somewhere down the line, when an issue really critical to this nation is at stake. Whatever the case, citizens have no cause to respect their government’s less than reputable handling of this matter.