Several factors helped bring about independent Guyana’s first democratic elections

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to your editorial titled `October 5’ (SN Oct 8) commenting on the struggle for the restoration of free and fair elections on the occasion of the 25th anniversary since independent Guyana held its first democratic elections.   Your assessment that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism (both of which happened in 1989) were key factors in the holding of democratic elections is correct. But they were not enough to trigger free and fair elections in Guyana. A push was needed. As is well known, in the Guyana context, the PNC dictatorship was in no mood for holding democratic elections in 1990 and proceeded to announce a date for what was expected to be another rigged election. A threatened boycott of the poll and pressure from the US forced the PNC dictator Desmond Hoyte to abandon the plan to proceed with a rigged election. Hoyte agreed to carry out political reforms that would lead to free and fair elections.  And while the preceding factors, including those mentioned in your editorial, were critical in forcing Hoyte to cave in to demands for democratic elections,   no single factor (on its own) can be credited for Guyana experiencing free and fair elections following 28 years of electoral fraud.  Several factors, all inter-relatedly, helped to bring about independent Guyana’s first democratic elections.

You did give credit to the international struggle waged by the diaspora, particularly in the US, in lobbying democratic governments and international organizations (political and NGOs) in helping to bring about a free and fair election in our homeland.  In the diaspora, groups and individuals, including myself, carried out a relentless lobbying effort of Members of Congress in the US, Presidents, and other American politicians to apply pressure on Hoyte to free up the politics of the nation. The US would probably not have acceded to our demands had the Cold War between the US and USSR still been in effect.  Since there was rapprochement between US and USSR, as a direct result of glasnost and perestroika introduced in USSR and the eastern bloc, the US felt comfortable in allowing a leftwing government to come to power if that was the voters’ desire. The US Administration was no longer going to support the PNC in Guyana to keep out the PPP. The US trusted Gorbachev’s new politics of global cooperation, and Presidents Reagan and George Bush Sr. publicly stated that Gorbachev was a man they could trust and with whom they would oblige favours.

Aside from the above factors, eminent legal luminary Ralph Ramkarran added a different factor, previously unknown, that he felt played a role in the return of democratic elections  in Guyana. In New York on October 8, at a lecture to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Guyana’s first democratic elections, the respected Senior Counsel indirectly linked the anti-communist struggle (by the US backed Contras)  in Nicaragua to free and fair elections in Guyana. The US was funding the Contras against the communist Sandinista government that was supported by the USSR.  Both the US and USSR wanted to end that costly civil war that was a drain on both their treasuries.  As explained by Ramkarran, President Bush (Sr) and Mikhail Gorbachev came to an agreement that Nicaragua would hold free and fair elections.  It was suggested that Gorbachev may have pressured the Sandinistas to hold democratic elections and the Sandinistas acquiesced since they were convinced they would win; the Sandinistas lost.  Following that agreement,  Dr. Jagan wrote to Bush arguing for free and fair elections here. It is not clear if there was an agreement between Bush and Gorbachev for Guyana to hold free and fair elections. But it was long accepted by the international community that Guyana, under the PNC dictatorship, was an almost client state of the US responding to the dictates of Washington. Bush no longer had the appetite for the Guyanese dictatorship having been urged by key members of the US Congress to end support for the PNC dictatorship.

The US Embassy in Guyana and the Carter Center in Atlanta were closely tied to efforts to hold free and fair elections; the Carter Center also played an important role in democratic elections in Nicaragua. The US provided a lot of funding to guarantee a free and fair election in 1992 — which was a direct contradiction of its position after 1966 when it encouraged (and worse funded) electoral fraud and or closed its eyes to same.

Hoyte, like Daniel Ortega in Nica-ragua, gambled on free and fair elections as instructed by their sponsors (US and USSR respectively) convinced they would win. They both lost. It is almost impossible to decipher what was the key or determining factor (or rate each factor) that triggered the restoration of democratic rule in Guyana. One must not underestimate the importance or underrate the value of any factor that caused Hoyte to cave in to US demands to hold free and fair elections on October 5, 1992.  Global events (like the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of communism, agreements between Gorbachev and Bush, etc.) and lobbying the US administration by the diaspora as well as other global efforts by Guyanese abroad all contributed to the country experiencing its first democratic elections.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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