An intervention by former United States president Jimmy Carter has seemingly paved the way for long-awaited bilateral talks to be held between the government and the opposition, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo revealed yesterday.
Carter, Jagdeo speaking to reporters yesterday, called both him and President David Granger and there has since been a commitment by the latter to lead the talks with the opposition, instead of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, to whom the PPP had previously objected.
“I received a call from President Carter after he had spoken with President Granger and he said to me, ‘I spoke to the president and he said to me that somehow he had sought to engage the PPP and they did not like the interlocutor,’ which is Nagamootoo. So, I sought to explain to President Carter the reason why we didn’t want [Nagamootoo],” Jagdeo said.
Shortly after winning the 2015 general elections, President Granger offered to set up a committee to have unity talks with the opposition.
When Nagamootoo’s name was announced to head that government delegation, the PPP publicly said that it would not engage in talks with a team headed by Nagamootoo.
Nonetheless, Granger remained confident throughout the remaining months of 2015, expressing optimism that the PPP would put aside its grievances with Nagamootoo and get the unity discussions underway. However, the PPP held firm to its position and since then both sides have remained silent on the issue.
During his meeting with President Granger yesterday to discuss the appointment of the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission, Jagdeo said he told Granger of his conversation with Carter and related to him his party’s trepidations about Nagamootoo leading the government in bilateral discussions.
“The impression I got from President Carter was that in his conversation with the President, the President indicated that he was inclined to have talks with us, but we in the PPP were not so inclined because we don’t like Nagamootoo,” Jagdeo said.
“I pointed out to President Carter that it was not Nagamootoo that was the issue, it was our concern that we expressed that Nagamootoo doesn’t have any portfolio. He is a lightweight in the government. He would not be able to commit the APNU or the PNC to anything at the meeting. His portfolio, I went through what the elements of his portfolio are… we had a grave issue about Nagamootoo’s ability to commit the President and the PNC to any issue. If the AFC cannot secure a meeting in the coalition for itself, how would it even sit in an engagement with us and commit the coalition to any issue? And that was our concern and the president addressed that today,” he added.
Jagdeo said that given the go ahead from Carter to speak about their conversation, he yesterday told the President of the call and asked about the structure and issues that Granger wanted dealt with during the talks.
“I said, ‘Can you tell us precisely how we will address these issues? What exactly is it that you want to talk about?’ He said there are three things: one, it is the crime; two, the environmental issues, and three, oil and gas,” Jagdeo related as he explained that he also pointed out why the party wanted someone who they were guaranteed to get commitments from.
“He [Granger] said if you have a problem with Nagamootoo… ‘I myself will lead the talks.’ So I undertook to have a discussion with the party so we will decide whether we will engage in this and whether we want to add issues to the agenda,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo believes that “the international community was under the impression, including President Carter and the others” that government had “offered to talk about governance and constitutional reform” and the PPP had rejected it.
He said he wanted to make clear that it was never Granger’s intention to talk about governance or constitutional reform, while noting that the list given to him yesterday is evidence of this.
Jagdeo said he would discuss with PPP’s executive whether they will agree to Granger’s proposals and if they do whether they will broach additional topics. “I am not saying we are not going in. I am not saying we will not. I am saying we have to give the party the opportunity and time to discuss this and when or if we go into to those talks,” he said.
Former President Carter, 93, has had a long history of association with Guyana going back to the 1990s when he brokered sweeping electoral reforms between the administration of the late President Desmond Hoyte and the opposition. These reforms included counting at the place of poll and an expanded elections commission where the Chairman was selected on the basis of what came to be known as the Carter-Price formula.
Carter led a delegation of observers to the historic 1992 general election and was seen as managing to convince President Hoyte to concede that he had lost the polls and thereby preventing a tense situation from escalating.
Later the Carter Center aided with the crafting of a National Development Strategy which became mired in a stalemate between the governing PPP/C and the opposition PNC.
Carter visited Guyana again in August of 2004 to determine whether there was a prospect of reconciliation between the two parties under Jagdeo and then PNCR Leader Robert Corbin.
He left without being able to achieve compromise and in a press statement had pointed to entrenched positions.
He said in part on August 13, 2004 “Although my faith in the Guyanese people remains, it has been a sobering visit. Except among a few political party leaders, there have been almost universal expressions of concern about the present condition and future hopes of Guyana, based on a failure of political leaders to heal the incompatibility and animosity that characterize their relationship”.
He added “Instead of achieving this crucial goal of inclusive and shared governance, the Guyanese government remains divided with a winner-take-all concept that continues to polarize many aspects of the nation’s life. Most members of parliament are directly dependent upon and responsible to the political party that chooses them, and not to the people whom they profess to represent. There are only spasmodic meetings between political leaders, and publicized agreements reached during those rare and brief sessions have not been fulfilled. The promises of constitutional reform have been frustrated.
“Guyana is blessed with extraordinary human and natural resources, which President Jagdeo and other leaders are struggling heroically to utilize. However, there is little prospect for either substantial economic or social progress unless there is a truce in the political wars. No one party should bear the blame. The traditions and culture of both major political parties are deeply entrenched and have their roots in 50 years of fierce rivalry that denies the legitimacy of the other party’s concerns. This problem can be solved only with basic constitutional changes in the system of governance”.
Carter returned to Guyana in May 2015 to again observe general elections at the head of a team from the Center. He had to cut short the trip as he felt unwell. Later that year he was diagnosed with brain cancer which he has since recovered from.