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…says current minister out-of-his depth, clueless
By Svetlana Marshall
Amid deep concerns in the conduct of Guyana’s International Relations, Opposition Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desir said it is imperative for the Irfaan Ali Government to clearly outline its national interest and by extension, its foreign policy.
During an exclusive interview with Village Voice News, Walton-Desir – a Legal Counsel with more than 18 years of experience in the practice of international law, public policy and administration – said apart from its position on Guyana’s territorial integrity and the protection of its sovereignty, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration has failed to outline its national interest from which its domestic and foreign policies have been developed.
Just 11-months in office, the PPP/C Administration, MP Walton-Desir says, has been exhibiting worrying signs. “I am concerned that the current Foreign Affairs Minister [Hugh Todd] seems to be out of his depth. We are seeing too many blunders in the handling of our international relations and that only happens when you have, frankly, a Minister that is a figurehead and decisions are being made elsewhere, only to be carried out by the Ministry,” the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister said.
In February 2021, the United States (U.S) Embassy disclosed that Guyana had signed an agreement to establish a Taiwan Office here – an announcement which not only came as a shock to Guyanese but signaled a break in the country’s support for the One-China policy. However, days later, the Government rescinded the agreement. By April, 2021, news surfaced that Guyana, in December 2020, was among 14 countries that voted against a resolution calling for concrete action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of the Durban Declaration Programme of Action. Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, though not indicating that Guyana may have mistakenly voted ‘No,’ was keen on pointing out that the “automatic generation of the vote as shown on the screen” is not the final official record of the meeting. However, UN’s Digital Library confirmed that Guyana voted against the resolution.
In June, 2021 Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy launched an attack on Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and then sitting Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dr. Keith Rowley over his comparison of COVID-19 vaccination approaches taken by Guyana and Trinidad, while President Irfaan Ali, by way of an order, re-imposed visa-requirement for Haitians.
“It appears as though because of the transactional nature of the PPP/C’s conduct of our foreign policy that these announcements are being made outside of Guyana and Guyanese have to learn about them from every other source other than the person or entity that is responsible for communicating this to us,” MP Walton-Desir said, while noting that the Government is “dangerously transactional.” The APNU+AFC MP said the PPP/C can no longer hide its true colours.
MP Walton-Desir said while there is no doubt that there was “regime change” in 2020, the change in the US Administration has seen a shift in position. In recent days, two U.S Congressmen- Hank Johnson and Albio Sires – underscored the need for all Guyanese, irrespective of their ethnicity to benefit from Guyana’s oil wealth.
MP Walton-Desir said “the racist” tendencies of the current administration have now moved beyond the borders of Guyana as she alluded to the case of the Haitians.
On June 22, 2021, President Irfaan Ali issued an Immigration (Revocation) Order revoking the 2019 Immigration Order – thereby, effectively removing Haiti from the list of countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to Guyana. The new order comes amid concerns about a well-organised Human Trafficking ring involving Haitians.
MP Walton-Desir said President Ali’s decision to impose visa requirement for Haitians goes against the spirit of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, in justifying Government’s position, said that Haitians are victims of Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling.
“In international relations one understands that you do not go to the draconian step without taking interim steps, so I keep saying that there is no evidence that this matter was raised at a bilateral level between the Haitian Government and the Government of Guyana,” MP Walton-Desir said while pointing out that consultations were held with Brazil and Suriname according to the Attorney General.
The APNU+AFC MP said that Haitians are not treated fairly when compared to other foreign nationals such as Venezuelans and Brazilians.
“Are you suggesting that Haitians are the only people who are susceptible or vulnerable to Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling? Because you will recall that we have over 20,000 Venezuelan Refugees in Guyana,” she said.
She added: “the Haitians are looking for a better life; they are fleeing from a country that is embroiled in turmoil at the moment. Then why is it that they could not have been accorded refugee status, in the same manner than we are according Venezuelans.”
MP Walton-Desir recalled that when former President David Granger had taken the decision to grant Haitians visa-free travel and a six-month automatic stay, it was the PPP/C, which had accused the then Government of bringing Haitians into Guyana to pad the Voters’ List ahead of the March 2020 Elections.
“If that was the mindset from four years ago, you will realise that, that is the paradigm that they bring to this, and that of course, completely erodes the reasoning that they are offering now,” she said.
The APNU+AFC Member of Parliament said Guyana is in need of a dynamic immigration policy. “…One of the prerequisites for our continued economic expansion would be a labour force – a well-trained, qualified, educated labour force that has the numbers to carry the national development that we need to see. So it is entirely possible, even at the level of the National Assembly for us to sit together and come up with an intelligent immigration policy. A well thought out policy that would see skills being attracted to the country,” MP Walton-Desir said.
She added: “It is not that every person coming must become a citizen but to attract skills, to ensure that the people are able to come, live, work, pay taxes and to be able to carry the economic development that we should see coming forth in another few years, given that we are now an oil producing economy.”