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For decades Guyana has been on the watchlist of problematical democratic countries, largely because its ethnic configuration, inappropriate governance structure and nearsighted and overly opportunistic political leadership occasion intermittent political turmoil.
Over this entire period its people have been ‘taken for a ride’ and remained in poverty. For example, one must have lost one’s marbles to believe that having been dislodged from our truculent neighbour, who has the world’s largest oil reserves, the international oil giants suddenly – in this technological age – happened upon Guyana and found billions of barrels of oil and – with our own resources mind you – want to help us subdue that neighbour!
Located in its backyard as Guyana is, the United States of America has been a part of all of this. Indeed, at the end of the 19th century when the British attempted to claim lands in South America right up to the Oronoco River, the US invoked the Monroe doctrine and forced it to accept international arbitration. When in the 1940s/50s Guyana’s youthful leaders became somewhat adventurist, the US was there to see that they did not spread the Soviet contagion.
When they came to dislike the recent coalition government, we saw the back of it and the new Joe Biden democratic establishment, who knows precisely what took place in Guyana, is now warning the Irfaan Ali government not to get ahead of itself! In order to successfully traverse the present international system, it is useful to have some understanding of the international outlook of the current US administration.
A June 2021 Foreign Affairs article ‘The Emerging Biden Doctrine’ argues that the doctrine ‘focuses the United States on a truly grand strategy of fortifying the democratic world against the most serious set of threats it has confronted in generations.’
Coming to the end of President Donald Trump’s term, in February 2019 Brookings published an article that contextualized this point of view well. ‘At the heart of the new era of geopolitical competition is a struggle over the role and influence of democracy in the international order. … Recent years have witnessed regional and global power plays by Russia and China. Their international efforts are usually cast as moves to establish spheres of influence, but they are broader than that. Competition between great powers is over nothing less than the future democratic character of the international system. Both Russia and China, using different means and with different strength, seek to achieve three objectives: to develop military and economic spheres of influence in their regions; to weaken democratic institutions and norms that challenge their own internal legitimacy; and to diminish Western dominance of the international order.’
The belief is that what happens to democracy in America and other leading liberal democracies will determine the fate of democracy around the world, the response of the liberal democratic countries is inadequate and President Donald Trump did not set the necessary example. ‘A World Without American Democracy?’ (Foreign Affairs, 02/07/2021) claims that he was the first U.S. president to demonstrate contempt for the major requirements of a liberal democracy. ‘He attacked the media as “fake news” and “absolute scum” and called for his election opponent to be “locked up.” He invited his followers to commit acts of violence against protesting opponents. Throughout his presidency, he waged war on an independent judiciary, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, his own attorney general, the Office of Government Ethics, the civil service, and a host of other actors who refused to bend to his political will or sought to enforce the rule of law. Upon his defeat, he insisted that the election results were fraudulent and had to be overturned.’ Add to the above, his transactionist behaviour appeared focused upon friends as much as foes. Trump fawned upon autocrats and seemed rooted in the belief that China, the main competitor of the US, could be brought to heel by a trade war.
Briefly, the contention is that to confront the current challenge the Biden doctrine must deal with the threat from authoritarian powers that want to replace ‘the existing international system because its foundational liberal principles are antithetical to their illiberal domestic practices.’ Secondly that democracies must be able to adequately respond to global problems such as climate change, Covid 19 and general development and finally, the decay of democracy domestically, as seen recently in the United States, must be addressed. The Biden doctrine seeks to solidify and strengthen the cohesion and resilience of the international democratic community, to be an intricate part of the world’s democratic leadership in addressing transnational problems that cannot be solved nationally and will help to demonstrate that democracies can best deliver for their and the global citizenry.
What does this mean for an undemocratic and poorly led Guyana?