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By GHK Lall
Some Guyanese have been pressing the Hon. Vice President of Guyana to hold press conferences. He did, and I regret that he listened to those calling for a media moment from him. Because what viewers and listeners got was a spectacle, a performance, a one-man circus, and a show. I recommend that Guyana’s leader (let’s cut the nonsense about number 2) keep them as rare as he did before, for he more than made up in what I can only conclude was studied comedy and what turned out to be a jam session, with Guyanese getting all the spoiled jam on their hopeful faces.
For over two endless hours, this country’s leading political bobber and weaver, dawdled and meandered, drifted and shifted all over the place. If one is in the entertainment business, it was a laff a minute, as the Vice President weighed in with ponderous deliberation and all the delicacy of someone watching his every step, as he navigated around barbwire and minefields. As I engaged in the rare luxury of actually paying attention to him, I have this most basic of recommendations: lighten up, chief. Guyana is a friendly society, so there is no need for all the tenseness and careful parsing of words and phrases, as if it is going to let some cat out of an invisible bag.
If anyone were to ask me to sum up the Vice President’s press gala in a single word, I have just the word for them and how he came across: TRICKY.
I mean, this is a man who is a powerful leader, the most powerful around, and there he was tiptoeing around major issues like some thief in the night. The VP is in the man in charge of oil, but was stuttering, shuffling, and dragging out questions into long moments of eternity. Once the oil is managed right, then there is nothing to be worried about, skipper. He has to have that confidence in his body language, in his verbal vibes, in the high notes that he should have hit repeatedly and with great assurance. Instead, the VP gave every impression of one laboring under a great burden and at a funeral, too. For long moments, I though that it was some other Guyanese doing an impersonation of the VP, a worst case, down in the dumps, one.
Press conferences and media moments are not supposed to be triathlons, or something rising to the level of the torture chamber of a grueling endurance test, or one of wits and skills with people out to get a hated adversary. I get the idea from his public relations people and cheerleaders that the VP is among the most universally loved in this country for the great job that he and his president have been doing for Guyana. Hence, his palpable nervousness, his waxen look, his all but hunted appearance, relayed the unshakeable sense of a man on the run and constantly looking over his shoulder for fear of traps. This is what was most revealing about the VP during his 2-hour talk fest.
One thing I will say about this national leader is that he is what Guyanese would call a ‘real smart man.’ I agree. I watched as he slowed down the tempo of questions, how he repeated them over and over as though looking for concealed weapons, how he went off on tangents, and all in dogged efforts to distract the citizenry from the heart of the matters that came before him. It was dissembling and disingenuousness taken to heights that I have never been before.
When he did give answers of merit, they raised still more follow-up questions, which he was nimble enough to dodge by closing out those doing the inquiring. It was the power of the press turned on its head. The VP no longer lashes out at members of the press, he simply battens down and carries on as if they are not there, when he can’t make rings around the more assertive and enlightened ones. It is as if he is engaged in a monologue with himself as audience, like some lost and soliloquizing Hamlet in the middle of a filibuster, and while atop some grand castle in Pradoville.
Imagine that as soon as the nation’s leading oilman and mind (according to his mythmakers) heard about the renewal of the Liza-1 permit, he immediately went into the defensive, with streaky sword-fencing, building verbal fences, and what the American underworld labels as ‘fencing, meaning, dealing in hot property. What is going on here? How could this be, with something that is a showstopper and icebreaker for Guyana, like the Liza-1 Permit renewal. This man is Guyana’s Hon. Vice President of Oil, and he ought to know this thing backwards and in his sleep. The Yankee oil hustlers from Texas- a contradiction in terms, if there ever was one-had to be made to pony up heavy insurance (many billions), pay for our fisherfolks (some more sweet billions), and put those cleanup billions that Exxon likes to talk about keeping safe for us under full Guyanese control. Those are all environmental related and fall under the purview of the permit renewal. What we do with the billions is our business, since we are a sovereign power, and the Vice President its unmatched potentate.
When I weigh all this, I wonder why he made such heavy weather of the press conference. As always said, when business is done right, then one’s cup overfloweth with strength, firmness, and aplomb. None of that was on display in Monday’s press carnival. Are these real leaders, or what? Of course, having seen this kind of waffling and bluffing before, and the oil circumstances that made such necessary, it is no surprise that the VP took care of press business the way he did. Cheers!