‘Guyana: one democratic way forward’ 

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‘The inclusive power-sharing system established by the Good Friday Agreement (that President Bill Clinton saw as ‘a work of genius that’s applicable if you care at all about preserving democracy)’ was a landmark achievement that established a framework for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland’ … This is a highly partisan time in American politics, and there are very few issues, precious few, that are truly bipartisan. Defence of the Good Friday agreement and preserving peace on the island of Ireland is one of those few.  … and it’s not just among elected officials. If you were to survey foreign policy and national security experts, whether they are in left-leaning or right-leaning thinktanks, you would find the same consensus. Frankly this is just not a divisive issue in the US. It’s a settled one’ (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/10/why-joe-biden-is-so-invested-in-defending-good-friday-agreement).

Before President Bill Clinton came to the presidency in 1993, the USA’s involvement in Northern Ireland’s three decades of ethnic ‘trouble,’ was minimal. In order not to undermine or antagonize the region’s British overlords, US interventions consisted of carefully crafted comments and quiet encouragement towards peace. Upon Clinton’s arrival, important Irish-American figures, including those in the Congressional Friends of Ireland Caucus, raised concerns regarding sectarian intimidation and discrimination against the Catholic minority and Clinton began to take a more active role. 

The Irish times reported that the British government was ‘apoplectic’ at the prospect of Republican Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s president, being given a visa to visit the US  for this move signaled a major shift in US policy towards Northern Ireland and was also significant in moving the republican movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) towards the constitutional process. Adams was granted a second visa to fundraise and this made his party the richest in Northern Ireland. All these efforts lead to the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party becoming involved in the peace process and in 1995, Clinton appointed retired US Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Northern Ireland to support the peace process. In the same year he held an all-party investment conference at the White House and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania  in 1996, when Clinton restated stated his hopes for peace. 

George Mitchell played a critical role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement and his approach was based upon the so-called ‘Mitchell Principles’, preconditions to the negotiations including a commitment to nonviolence, open communication and democracy. The negotiations took nearly 2 years with over a year spent just outlining procedures and the agenda.  Given the intransigence on both sides, Mitchell was about to throw in the towel when Billy Wright, the leader of a unionist group who was strongly objecting to the peace process, was assassinated in prison by the IRA and violence escalated. Mitchell then set a firm deadline for the end of the negotiations and this was the turning point that resolved the conflict by establishing the GFA. 

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Historically, Guyana was treated not too dissimilarly. With its long institutional memory, the West knew that there is only one democratic solution to Guyana’s ethnic problem. Even before Sir Arthur Lewis, the father of shared governance, spoke in 1965, in 1861, John Stuart Mill had dismissed the possibility of deeply ethnically divided societies having representative democratic government.  As a result, since Guyana’s independence negotiations in the 1950s/60s the West has been periodically nudging it towards some kind of power-sharing arrangement.  In 2018, the British financed the attendance of a group of senior Guyanese politicians at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the GFA and the Carter Center has ad nauseam repeated its power-sharing recommendation.   

Perhaps the country was not sufficiently important for the West to invest substantial time and energy in promoting shared governance but this changed after the US/Venezuela debacle led to the extraction of substantial amounts of oil from Guyana. There is no way the political establishment in the West would encourage the development of an autocratic regime such as existed in Venezuela in Guyana. This would be even more unacceptable in America’s backyard today when President Biden, of Irish descent and who made a significant contribution to the establishment of the GFA, has defined his foreign policy in terms of an existential struggle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. The war in Ukraine has also made the entrenchment of autocracy in Guyana even less possible and some form of power sharing is the only means of prevent such a development.       

Needless to say, given its political context, the ethnically rooted and autocratically inclined governments in Guyana have all been without political virtues. The PPP with its present autocratic behaviour, including numerous unilateral, unstructured and possibly discriminatory handouts is doing precisely what democracy seeks to avoid. Of course, Guyana is not a ‘liberal’ but an ‘elected’ democracy veering towards authoritarianism and the PPP, with its present ‘lawful’ but highly amoral use of the public purse for campaign financing, has taken the dysfunctional political system to a whole new level! 

Therefore, recently for the first time the West has broken with its quietist tradition and has definitively called upon the political elites in Guyana to share power and establish a functioning liberal democracy. Generally, there is only one democratic way forward and now it has been specifically identified. Mr. Aubrey Norton appears to be echoing somewhat the realisation that politics today cannot be business as usual so let’s hope he doesn’t drop the ball! 

Even with the numerous manipulative, undemocratic tactics we are seeing on a daily basis, like the PPP, the Coalition cannot win sufficient votes from the other side to quell ethnic political alienation and dissension in Guyana. Last week I suggested that it makes a holistic plan with sensible goals and processes but to succeed and bring peace to this tumultuous land, the archaic majoritarian notion must be eschewed and that plan rooted in an equitable sharing of power by all the ethnic groups in Guyana. 

 

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