By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
There is much speculation about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Guyana (September 18-19) that the trip is about (an invasion or military action against) Venezuela and an “October Surprise” – reference to an event that would help change the course of the American Presidential election – to favor Donald Trump who is trailing in opinion polls. Some are querying why the Secretary is coming to Guyana since none came after independence in May 1966. All the speculations are out of sync with the real purpose of the Secretary’s trip. It is to reward Guyana and the administration of the PPP for holding faith in democracy — accepting the will of the voters in free and fair elections.
I wish to welcome the Secretary – first ever trip by a US cabinet member to Guyana. The Secretary of State is third in line to the Presidency. Guyanese Americans I conversed with are pleased that the President is coming to their former homeland. They would like to see a cementing of ties between the two countries.
Suddenly, there is a lot of US Foreign Policy and Presidential elections experts among Guyanese including probably those who never studied foreign policy or know how the US President is chosen. Guyana will not be part of any October Surprise. Guyanese may help determine the outcome of the elections in Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Georgia, which in turn will determine the outcome of the Presidency and there wont be any surprises. (Five of those will likely go to one candidate as per polls and the other one to another candidate sealing the outcome – no October Surprise).
I believe Venezuela will be discussed in bilateral talks but not in terms of military action and or using Guyana’s soil for planned action. Rather it will come up in terms of human rights and Guyana should be praised for humanitarian response to the thousands of Venezuelans who crossed the border for survival. Even if the US were to ask for Guyana’s support to promote democracy in Venezuela, what is the problem? US restored democracy in Guyana. Should we not return same? Had it not been for US assistance in 1992, Guyana would have remained a dictatorship till this day. And had it not been US intervention on March 3 through August 1, 2020 Guyana would have become a dictatorship and there might have been a civil war or we would still be determining who won the elections.
For a little knowledge on politics, US Foreign Policy is a course taught in American Politics that is a mandatory sub-field (for PhD students) in Political Science. I taught the topic in American Government courses. The US Secretary of State conducts foreign policy on behalf of the President who is Chief Diplomat.The Secretary is the counter equivalent of Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister although they are not relative equals because there is no balance among two unequal powers. (Balance would apply in US relations with say Russia, China, UK, France, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and other big powers). The Secretary carries out the policies of the US government. He travels on behalf of the President meeting world leaders and or his equivalent to discuss issues that serves US interests. The primary objective is to bolster relations with the US and or resolves issues that hinders an improvement of relations or affect trade, human rights, democracy, et. al. This is done through a variety of ways – primarily using carrot and or stick approach. In the case of Guyana, it will be primarily carrots as there is no need to apply the stick because the new Guyana government is not belligerent or obstinate to want to be clobbered and has not (openly) opposed US geo strategic interests. The US Secretary stuck it out with Guyana during the five months ordeal to protect the vote resulting in the victory of the PPP over the rigging PNC.
To those who have short memory or are ungrateful and are suggesting that Pompeo is coming to town to take advantage of Guyana, is it okay for Guyanese to take advantage of America’s generosity and hospitality but not vice versa. There are more Guyanese in USA than in Guyana. So who is exploiting whom? Who provided a home to Guyanese during the 28 years dictatorship? Who restored democracy in Guyana in 1992 and 2020? Who fed (PL 480 program) Guyanese during the period of mass starvation and banning of basic foods? If America had not opened up to US, would the tens of thousands had gotten a tertiary education and employment to send over US$400 M annually in remittances from 1980s to now and permitted tens of millions of visits to Guyana during same period spending tens of billions of US dollars.
I remember very well the small group of us descending on Washington appealing for US intervention in Guyana to rescue the people from the dictatorship. Those of us who studied US foreign policy or international relations (like Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, etc.) knew that without US assistance, democracy would not be restored to Guyana. That is why our small group made that call since 1977 when we launched our Guyana pro-democracy movement in America, perhaps the only group that consistently called for closer relations between out two countries. It was Jimmy Carter, Congress and Bush Administration that restored democracy to the homeland.
Some talk of sovereignty. They don’t understand the modern meaning of the term. That is a relic of the decolonization period and right after obtaining independence, of the cold war Third World. It has little relevance today as countries have open borders. Globalization has shrunk sovereignty. At any rate, for small territories or weak countries like Guyana and others in Caribbean, there is no such thing as sovereignty. Legal sovereignty is meaningless in world of political realism. Today, there is shared sovereignty because of globalized issues and common interests. What happens in one country affects events in other countries.
Here are some points that I think should be part of the discussion by Guyana’s President and Foreign Minister and our representatives with the Secretary Pompeo, Assistant Secretary Kozeo, Ambassador Lynch, and the rest of the team all having to do with mutual interests pertaining to national security: military assistance to counter border threats and oil exploration; cooperation against drug trafficking, human trafficking, and money laundering; trade expansion (a free trade treaty so that our products can be sold in America and Guyanese in turn purchase American products); increased cultural and educational exchanges, base presence to deter those who may have designs on Guyana’s territory or to engage in terrorist activities or pose threat to democracy; widening the sanctions (and visa cancellation) net to include those who were involved in race violence in West Berbice; greater support for democracy including being a guarnator of free and fair elections; forensic assistance to investigate the three killings in Cotton Tree area; grant for economic recovery; combating high tech crimes including cyber security; modernizing Guyana’s security forces and their collaboration with USA; diaspora linkage in America; sharing of appropriate technology to combat cross border crime; establishing DEA office in Guyana; joint US-Guyana defense patrol on the border and on the coast.
I welcome the Secretary of State Pompeo and urge a deepening of our relations with America including joining in any effort to promote democracy in the greater region as well as in combating international crimes and to pursue an alliance with America to protect Guyana’s and America’s security interests.