By Dr. Tara Singh
Up to Friday April 26, 2019 the relationship between the United States and Guyana was described as cordial by the US Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch. Scarcely had she the time to savor this relationship when she was struck with a thunderbolt; one of the prized United States’ policies to contain terrorism was cast aside by the PNC-run Parliament which seemingly chose “party loyalty” before the “fight against terrorism.”
On April 26, 2019, the PNC-run Parliament passed a resolution honoring the convicted terrorist Michael Seaforth, known as Abdul Kadir. The fight against terrorism by the US has dominated the country’s foreign policy since the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon terrorist attacks of 2001. The United States spends billions of dollars annually to protect its interests, including its citizens and property, both nationally and internationally, and this grievous act perpetrated by the Guyana Parliament was in defiance of this position.
Abdul Kadir and three others were sentenced to life imprisonment for having plotted to attack and destroy a major transportation hub, the JFK Airport in the United States. Kadir died on June 28, 2018 and was buried in Linden Guyana. The Kadir resolution has cast a shadow over the current relationship between the US and Guyana.
Ambassador Lynch has described that resolution as “insensitive and thoughtless,” and further indicates, “it demonstrates the National Assembly’s disregard for the gravity of Kadir’s actions.” The Ambassador wondered how the coalition-government MPs could honor a man “who conspired to kill innocent people from across the United States and around the world!”
The Government attempted to neutralize the situation by issuing a release in which it tries to rationalize its action by reference to a time-honored convention where tribute is paid to MPs for their contribution, irrespective of party affiliation. However, the government didn’t offer an apology for their reckless behavior. And speaking about convention, since when the PNC-led government is beholden to convention? If they really believed in Parliamentary convention, why didn’t they accept that 33 is a majority of 65? This has always been the rule, the practice and the convention for several decades.
The British Government also shares the American position. The UK High Commissioner, Greg Quinn states: “The UK shares the concerns of our US friends about the honoring of convicted terrorist Abdul Kadir…. Terrorism affects us all and we believe this action was inappropriate.”
The European Union delegation to Guyana expressed their surprise: “The EU Delegation notes with surprise the honoring of former MP Abdul Kadir in the National Assembly of Guyana and believes that eulogizing a person convicted of terrorist acts is inappropriate.” This distasteful act reverberates throughout the peace-loving world. The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Miami Herald, ABC News, France 24, Fox News, among other international news network carried this ugly story. The PNC had brought Guyana into disrepute with the Jonestown commune massacre in 1978, and now after 4 decades the PNC-led government has repeated history by rattling Guyana and the world with the Kadir resolution.
It seems that there is an emerging pattern of behavior by the PNC-led government. Bill R reminds us, for example, of the seeming lack of coherence in Guyana’s foreign policy. When the US Embassy was removed from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, the Guyana government voted against that American move. More recently, the Guyana government has failed to support a US initiative to recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of the people of Venezuela. With the Kadir resolution, the waters have become murkier. But apart from the PPP bitterly attacking the resolution, Bill R also notes that all the other political parties have gone into their shell. Likewise, civil society groups. If the government wants to play up to their Linden constituency with the Kadir resolution, then they had other options but apparently chose not to exercise any of those.
What is baffling is why the PNC-led government couldn’t evaluate or recognize the monumental significance that the US and other countries place on terrorism? The Guyana government had boasted earlier on the passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT) Act, which affects a significant segment of the economy. That Act was initiated principally to cut off the source of funds for terrorism. Under pressure, the Minister of Housing Valerie Adams-Yearwood stated categorically that she was instructed to read the motion by the Chief Whip. Who passed that decision to the Chief Whip? Is this another signal that the government is soft on crime and terrorism?
Surely, the MPs would have known about the daring attack on the World Trade Center (the symbol of capitalism and the financial center of the world) and the Pentagon (the symbol of the military might of the US) in which 2,996 people were killed and 6,000 injured. The enormity of that attack on US soil was second in gravity only to the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. And how could the recent New Zealand bombing of a mosque and the series of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, have escaped their attention in the process of developing this resolution? These attacks, as well as those on WTC and the Pentagon, are still fresh in people’s minds. To even think about honoring a convicted terrorist during this time of heightened anger and repugnance at terrorism, is to tell the world, “we, the Guyana Parliament, don’t care how you feel about the resolution, but we have a right to honor our MP for services rendered.”
Just imagine! If that plot wasn‘t averted, what might have been the level of destruction to life and property? The PNC-led government must understand that the United States of America takes a tough and uncompromising stance against terrorism. The fall of the WTC had dented the American spirit and challenged its security system as never before. The WTC is being rebuilt but the terrorist attacks are events in history that Americans will never forget. Every year America pays tribute to the those who have fallen (at WTC, Pentagon and Pennsylvania), and 9/11 has become a national institution. Do the MPs know that 27 Guyanese perished in the WTC attack? Guyana lost more people per capita than any other country in the WTC attack. What kind of message is the PNC-run Parliament sending to the Guyanese relatives of the WTC victims with their insensitive action in honoring a convicted terrorist?
I wonder if the PNC and AFC MPs chose to take the prior cordial relationship between the PNC-led government and the US Embassy for granted! It was Bryan Hunt, the former Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy, who dissuaded GECOM from conducting a recount of votes in region 8 at the 2015 regional and national elections, where the PPP lost by just one vote. Hunt acted like the Kingmaker. The coalition must also understand that Hunt is no longer there and that the new American Ambassador is a Trump appointee, who is committed to genuine free and fair elections, the rule of law, democracy, and a revulsion of terrorism.
The PNC-run Parliament probably felt that they would have gotten away with this (resolution) with just a few bruises, if any. They have made a serious miscalculation. A relationship not grounded in sound principle will not work. The US will not compromise on terrorism. This Kadir resolution has once again proven that “what the government says and what it does are poles apart.” There are other examples to support this position. The PNC seems to be developing a culture in which they do not care about public opinion? The President, for example, has had less than 4 press conferences per year. He disregarded convention and public opinion, when he unilaterally appointed the GECOM Chair, contrary to the constitution. The embrace of terrorists by the PNC government is well known. Blackie London, a known terrorist, was hailed as a “freedom fighter” and was draped in Guyana’s national flag.
A review of FB and other social media reveals that most PNC supporters agree with their government to honor Abdul Kadir, and they draw an equivalence with the case of Ronald Gajraj who was honored earlier by the Parliament, despite of allegations that he ran a death squad.
The situation between Abdul Kadir and Ronald Gajraj are completely different. Gajraj was not an international terrorist. Gajraj was not leaking information to any foreign government on terrorism and involved in indoctrination. Gajraj was the Minister of Home Affairs and was responsible to protect the state and its citizens. Gajraj was not a freedom fighter or an insurrectionist, who had been working with opposition forces to topple a duly elected government. One of the noted FB commentaries originated from a man who, along with others, stormed the Presidential Palace hoping to overthrow the duly elected government. He was sentenced to imprisonment for treason but was subsequently pardoned. Gajraj was not involved in fomenting civil strife and disturbance. The comparison therefore has no basis nor merit.
The fact is: Abdul Kadir was convicted by a federal grand jury on charges of terrorism and was given a life sentence. This is what the PNC operatives must address. Why honor a convicted terrorist? If the PNC-led government wanted to honor Abdul Kadir, why didn’t they do it privately at the PNC or the AFC General Council level? It will be interesting to watch how the PNC-led government will wiggle its way out of this political turbulence.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.