Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution was invoked by Minister Gail Teixeira during last week in response to the call of US Congressmen Albio Sires and Hank Johnson for more political inclusion in Guyana and for the country’s wealth to benefit all of its citizens. The event was a Congressional hearing on “The Biden Administration’s Efforts to Deepen US Engagement in the Caribbean” by the Western Hemisphere Congressional Sub-Committee chaired by Congressman Albio Sires. He said: “I am glad we are holding this hearing to talk about a region that is too often overlooked. The countries of the Caribbean are among our closest neighbours, yet we often frequently fail to pay enough attention to this region.”
Guyana has grown increasingly important both as a petroleum producer and as a neighbour of Venezuela, with hostile designs on Guyana’s territory and maritime space. This threatens the stability and security of Guyana, the Region and a major US investment by ExxonMobil. It is no surprise, therefore, that these factors, combined with Guyana’s historic political instability, on full display last year, deteriorating as it often does into ethnic violence, would attract special attention at the hearing.
Chairman Sires, who visited Guyana last year, said “we should work to ensure that the proceeds of oil revenues benefit the entire population….we want to engage all actors in Guyana, including businesses, civil society, the current government, and the opposition, to advance inclusive economic growth.” Congressman Hank Johnson was even more expansive. He said: “Guyana’s wealth is for all the people of Guyana, irrespective of their ethnicity. I urge the current government and leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly to work together towards further strengthening Guyana democracy and building a more inclusive nation.” He pledged his continuing support in the face of the “devastating challenges” of the floods and COVID-19, as a “longtime friend of Guyana” to work with international partners to support Guyana.
Guyana knows that there are three separate branches of the US Government, two of which directly impacts Guyana, namely, the US Congress and the US Executive. They may or may not agree. For example, during the electoral crisis last year when the US Government was deeply involved in ensuring a democratic outcome of the elections, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, in an interview with Rickford Burke, called on the US Government not to interfere in the internal affairs of Guyana. While I am not familiar with the details of how these two branches of government relate to one another, I am sure that the US State Department would have an eye on Congressional opinion in considering policy options, even though they are completely independent from each other.
Without any debate or discussion, Guyana’s foreign policy has been re-aligned in dramatic ways, to those followed by the US State Department. If Guyana is serious about its relations with the US, it needs to pay equal attention to what the US Congress says as it does to the concerns of US foreign policy.
The Congressmen are clearly concerned about the Government and Opposition working together, equality of opportunity regardless of ethnicity, building an inclusive nation and consultation. They are prepared to give their weight to assist Guyana out of its current problems of flooding and COVID-19 and to place it firmly on the rod to democracy. The Government’s responses, through Minister Teixeira, covered the known talking points, namely, that resources are equitably distributed, but that it was the APNU+AFC administration that was guilty of discrimination in the dismissal of 1,972, Amerindian community officers and 7,000 sugar workers, thereby affecting the livelihoods of 30,000 persons.
Ms. Teixeira said that the Government believes in and is committed to Article 13 which speaks to the principal objective of Guyana’s political system being an inclusionary democracy and Guyana’s performance since August 2, 2020, proves this. As regards the Opposition, Ms. Teixeira said that the Government will work with it when it recognizes the legitimacy of the Government while noting that such recognition is not a constitutional requisite for dialogue.
Article 13 provides that the “principal objective of the political system” is to “establish an inclusionary democracy” by “providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State.” Three questions need to be asked: What has the Government done since August 2020 to establish inclusionary democracy as the principal objective of the political system? Does APNU+AFC qualify as a legitimate organization of citizens? Is there a qualification in Article 13 for organisations to recognize the legitimacy of the government as a condition for the Government fulfilling its constitutional responsibility?
I would like to end by asking two further questions: Does the Government believe that the very low vaccination rate in Region 10 is a serious threat to the residents and to the country as a whole, having regard to the fast spreading and deadly Delta variant? Does the Government not believe that a large-scale inclusion of APNU+AFC in the anti-vaccination campaign generally, and particularly in Region 10, will save many Guyanese lives?
Guyana would be unwise to ignore the views of the US Congress just as it feels it would be unwise to ignore the views of the US State Department.