The Ambassador of the United States of America to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Her Excellency Mme. Sarah Ann Lynch, is about to conclude her assignment in Guyana. Ambassador Lynch has been the most consequential resident American representative in Guyana in its history. The impact of her diplomatic work has surpassed that of all other Americans, with the exception of President Jimmy Carter.
Ambassador Lynch came to Guyana in March 2019, at a time of hope as well as significant challenges. A political coalition, APNU+AFC, had won the elections in 2015, displacing the PPP which had been in office for twenty-three years. The hopes of Guyanese soared when, shortly after APNU+AFC assumed office in 2015, ExxonMobil announced the discovery of oil in the Stabroek Block. Challenges emerged after a no confidence motion against the Government was successfully passed in December 2018. A political crisis had developed because the Government had not resigned, and elections were not held in three months as required by the Constitution. Ambassador Lynch presented her credentials in the month in which elections were due. As the month of March passed, it had become clear that democracy was unravelling.
While this situation is likely to have created concern in the diplomatic community, diplomatic protocol would have prevented the group, or the individual diplomats constituting it, from making public comments. In any event, comment had to await court proceedings which lasted for several months as the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the CCJ heard from the most distinguished lawyers in Guyana and the Caribbean about the complexities of calculating the majority of 65.
The elections were eventually held on 2 March, 2020. As election observers, members of the diplomatic community and, in particular, Ambassador Lynch, UK High Commissioner, Greg Quinn, Canadian High Commissioner Lillian Chatterjee and EU Ambassador Fernando Ponz Canto, visited various Regions to witness the voting at polling stations. It appeared that they were satisfied, until the tabulation of District 4 results at Ashmin’s Building at High Street. The Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo became ill, tabulation was suspended, and when it was resumed, the votes were being tabulated from spread sheets rather than from statements of poll as is legally required. The Ambassadors witnessed the chaos, confusion and protests that resulted. They were abused and insulted by the hostile crowd.
Once again, the Court intervened and ordered that the tabulation be conducted on the basis of the statements of poll. This process took place at the Kingston headquarters of the Elections Commission and the results were displayed on a dirty bedsheet so that it was not visible to observers of political parties. And it is here, it is believed, that the efforts of the diplomatic community began to be felt. While Ambassador Lynch’s colleagues must have played an important supportive role, it is only the United States that could have orchestrated the diplomatic dance that culminated in the rescuing of democracy in Guyana.
Three parallel processes were engineered. The first was Caricom’s intervention to secure agreement from the two contestants in Guyana, the APNU+AFC and the PPP, to recount the votes. The background diplomatic effort to place Caricom front and centre to recount the votes led by Caricom’s Chair, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who has since become an international star, in offering Caricom’s good offices to conduct a recount of the votes, after she would have consulted her Caricom colleagues, required imagination and political sensitivity. Four capitals had to be consulted and persuaded. Ambassador Lynch would have played an important role in orchestrating all of this. The legal challenge to the recount by an APNU supporter failed. The second stage was the many tense and persuasive conversations that had to take place with Guyanese.
The third stage was to secure the interest and involvement of the highest level of the US Government. It is not known what levels of authority that Ambassador Lynch had to surmount and what arguments she had to deploy to persuade her superiors at the State Department to take an interest in Guyana up to the level of the Secretary of State. The US eventually imposed sanctions on persons involved in the attempt to unlawfully hold on to power. This accomplishment would have taken a high level of diplomatic acuity generally but also to discern Guyana’s importance to the US and to persuade the US bureaucracy to swiftly to take a position. Time was always of the essence.
Ambassador Lynch was perceptive enough to understand the importance of Guyana’s oil to the US, which is now being recognized, and of securing a democratic environment in which one of its largest corporations, ExxonMobil, can operate. It was also necessary to protect US investment in the Atlantic Ocean from potential Venezuelan intervention, having claimed all of Guyana’s maritime space.
With the visit of US Secretary of State, the signing of the shiprider and investment agreements, the total alignment of Guyana’s foreign policy with that of the US is now complete as subsequent events have made this now evident. Ambassador Lynch’s role in saving democracy in Guyana would remain her enduring legacy long after she has departed these shores. Guyana wishes her good fortune.