Playing with fire

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By Indranie Deolall

Last Wednesday, Guyana’s incumbent president David Granger serenely celebrated his 75th birthday with special invitees including core party loyalists and key government figures, before his smiling portrait in a huge banner that proclaimed “May God bless you with a life full of health, happiness and love.”

The bright, breezy outdoor area of State House was festooned with red, green and black balloons, in the trademark colours of The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) that dominates A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition. Gifts, music, treats, photographs, even a bit of dancing by the guest of honour, the tall, greying Brigadier, on the hardwood floor painted in the favourite garish hue that characterised this crafty former military officer’s first presidency. Then, on this day after several mysterious fires and suspected arson, bad news dampened the platinum commemoration and drew long faces from some of the attendees.

Spoilt the party

What started as a trickle of condemnation following the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) that narrowly defeated the administration in December 2018, became a flood of opprobrium pouring in by the end of the mid-July day that spoilt the party. It threatens to finally dislodge the masked septuagenarian and his desperate cabal from delusions of being benignly accommodated in illegal office, within the darkened corridors and dimmed halls of painfully shifting political power, more than four months after they knew the coalition had clearly lost its prolonged bid for early re-election.

The then much admired Granger came to office through a slim coalition majority in 2015, breaking a 23-year dreadful deadlock by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). But he has shuffled back and forth recently, displaying select amnesia and in open denial, offering his flawed narrative to angry supporters and demonstrators by unjustly accusing his main rival of widespread rigging, while ignoring the much-publicised crude attempts by compromised party and electoral officials to sharply swing the results in his favour. He has urged infinite patience by the traumatised populace also struggling with the twin threat of the rising COVID-19 pandemic and promised variously to abide with the Constitution, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-scrutinised Recount, and the elusive declaration from the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice, Claudette Singh.

Visa restrictions

Following months of warnings by resident and Washington-based officials, the closest superpower, the United States of America (USA) on Wednesday took initial action and announced visa restrictions on unnamed individuals undermining democracy in Guyana, in a long-awaited move that is expected to be joined by other upset partner countries, regional and international groups.

Caribbean News Global playing-_fire Playing with fire

At a briefing in the capital, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was blunt: “The Granger government must respect the result of democratic elections and step aside.” In a full statement that was released by the Embassy in Guyana, he warned “The events following the March 2 elections indicate that there are forces that have repeatedly refused to accept the will of the people at the ballot box. Guyana’s non-democratic trajectory is dangerous for its citizens and for the hemisphere as a whole. I hope that Guyana’s leaders understand what is at stake if they continue down this path.”

No preference for party

“This action is not about interference. It is to send a clear message of the consequences of subverting democracy and the rule of law, which poses a danger to us and our hemispheric partners. We have long said that we have no preference for a winning party, as long as it is selected through a free and fair electoral process that is credible,” he maintained.

Pointing out that an election winner still has not been declared, Mr Pompeo asserted, “All international observers of the (March) vote count agreed that the manner in which votes were tabulated departed from established procedures. They unanimously agreed that a result based on these procedures would not be credible. The Organization of American States and Caribbean Community concluded that the recount of votes, which concluded on June 7 and showed a victory for the opposition, reflected the will of the Guyanese people. Unfortunately, Guyana’s leaders have refused to accept this result.”

Rule of law

In announcing “visa restrictions on individuals who have been responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Guyana,” the Secretary of State, warned that “Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions,” recalling “In my public statements since the election I have been very clear that the United States stands with the Guyanese people and that there would be consequences for individuals who seek to undermine democracy.”

The US ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch, had stressed in a radio interview last May, “You don’t just get to call yourself a democracy. You have certain responsibilities as a democracy and to be a member of that democracy club, you have to adhere to those responsibilities; you have to adhere to democratic principles; you have to adhere to the bedrock of democracy, which is free, fair and credible elections and the rule of law.”

Hosting a related virtual press briefing Thursday, ambassador Lynch said the Embassy will notify guilty parties on the list, of the visa restrictions. US privacy laws prohibit her from releasing the identities and categories of individuals affected.

Canada using all tools

On Wednesday, Canada spoke up yet again hinting of more to come. “In the interest of the democratic rights of the people of Guyana, Canada firmly maintains that the rule of law and democratic processes must be respected and a declaration be announced without further delay. Canada will continue to work with its partners in the international community, using all tools at our disposal, to demand a swift and transparent conclusion to the election process and hold accountable those who prevent it.”

Earlier that morning, chairman of CARICOM, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves slammed attacks on leading figures of the regional integration movement which is based here. In a scorching statement, he thundered, “A rogue clique within Guyana cannot be allowed to disrespect or disregard, with impunity, the clear, unambiguous ruling of the CCJ (the Caribbean Court of Justice).  The time for decisive action is shortly upon us.”

Dangerous games

“The evil of the anti-democratic brigands must not be allowed any space to triumph,” he charged, recognising that “dangerous games continue to be (played) by a minority of persons associated with the political entity which has plainly lost the election” who “are literally playing with fire, commotion, disorder, and civil war.”

Dr Gonsalves adverted to the Venezuelan border dispute, saying, “We are in solidarity with the people of Guyana; we defend on an ongoing basis the territorial integrity of Guyana. Today, CARICOM defends democracy in Guyana; we defend the voters of Guyana; we are on the side of the angels in the stand-off between those who reject the people’s verdict and those who insist, properly, on its observance, recognition, formal declaration, and implementation.”

Small group seeking to hijack

“The entire world realizes that a small group of persons, in and out of Guyana, are seeking to hijack, in plain sight, the elections, and thus the country. Competitive elections deliver, necessarily, winners and losers. When you lose, you take your loss like a grown man or woman, and you move on peaceably to the role which the voters, in their collective wisdom, have assigned you,” the chairman said.

As pressure mounts on the beleaguered Granger regime to go peacefully, and with Guyana teetering once again at the crossroads of dictatorship and democracy, we should heed Dr Gonsalves’ reminder that: “The voices of all decent men and women of democratic temper must join in the denunciation and condemnation of those whose nefarious agenda is antithetical to everything that is good and honourable in our Caribbean civilization.”

*ID remembers a cutting commentary by the great Barbadian calypsonian the Mighty Gabby, who decried people spreading rumours, and sang, “big names, popular names” on “The List.”

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