Aug 30, 2011 News
– Chinese-built convention centre described as white elephant
The US had found it ironic that a senior government official, Dr. Roger Luncheon, sought emergency eye care in that country although actively encouraging Guyanese to visit Cuba for treatment.
According to one Georgetown Embassy cable released on whistle-blower website, Wikileaks, the then Ambassador Roland Bullen in 2006 also described the Chinese-built International Convention Centre at Liliendaal as a white elephant.
The cable was sent on June 29th, 2006 to the Secretary of State, Washington DC.
Bullen also complained in the cables that the US was not getting the media coverage from its financial assistance to Guyana, unlike the wide coverage given to the Chinese and Cuban “gifts”.
The Wikileaks cables, as they are known, since being released by the website last week, have been making their rounds in the local media, allowing Guyana a view of the US’ feelings about Guyana on a number of critical issues and events.
Like other released cables from embassies around the world, insights in some instances showed exasperation by the US Diplomats of some local officials.
Shoddy Chinese gifts
According to this particular cable, Ambassador Bullen indicated that Guyana had been receiving various high-profile gifts from countries pursuing diplomatic objectives, most notably Cuba and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
“Despite initial fanfare and high-profile media attention, however, many of these offers are proving ill-placed, shoddy, or unsustainable. U.S. aid has a greater impact, but struggles to win the public relations battle with such “gift diplomacy”.”
It was evident from the cable that the local US Embassy had been uneasy with Guyana’s relationship with Cuba.
“The most visible “gift diplomacy” efforts have been Cuban eye care and science scholarships. Letters to newspapers from patients in the program frequently praise the effort. Nevertheless, several recent news stories have begun to chip away at the image of Cuban largesse.”
Bullen noted that the independent Kaieteur News reported in early June 2006 that as many as 500 Guyanese eye patients have yet to recover from surgeries performed in Cuba the year before. Some had to perform surgeries again locally to correct what the Cuban doctors did.
“The irony was not lost in Guyana when Dr. Roger Luncheon (Head of the Presidential Secretariat and President Jagdeo’s deputy) recently sought emergency eye care in the U.S. rather than Cuba.”
Bullen also reported to his head office that a Guyanese student in Cuba had his scholarship suspended at the Government of
Guyana’s request – because of doubts regarding his parents’ political loyalties.
“The response to a new batch of Cuban scholarships announced in February has been underwhelming. Local media report that few Guyanese students have signed up for these scholarships, more than 300 of which remain unfilled. President Jagdeo urged more students to apply during a recent campaign visit to the Corentyne region.”
Regarding the convention centre, the US Embassy in 2006 pulled no punches.
“The PRC (China) funded the most recent addition to the Georgetown skyline, a US$5M convention center. The Chinese laborers brought to Guyana to work on the project completed their work in late 2005. Since then, the Office of the President (OP) has held several high- profile events there, which have been near-fiascos due to a various technical difficulties.”
According to Bullen, the kick-off of the national Information Communication Technology (ICT) strategy in March 2006 was delayed nearly two hours because the audio-visual system did not work.
“Local staffs were observed feverishly trying to change the display on the main hall’s monitor, the instructions for which were written in Chinese. Complicating matters further, the convention center’s electrical outlets are designed for Chinese plugs. A problem with the air conditioning system during the Presidential Summit on Private Sector Development in May left the VIP audience sweltering.”
Later that year, a problem with the lighting at the convention center forced the government to move the June 19 meeting of Rio Group trade ministers to the Japanese-built CARICOM Secretariat building located next door.
“The OP (Office of the President), which operates the convention center, has told Post (Embassy) that it is currently holding off scheduling any more events there, citing a lack of furniture in most of the break-out rooms.”
Regarding the lack of media coverage, the Ambassador was unhappy.
U.S. aid to Guyana, he pointed out, focuses on areas such as improving democracy and governance, spurring exports and economic growth, and preventing and treating HIV/AIDS.
“Bilateral assistance will total about US$30 million in 2006 — over 3 percent of Guyana’s GDP. Broad debt relief packages over the past two years have also provided a massive boost. All of these programs generate tremendous benefits for Guyanese, but fail to garner the same headlines or Government of Guyana (GoG) appreciation as Chinese or Cuban “gifts” do.”
The cable said that GoG accepts their (Cuba and China) dollar diplomacy with open arms and not a trace of concern about their (Cuba and China) repressive regimes.
“On the other hand, the GoG greets assistance from the U.S., Canada and Europe assistance simply by asking for more. Despite extremely limited PD (Professional Development) resources, Post has taken steps to counteract this with enhanced publicity for U.S. aid programs.”
The cable was titled “Buyer Beware: The Perils of Gift Diplomacy in Guyana”.
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