Jan 12, 2014 Letters
While flicking channels during the tiresome incessancy of commercials, I caught Dr. Henry Jeffrey being interviewed on NCN. I don’t look at NCN; only when flicking through channels. What I heard Dr Jeffrey said was not only surprising, but alarming. I hope Dr. Jeffrey, for the sake of his academic credibility, clarifies what he meant because three times during the interview he said it
When asked if it is not a contradiction that Dr. Roger Luncheon is invoking the sovereignty of Guyana in rejecting the continuation of the democracy project by the US, but the PPP went and solicited the help of the US during the government of the PNC, Dr. Jeffrey said the two things are different
He said back then, Guyana was an authoritarian system and did not have free elections. Let me repeat, three times he said that the sovereignty issue back then is not the same now in 2014. He was unambiguous in his interpretation that under rigged elections, it was politically correct for the PPP to ask for US help. He went on to add that he is uneasy with the US insistence of continuing the democracy arrangement in a sovereign state where the government has rejected the programme.
In other words, if you have to analyze what Jeffrey meant it goes like this – under Burnham, Guyana didn’t have sovereignty, so the PPP asking for American help was not an interference with Guyana’s Independence, but the situation is different now because Guyana has fair elections, thus is a sovereign nation
Another analytical dimension in his pronouncement is that he ties sovereignty with free elections. In other words, the two are dialectically connected. This is completely false. Sovereignty inheres in the territory and the State, not the government. The State is coterminous with the nation, the government is not. Governments come and go; the State is permanent. Under Presidents Burnham and Hoyte, Guyana had sovereignty. There was a nation named Guyana with national institutions and a military whose duty was to preserve the physical integrity of the territory
By Jeffrey’s logic, it means that China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states among others do not have sovereignty because they do not have one person, one vote in general elections that are competitive. What the US did under the PNC Government, and what is seeks to do at the moment with the democracy project cannot be separated using the concept of free elections. The US, as a neighbour of Guyana in the late eighties and early nineties, sought to bring democracy to Guyana. This is what the democracy project in 2014 intends to do in a country where democracy has been extensively undermined by a minority government
What Dr. Jeffery needs to answer is if the Guyana Parliament is a custodian of Guyana’s sovereignty. If he answers in the affirmative, then would he agree that Parliament can then request the US to proceed with the democracy project?
Dr. Jeffrey should be careful when he looks at the role of competitive election and its relation to democracy. In his seminal work illiberal democracy, scholar and CNN presenter, Dr. Farred Zakaria, in his elegant book, “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,” describes in detail with case studies, how competitive elections can in fact undermine constitutionalism in a country depending on the nature of the society.
Here is a quote from Zakaria that is so relevant to Guyana; “In societies without strong traditions of multi-ethnic groups or assimilation, it is easiest to organize support along racial, ethnic, or religious lines, once an ethnic group is in power, it tends to exclude other ethnic groups.”
What Zakaria describes here is the methodology scholars should use in looking at American support in Guyana for democracy. Under President Burnham (but certainly not President Desmond Hoyte), it was felt that there was ethnic domination so organizations like the PPP rushed to the US to ask for American help.
Nothing has changed since then, except that the PNC and African Guyanese are out and the PPP and Indo-Guyanese are in. It means that appeals to the US in 2014 by opposition entities for good governance, democracy, constitutionalism and ethnic fairness remain grounded in Zakaria’s methodology and the question of infringement of sovereignty does not come into the debate.
To conclude, it was perfect political strategy in the eighties for the PPP to appeal to the US for help. In today’s Guyana, it should be perfect strategy for the PNC and AFC and human rights groups to do the same. I end on a personal note. I hope the US does not back down on the democracy project. I hope Parliament passes a resolution welcoming the arrangement and I hope the opposition intervenes urgently with the US Embassy to let the undertaking continue
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