Increasingly, there are more and more local calls for sanctions, and veiled, but escalating warnings from international powers that matter about them being on the table.
We at this paper have to make a hard call and say that, as much as sanctions may send an unequivocal message to a perceived rigged government, the consequences may be unbearable for those in this society, who would feel them the most.
There is one possible element in the application of sanctions that possesses some trace of the positive, which may lead to the nationally beneficial. It is that ruling leaders who ignore such, do so to great personal reputational risk, and may see the light and throw in the towel, to do what the circumstances require and step aside for the good of society, or to participate in an internationally brokered solution.
But this is as far as any good news would go. The rest is all negative and stark in the contemplation.
First, leaders threatened with sanctions seek sanctuary in sovereignty and the nonnegotiable nature of national dignity and pride. As they do so – a la Kim Il Sung (and son), Nicolás Maduro, and Raoul Cedras to name a few – they feel backed into a dark, deep corner and dig in their heels, with the worst anticipated, sometimes relished.
Second, let this first truth be faced: however mild or draconian the sanctions levied, it is the mass of the poorer in the populace, which feels the worst effects: the shortages, the slowdowns, the prices, the expanding economic and social gloom.
Leaders and members of the elite casts – be they commercial or political, civil or professional – jump in their air-conditioned vehicles to go to their air-conditioned homes and are able to pay higher prices in the air-conditioned supermarkets and stores for the daily necessities that are off-limits for the ordinary man in the street. He and she and their children are consigned to public transportation which, as is characteristic, would squeeze them and take advantage of them, adding to their woes.
In addition, many members of the elites, should push come to hard shoves, have the facility to be able to rush for the airports, jump on a plane, and elude the pain and the problems in the domestic arena. Many of them can do so when the restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted. The bottom line is that the smaller citizen, the more vulnerable section of the population is left to feel the brunt of any sanctions effected.
Third, the possible arrival and results of sanctions may be seen by some as a remedy for political sicknesses and stubbornness. On the other hand, sanctions have another fallout, maybe the hardest of all: they exacerbate the heavy racial and social tensions that are now so thick that it would require a jackhammer to cut through the impenetrable steel of their existence.
To go a little further, what sanctions do is to furnish another bludgeoning, and unsparing daggers – many such daggers – of the reciprocal accusations and counter-accusations about who and which group is responsible.
Already, it could be foreseen, and the argument is accordingly made, that the endless finger pointing and blame game would take the form of which side called for them versus which side was responsible by its actions and miscalculations for the presence of them.
It would be still another extension of the polarizing racial, social, and political differences and bitterness now occurring, through foreign interventions and pressures, but with the fallout crippling at the widespread domestic level. The kind of movement in the direction pushed for solves nothing, but brings back to the same place of great anxieties and greater animosities.
In sum, however examined, the little people, the great bulk of the citizenry, would be made to pay many times over for the decisions of others. This could be taken to yet another place. So, sanctions force the coalition to its knees and brings it to its senses.
The choices are clear: the coalition steps aside and the opposition assume governance of the nation with democracy supposedly prevailing.
Without a doubt, this is both shortsighted and limited in the scope of thinking and vision. For there are several hundred thousand voters and more related citizens, whose reaction would be that they, in turn, have been robbed, that the processes and developments conspired against them to cheat them. And this would be after they were told and conditioned and pressed to believe that they have won.
Though the ultimate objective of sanctions is to facilitate democratic processes giving rise to democratic government, there is clear and hard evidence that this society (any half of it) is not ready for the sacrifices and sharp growing pains demanded.
There is a single question remaining: to where and what, then?
In view of our fragile institutions and even more fragile social fabric, the outlook is not good, but of the incomparably grim. For what we have may not be able to contain or manage, to any acceptable degree, that with which we may be compelled to live.
It is clear that democracy, whatever its many merits, proves unacceptable to a wide cross-section of this country. In effect, what we may have, at best, is racial democracy.
Now taking a different tack, the international community being invited and encouraged to apply sanctions should already be wise enough to appreciate the end game of sanctions, from its possible political retreat to the significance and implications of what follows thereafter. As is desired by those calling for sanctions, it would be the successor government envisaged should a recount provide the grounds in which to do so.
It goes without saying that the international community is fully cognizant of what is able to work at some reasonable governance level in this country, given its conflicting social and racial pressures wisely and clinically considered. The community is on record last year as stating that it would take a different form of governance to manage the oil wealth discovered.
Having said all this, we wish to be clear: we set out with one objective only, which is to lay out the pros and cons of international sanctions. That old saying reminds all Guyanese: be careful what is wished for; understand fully what is involved. Appreciate our limited options. Decide on what is best, given what we have and where we can go.
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