Sep 16, 2020 Letters
On the eve of the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Guyana, it is useful to look at our history. No, it is vital that we learn and are keenly aware of our history.
A reminder that no US Secretary of State has ever visited Guyana, not even after the Jonestown tragedy. This is the third highest official in the US Government, less than two months before the US elections.
Are Guyanese comfortable with this region becoming part of Donald Trump’s re-election campaign? We may think this visit is about us, but it is about how to get to Venezuela, and to the US electorate, through us.
We should at the very least be asking the right questions, demanding full disclosure on the reason for this visit, ensuring our airwaves and airspace and lands are not part of any conversation this week (not a blade of grass goes for the US as much as it does to Venezuelan territorial claims), and reminding all Guyanese that all parties have traditionally held one head when it comes to Venezuela, and it should be no different now. We saw this with the incoming government’s retention of Carl Greenidge on the Venezuela issue, an important move that should be applauded. Whatever their differences, and that is an understatement, we need all political leaders to be united, and most importantly the Guyanese public is entitled to know what is on the table.
Let us not fool ourselves, this is not an equal partnership.
It is also important to remind ourselves of the PPP’s consistent position, under the leadership of Cheddi Jagan, on these matters.
Here is an excerpt of speeches by LFS Burnham and Cheddi Jagan taken from the proceedings and debates of the first session of the first parliament of Guyana under the constitution of Guyana, at its 50th sitting, 20th March, 1967:
PRIME MINISTER FORBES BURNHAM: “Nearly a year has passed since Independence has been achieved, and during that period the Government of Guyana has sought, within the limits of its financial and material resources, to have relations with foreign countries…Perhaps, significantly, one of the first acts of this Government after achieving Independence was the signature of a letter by the Prime Minister to the then charge d’affaires of the United States Embassy in Guyana on Thursday, 26th May, 1966, which letter was part of the exercise of exchange of notes between the U.S. Government and the Guyana Government, and by that exchange of notes an agreement was consummated, as a result of which over 20,000 acres of Guyana’s land, which had, during the Second World War, become for practical purposes American property in exchange, with other bits of land throughout the Caribbean, for 90-odd old destroyers, reverted to Guyana. The American lease on Atkinson and Makouria came to an end, and this territory became absolute Guyanese territory.”
In an article published in Stabroek News in December 2008, historian Nigel Westmaas notes that “there was a military component to US strategic interests as they negotiated their way into the establishment of naval and military bases in the anglophone Caribbean. As part of this initial package, the Americans signed a ninety-year lease in May 1941 when two US military bases described as the “first in South America,” were built on Guyana soil, one of them the army base established at Hyde Park on the Demerara River. Better known as Atkinson Field, this facility, along with a naval air Station at Makouria on the Essequibo River, joined the worldwide constellation of US bases. Under the 99-year lease, “6,800 persons, including 5,007 Guianese, were involved in the construction of these bases over a twenty-month period…The 99-year lease was not peculiar to Guyana but was established by agreement with Britain with several other countries in the hemisphere in exchange for 50 “near-obsolete destroyers.” Other countries with US military outposts and naval bases included Antigua, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and Bermuda.” Importantly, as the lease on Atkinson was terminated upon Guyanese independence 74 years before it expired, the US was provided with certain rights for close to two decades, which is what Cheddi Jagan referred to in his response:
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION CHEDDI JAGAN: “Nonalignment implies two things: not only the concept of sitting and examining; it does not only mean that we will sit and listen and then make up our minds. It presupposes that with colonialism there are certain conditions which must be adhered to. There should be no military intervention in the affairs of a country; a country should not allow its territory to be used as a military base; it should accept aid and trade from all countries with the object of changing the economic structure which is inherent in the economic structure of a primary producer, the economic structure of a one-crop economy, which we find all around us in Latin America, the economic structure of sending out raw material at low prices and buying manufactured goods in return at higher prices…We submit that an examination of the events in this country will show by our associations, by the fiscal and economic policies we have pursued, that we are moons away from this concept of non-alignment. The first thing the Prime Minister referred to was the Agreement signed with the United States. What he did not speak of was the fine writing, such as the writing we see in insurance policies, and that is to the effect that the United States has the right to establish military equipment, land military planes, build any installations and fly over the country at any time….”
It is important to remind ourselves of these words at this time, lest they return to haunt us.
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