Sep 18, 2020 Letters
It is in Guyana’s best interests to expand and deepen our relationship with the USA so that we can become better friends and allies. After the end of World War II in 1945, Guyana and the USA developed close economic, political, cultural and social ties. For over 70 years, we have loved American music, movies, literature and food. We are not anti-American, but we know that there are two Americas; the one of the rich one percent, and the other one that most of us identify with exemplified by Abraham Lincoln, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte, the Kennedys and Barack and Michelle Obama.
Since the 1970s, our relationship has deepened with the residence in the USA of a dynamic diaspora of over 200,000 Guyanese. That bond was solidified when 25 Guyanese Americans perished in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Many times in our history, we Guyanese have underestimated or misunderstood the power and influence of the USA in our country and the Caribbean region. We have had to learn hard lessons that the actions of the USA could have great long-term positive or negative impacts on Guyana, while any Guyanese actions have had little impact on the USA.
The late Pierre Trudeau, the great Prime Minister of Canada, noted that being the USA’s neighbour “is like sleeping with an elephant that is friendly and even-tempered, but one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Another great Prime Minister of Canada, the late Lester Pearson, advised that “to live alongside this great country (USA) is like living with your spouse. At times, it is difficult to live with them. At all times, it is impossible to live without them.”
The USA’s political power and influence in Guyana was sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes ugly. During the Cold War, the US was instrumental in the removal of Cheddi Jagan’s government in 1964, and they supported rigged elections from 1966 to 1992. At the end of the Cold War, the US ensured the return of democracy in 1992 with the election of President Cheddi Jagan, and from 2005 to 2006 they rejected undemocratic attempts to remove President Jagdeo. In 2006, the USA encouraged the creation of a third party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), which made significant electoral gains in the 2006 and 2011 national elections. In the 2015 national elections, the USA ensured the peaceful transition of government to the APNU/AFC Coalition. Now in 2020, the USA prevented the imposition of a “dressed up” dictatorship on the Guyanese nation and ensured the election victory of the PPP/C.
Unfortunately, at times, some of our Guyanese leaders have publicly challenged or embarrassed the USA. In a similar manner, through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia leftist administrations publicly and sometimes harshly criticized the USA who was the main customer that purchased their products. These challenges were not made when these countries were successfully diversifying to find new customers. Actually, these three South American countries became more dependent on the US market for their exports of oil and other natural resources.
We have to follow the principle that one has to first give respect to get respect. This is not about accepting any kinds of demands. It is about making Guyana a better place for our working people, farmers, the poor and the marginalized.
First of all, we have to understand the new trends in US foreign policy. Regardless of who is the President, we must recognize that the US has issues that are not unjustified. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has continued to finance a disproportionate share of military and security costs for NATO and NORAD. In effect, the US believes that they are subsidizing the welfare systems in Canada and Europe. The US is also concerned that its financing of the UN, WHO and WTO is based on unequal contributions while other member states expect equal influence.
To promote its national interests, the US is now engaging with different countries on an issue-by-issue basis. They want a new model of global engagement. They are not primarily concerned with appeals to historic partnerships. They feel that many US communities have been victims of globalization.
Guyanese must have cool heads and avoid ‘feral blasts’ to defend our national dignity and patrimony. We cannot be hardheaded and naïve because our actions could hurt our nation much more than they could hurt the US. Our response should be focusedon what is actually occurring regionally and globally. We must negotiate differences over issues, principles and values, and not be distracted by personalities. Nobody’s interests are furthered when differences are obscured.
We have to be balanced and fair about the concerns of the US. Then, we have to persuade the US to understand the legitimate Guyanese interests and aspirations that differ from theirs.
The USA is our major trading partner. It is the most attractive market in the world. The hard truth is that Guyana’s future prosperity is closely linked to the health of the relationship with and the growth of the USA economy.
The Guyana-USA partnership should focus on issues, principles and values of mutual interest such as defending democracy; fighting terrorism; expanding trade and tourism; making Guyana and CARICOM more competitive and fair investment destinations; harmonizing regulations to reduce business transactional costs; identifying key economic sectors for US businesses, such as minerals and ICT; providing equal opportunities for US businesses to fairly compete with businesses from China, Russia and India; a dispute settlement system; minimizing corruption; ensuring all foreign companies, including US businesses, adhere to the rule of law; decreasing poverty; creating jobs in Research and Development and in senior management and engineering.
Canada is an example for Guyana to consider when developing a relationship for close economic cooperation and development with the USA. They are the closest allies. No other country can get between Canada and the USA. They have not allowed any differences and tensions to change their ‘best friend’ relationship. They have close military and intelligence relations.
Yet, they have differed on the Vietnam War, Cuba, Iraq, the war on terrorism, missile defense, trade subsidies (soft wood, aluminum and steel), and trade with China and climate change. They also have maritime and land disputes, including in the Artic. But in the end, they have always made mutually beneficial tradeoffs.
Geoffrey Da Silva
Former Minister, Chief Executive Officer and Ambassador
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