Kaieteur News – Forbes Burnham tried desperately to obtain an audience with the then United States President, Jimmy Carter. He was never able to do so. Declassified documents detailed the futility of his attempts which was constantly rebuffed.
Guyana does not rank high on the priorities of the United States. The only time that a US Secretary of State mentioned Guyana in his public briefings had to do with the elections. Other than that, Guyana would have been furthest from his mind. Prior to Pompeo’s intervention, the US pronouncements on Guyana’s elections were done through lower-level officials, such as, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Michael Kozak.
Any Guyanese Foreign Minister and diplomat will find it extremely difficult to have a meeting with a United States Secretary of State. A request for any such meeting will most likely be referred to a low level functionary.
But when it comes to lobbyists, they have the connections and the influence to engage with top US officials, right up to the President of the United States. The work of lobbyists is to connect people with policymakers and they have the means to do this. All it takes are a few phone calls.
It therefore makes practical sense for the PPP/C government, with vital interests with the United States, to retain lobbying firms in the eventuality that it needs to engage with high-level US officials. From a financial point of view, it may be cheaper for the Guyana government to hire a lobby firm rather than have non-consular diplomats in major capitols of the world. It therefore makes sense for the Government of Guyana, facing continued belligerence from Venezuela, to hire lobbyists to represent it in Washington.
The Opposition, however, misguidedly feels that our local diplomats can achieve the same objectives as lobbyists. The Opposition is wrong. They are comparing chalk to cheese.
No local diplomat will have the type of access to US officials that lobbyists enjoy. The lobbyists would be representing multiple clients and would be well known to top US officials. They can open doors and make things happen. And in Washington this does not come cheap.
Effective diplomacy costs money. Guyana’s Embassy in Washington may hardly have the resources to host a monthly cocktail to court foreign dignitaries, much less to be able to make the connections to have easy access to top US officials and legislators.
The PPP/C has long understood the importance of retaining the services of lobbyists. Even the tight-fisted Cheddi Jagan was forced, while in Opposition, to hire the services of Paul Reichler to lobby for free and fair elections. And that lobbying was effective because important statements emerged from Senator Edward Kennedy and from then US President, George Bush, which made it clear to Desmond Hoyte that his rigging days were over.
Guyana has a number of strategic interests which it needs to advance in Washington. One of these, as mentioned before, is the belligerence of Venezuela. There is a fear that given the internal problems in that country, Venezuela may be willing to strike at Guyana’s oil fields. Washington will be an important ally in foiling any such attack.
A second strategic interest is the ongoing threat to local democracy posed by the main Opposition APNU+AFC. Washington is well-aware about the attempts which were made to use the murders of two young teenagers to foment internal conflict. Guyana will need the backing of the US to deter any future attempts at derailing local democracy and throwing the country into unrest which can affect US economic interests.
There also remains the related issue of visa restrictions imposed on officials of the former APNU+AFC government, who the US saw as being complicit in undermining democracy. This is a very ticklish issue for the new government. On the one hand, it would most likely wish to have these restrictions continue as a means of punishing those who engaged in supporting election rigging and of deterring any such future conduct.
The difficulty arises in that such representation cannot be left to a country’s diplomats since it would raise concerns as to whether official channels were being used for partisan purposes. The PPP/C would have to be mindful of speculation that it may be using lobbyists for partisan purposes, more so since it is the same firm which the PPP/C used during the election impasse while in Opposition.
In the circumstances, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be best advised to make regular reports to the National Assembly on the work undertaken by the lobby firm, and especially to disabuse anyone of the idea that the firm is either being used for partisan purposes or as a means of repaying debts which the ruling party owes to the firm.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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