Key area of US assistance is in rebuilding political consensus - Ambassador Godard
Says tension between parties greatest threat to democracy
Stabroek News
April 4, 2003

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The U.S. Embassy in Georgetown is actively involved in channelling assistance towards democratic institution building to meet what it says is a pressing need to rebuild political consensus in Guyana.

Noting that “politics continues to tear the country apart”, U.S. Ambassador Ronald Godard says “tension between the two major political parties, the People’s Progressive Party and the People’s National Congress, which in turn aggravates ethnic tension, is the greatest threat to Guyana’s democracy.”

Ambassador Godard was at the time giving a keynote address in New York on March 30 at a function sponsored by the Organisation for Social and Health Advancement in Guyana (OSHAG) to launch the partnership between the U.S. NGO Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Guyanese NGO Volunteer Youth Corps (VYC).

A release from the U.S. Embassy said that Big Brothers, Big Sisters is well known in the United States for its success in providing mentoring to children who need a positive adult role model. In partnership with VYC, the U.S. NGO will begin operations in Guyana this year, the release said. Mrs Godard who is patron of VYC also delivered remarks at the launching.

Over the March 29-30 weekend, the U.S. ambassador and Mrs Godard travelled to New York, home to the largest concentration of Guyanese living abroad. He held meetings with members of the expatriate Guyanese community there and informed them that the embassy was exploring ways it can help to enhance the capacity of many so-called “hometown associations” abroad to more effectively promote development in Guyana.

In his address the ambassador went on to note that “political uncertainties have scared off foreign investment.” He maintained also that the dramatic increase in violent crime last year had become a “bitter partisan issue, threatening to divide the population along ethnic lines.”

As crime has escalated, he observed, the police themselves who had been already demoralised by limited training and equipment, were heavily targeted by criminal elements and over twenty of their ranks were gunned down in cold blood.

But on the other hand, the U.S. ambassador pointed out, there have been a number of fatal police shootings under questionable circumstances that have undermined public confidence in law enforcement, demonstrating the need for greater discipline and additional training.

Police reform

Godard asserted that “police reform is key to getting crime under control but that and other key reforms can only succeed if there is cooperation between the country’s two major political forces.”

Moreover, the ambassador declared that “political stability is essential for economic progress.”

He contended that the general economic slowdown has certainly hurt Guyana, but the crime wave and the political stalemate have served to undermine the investment climate and discourage investment. The result of this is that there has been only limited economic growth - 1.2% in 2002, Godard said.

Consensus building

Highlighting his country’s assistance to Guyana to get things back on track, Godard pointed that the U.S. has joined with others in the international community, notably the British and the Canadians, “to urge a resumption of high-level talks between President (Bharrat) Jagdeo and new leader of the opposition Robert Corbin.”

The ambassador said that jointly they have strongly supported the naming of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s special envoy Sir Paul Reeves, a senior statesman from New Zealand. “Sir Paul and his staff stand ready to play a helpful role as a facilitator. As such, he is fully prepared to support the so-called Social Partners Initiative that seeks to broker such discussions.” In addition, the U.S. is providing funding for electoral reform, and for the legislative and judicial branches.

Looking to the future

But looking to the future, Godard said that “Guyana stands to benefit tremendously from its geographic location once the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas comes on line in 2005.” The embassy’s economic programmes, he said, are designed to help improve the investment climate and prepare the country for the FTAA.

“Guyana, the only English-speaking country on the South American continent, is uniquely poised to be a gateway for trade between North America, the world’s largest economy, and Brazil, the world’s tenth largest economy,” the U.S. ambassador observed. The road between Lethem on the Brazilian border and Georgetown has recently been upgraded and traffic is flowing, he said, and it will undoubtedly become a significant commercial artery.

Turning attention to security, a second key area of U.S. assistance in Guyana, Ambassador Godard referred to the strong military-to-military relationship that has been developed in recent years with the Guyana Defence Force. The embassy’s Military Liaison Office has an active exchange and training programme with the GDF supported by the U.S. Southern Command, he said .

Hardly a week goes by, he noted, that GDF personnel are not in the U.S. on some kind of exchange or training, or U.S. military personnel are in Guyana to conduct training. Godard also mentioned the ongoing U.S. cooperation with this country on narcotics trafficking as well as the supply of some key equipment to the GDF to give the force greater mobility.

Reason for optimism

The ambassador acknowledged, however, that his first visit to the Guyanese expatriate community in New York had come late in his tenure since he is due to leave Georgetown later this year. While offering an apology for that, he expressed his stubborn optimism about the future of Guyana. According to Godard, that optimism is based on many reasons. “After having lived in the country for two years,” he said, “I believe in the intelligence and determination of her people. I respect their energy, talent and resilience.” “Confirming those qualities,” he added, “I have seen the impressive success of the Guyanese community in America.”

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