January 9, 2004
On Monday, the Summit of the Americas will open in Monterrey, Mexico, with nearly all the heads of state and government from this hemisphere present, with the possible exception of one or two, including our own. One might have thought that after all this time President Jagdeo would have acquired a little foreign affairs savvy, but that is apparently not the case. He has gone bounding off to India to attend the second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - a gathering of the Indian diaspora, organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in partnership with the Government of India.
Under normal circumstances that would not be a problem; however, given the clash in dates between that conference and the Summit of the Americas there should be no question of him choosing to attend the former in preference to the latter. Of course, for him personally there is the sweetener that he will be giving the feature address to the diaspora conference this morning, but that is no excuse. The interests of the nation he represents are more bound up at the moment in the exchanges he would have had with other heads of state/government at the Americas summit, than anything he might have to say in a set speech at a diaspora conference in India.
Just how little he understands the importance of the hemispheric meeting is suggested by the fact that included in his entourage to New Delhi is none other than Mrs. Elisabeth Harper, the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of all the officials who should have been at the Summit of the Americas, she certainly heads the list. What is she doing instead at a gathering whose inspiration derives from a private organization which up until recently informed the world on its website that the "FICCI has initiated an action plan to bring about a tenfold increase in FDI inflow [to India] from the Indian Diaspora to US$5 billion by 2008..."?
The FICCI - quite rightly - has the economic well-being of India as its primary concern, and while, to its credit, it clearly has other cultural, social and altruistic motives for seeking to bring representatives of the Indian diaspora together, it would be altogether strange if these represented its central focus. So here we have the President of this country eschewing a major summit of heads from our very own neck of the woods, where our interests need to be represented, in favour of what is a partly privately-sponsored conference of uncertain benefit to Guyana, in a zone completely outside this nation's geopolitical sphere.
Is it a case, one wonders, of the foreign ministry failing to advise the President properly, or is it a case of the President refusing to listen to the advice the foreign ministry gave him? Either way, there has been misjudgement somewhere. In addition to the matter of our economic interests, did Takuba Lodge not tell the President that there were some political trends developing on our continent which necessitated him mingling with his counterparts to get a feel of the situation from a presidential vantage point?
Did the Minister and his officers not advise their head of state that for a nation with border controversies, we must keep ourselves fully apprised of the tensions, trends and events all around us, so that we are not taken by surprise by developments which could have implications for us down the road? And did they not suggest to him that there are certain insights which can only be gained at the highest level, as well as certain understandings which are easiest achieved at that same level? Above all, did the Minister omit to remind the President that our geostrategic concerns relate primarily to the western hemisphere, and not the eastern one?
The record of this Government in the department of foreign affairs in general, and border policy in particular, has been less than impressive. The nation has lived in hope that after some major fiascos - not the least of which was the eviction of the CGX rig - some lessons would have been learned, and some efforts would have been made to evolve a more sophisticated approach to external affairs. This latest lapse would suggest that any such hope was misplaced.