by Paul Tennassee
The President of Guyana, His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, in a very quiet, firm and dignified manner addressed the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS). The speech was very significant and clearly outlined the Presidents assertion of leadership, not as A Leader but as The Leader and President of The Republic. There were a number of shadows hovering over his government, since the speech of the secretary general of the PPP who clearly indicated that PPP remains firmly with its traditional ideology of Marxism-Leninism that has even been discarded by Russia, previously for the PPP The Great Soviet Union.
Guyanas relations with Cuba and Venezuela, and its position on Haiti and the Aristide debacle created tensions in USA/Guyana relations. In addition, the crime and drug issues and controversy over the former Minister of Home Affairs added fuel to the external fire.
President Jagdeo, with his eyes firmly set on the upcoming elections in 2006, played his geo-political and ideological card with clarity, pragmatism and astuteness. However, he fell down on the crime and drug issues. He should move as fast as possible to speak more comprehensively on these matters and let the chips fall where they may.
He explained: We have been faithfully implementing the prescriptions of the neo-liberal model: privatization, trade and financial sector liberalization and deregulation. The PPP might be Marxist-Leninist but he clarified that his governments ideology and practice is neo-liberalism. This is the ideology of the USA, G7, WTO, IMF and World Bank. President Jagdeo has seemingly broken links and ruptured with the past of Cheddi Jagans Marxism-Leninism and anti-imperialism. He has placed his government squarely on the side of the powerful governments of USA, UK, Canada and others. There was a time in Guyana, if you dared say you were for capitalism, the PPP hounded you as a running dog of imperialism! How times have changed! The President on this issue has stolen the thunder from the rightwing pro American Joey Jagan and the PNC that makes claim to ERP under Hoyte as having demonstrated a shift away from Burnhamism/Marxism to capitalism.
President Jagdeos unequivocal embrace of neo-liberalism distanced him from the ideological positions of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. There may be practical relations with these countries but he differentiated where he and his government stood on the ideological issue. The comments afterwards by ambassadors were: Well, well, Guyana has clarified its position! The president himself clarified: To us we have been ascribed opportunistic relations with this or that country.
On Haiti, he was quite clear: The manner of the departure of the former President (Haiti) from that country was never our principal concern. More importantly, we were distressed that by not going to the aid of an elected government, we signaled to present and future insurrectionists that it is acceptable to utilize force particularly in a country which has known so little about democracy. President Jagdeo sent a clear message to President Bush and the USA political establishment that when he wins the upcoming Guyana elections, he expects their intervention and support against potential insurrectionists that may attempt to overthrow him.
On the issue of Haiti, some Caribbean Ambassadors cringed as he spelled out his position since they are caught up on the issue of a possible kidnap of Aristide!
On the issue of crime he made two important points: Firstly, Canada and USA are repatriating criminal deportees who are well schooled in world class criminal activities and let them loose on Guyanese society without any responsibility. Secondly, he explained, implicitly, that if there is no demand for drugs in the North, then there would be no drug problem in the South. However, he did not focus on the role of Guyanese drug lords in Guyanese politics and society and what he is doing to deal with the problem.
It is clear that President Jagdeos speech benefited from his governments paid USA lobbyists advice in Washington DC.
The President has set the geo-political stage for the upcoming elections in his speech to the OAS. Can the opposition outdo him on this? Can the Marxists in the PPP live with this? One thing is obvious Bharrat Jagdeo has grown in the job as President of the Republic of Guyana as confidently elaborated in his speech below:
Mr. Chairman of the Permanent Council,
Mr. Secretary General,
Mr. Assistant Secretary General,
Permanent and Alternate Representatives, Permanent Observers
Representatives of International and Regional Organizations
OAS Staff members, Special Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me express, first of all, my deep appreciation for the warm welcome which you have accorded me and state how much I value this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering in this historic and ornate house which embodies the spirit of our Inter-American community.
The Government of Guyana was pleased to have lent its support to the recent elections of the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General. We share your joint vision for the Organisation and we wish to cooperate with you to translate it into reality.
Mr. Chairman, as we proceed with preparations for the 4th Summit of the Americas in a little over a months time we can be justifiably contented at progress which has been made at the hemispheric level under the aegis of the Organization of American States. Undeniably, we have been able to advance our joint efforts from a platform built on shared values, collective actions and a commitment to cooperation. This has yielded positive results most conspicuously in the strengthening of democracy, renewing our commitment to the protection of human rights, creating the conditions for greater prosperity and fostering social justice by placing an emphasis on social investment, equal opportunity and the full realization of the human potential. We have seen steady measures implemented in the fight against poverty through efforts to improve health, education, personal security and the protection of the most vulnerable groups in American societies. In recounting our achievements, special mention must be reserved for the Inter-American Democratic Charter an instrument which has been described as the most innovative mechanism in the world for defending democracy and which has strengthened the value and practice of democracy in our hemisphere.
The Guyanese people also are satisfied at their role in the hemispheric integration process. In addition to having the honor of hosting the Caribbean Community Secretariat, Guyana is an Amazonian nation with membership in the Treaty of Amazonian Cooperation and has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Mercosur. As a member of the South American Community of Nations, the continent, Guyana included, is advancing its integration process centered around the development of infrastructural linkages which would establish vital arteries to serve as vehicles for socio-economic development and integration.
However, in spite of these positive developments within our hemisphere too many of our people are still not leading productive lives due to constraints such as the effects of poverty, inequality, insecurity, disease, crime, the drug trade and natural disasters.
Our region has experimented with various models of development throughout our long history. And recently we have been faithfully implementing the prescriptions of the neo-liberal model: privatization, trade and financial sector liberalization and deregulation. But the fragility of this model was exposed in the Asian crisis when in several countries of our region much of the economic and social gains were wiped out pushing larger numbers of people into poverty.
Trying to situate the search for an appropriate development model in an ideological debate is a sterile exercise. The model must be pragmatic in nature. It must ensure that capital is adequately remunerated but at the same time must provide significant safeguards for the poor and vulnerable and deal with inequality within our societies. Our partners in the north must join with us in this search. Failure would lead to growing instability in our region and the poor, feeling excluded, would take to the streets to express their discontent.
In the area of trade our hemisphere has also registered progress notwithstanding the setbacks within the FTAA negotiations. Guyana and CARICOM both attach great importance to free trade as a mechanism for promoting integration stability and overcoming poverty. We remain committed to the resumption of the FTAA negotiations. While this is proving elusive we will keep the door open to options for structured trade agreements with others in the hemisphere. Within CARICOM, our countries will be establishing the Single Market and Economy (SME) by the end of this year.
The key elements of the SME include rates of duty common to all imports from outside the region, free movement of skills, goods, capital and services within the region, a common trade policy and harmonization of laws and monetary resources. By these means CARICOM will be able to better utilize labor, resources and capital leading to a greater variety and quantity of products and services to trade with other countries and becoming, in the process, a more attractive trading partner. Between 1993 and 2003 intra-regional exports within CARICOM increased from 8.92 percent to 22.6 percent of total exports.
One aspect of trade relations, which is doing considerable harm to Caribbean economies, is the loss of preferential market access. For instance, the proposal of the EC to drastically cut prices for sugar exports from African, Caribbean and Pacific exporters will, if implemented, doom thousands of Caribbean families to a fate of extreme poverty. The economic diversification required to overcome loss of preferential access cannot be implemented in the absence of better-endowed trade and other infrastructure. Mr. Chairman, CARICOM is advocating special and differential treatment for countries with smaller economies in the hemisphere within the context of Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Europeans proved that special and differential treatment was necessary at the formation of their union and the concept is being instituted within CARICOM in the Single Market and Economy. Proposing special and differential treatment is not an appeal for a handout; it is a realistic appraisal of our vulnerabilities.
Latin American and the Caribbean countries must lead efforts to create a world trading system that is fair, rule-based, that has mechanisms to enforce its decisions and takes account of the interests of both large and small. Mr. Chairman, after numerous studies confirming and almost everyone accepting that small states cannot liberalize at the same pace as larger countries without suffering tremendous loss of welfare and increased poverty in the trade negotiations at the WTO and the FTAA there has been a reluctance to reflect this reality in text.
Poverty is at the heart of illiteracy, disease and instability in Latin America, the Caribbean and indeed the world. In our hemisphere the statistics are well known. Two hundred and twenty million live in poverty and nearly half of them in extreme poverty. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated by lack of education coupled with slow and volatile economic growth, shortage of quality jobs and income levels insufficient to finance investment. It provides the breeding ground for scourges such as the drug trade, disease and violence. Poverty is a domestic problem which can only be effectively addressed through international cooperation because, ultimately, it is poverty which poses the sternest challenge to security and democracy in the hemisphere.
As was publicized in a recent advertisement by the Global Coalition against Poverty in the New York Times, There is growing concern that world leaders wont keep their promise to end poverty by 2015. According to the Report, there are still 1.2 billion people living in poverty, one hundred million out of school, sixty million of whom are girls; a child dies every three seconds; a mother dies every minute in childbirth; millions are without clean water; thirteen million are AIDS orphans and rich countries give half as much as they did in 1960. These broad statistics are more telling than any routine report and paint a stark picture of the consequences of poverty. One former African leader is reported to have said, We have fought a war against poverty and poverty won. It is also likely to win in Latin America and the Caribbean if we do not find the right policy measures to address and destroy its many manifestations throughout our region.
In a region where, according to the World Bank, the richest 10 percent of the population receive 48 percent of the income while the poorest ten percent earn only 1.6 percent, poverty and inequality are two sides of the same coin and must be tackled together.
The OAS and the rest of the Inter-American system can and should do more to reduce poverty and inequality by being more effective in preventing and resolving conflicts and humanitarian crises, spurring technological advances, channeling trade and investment to lift social and environmental standards, transferring resources to reduce disparities, implementing policies in favor of just and sustainable development and better organizing labor mobility, in addition to the measures I earlier outlined to enhance hemispheric trade.
Difficult as this may seem, making advances in some areas may not be as daunting as at first envisaged. Critical undernourishment rates can be halved among the populations of some countries suffering from hunger by a moderate reduction in the inequalities in access to food. In addition, achievable advances toward gender and ethnic equality are necessary conditions for reaching progress in other goals. Furthermore, since the debt-to-exports ratio still remains above the threshold figure of 1.5 in Latin America and the Caribbean, this justifies going beyond the appeal which was made by Commonwealth Finance Ministers that debt write-offs for Highly Indebted Poor Countries be extended to IDB indebtedness. It would be propitious to implement additional initiatives to also reduce the debt burden of some middle-income countries who, too, are experiencing difficult conditions due to their debt levels and whose high per capita income masks pockets of severe poverty and inequality. We also see a greater role for the OAS in better coordinating the Inter-American system and focusing on regional priority projects to support smaller countries.
Mr. Chairman, as we ponder the results of the recent UNDP study on democracy which shows that 44 percent of Latin Americans believe that democracy does not solve a countrys problems and 54 percent would support an authoritarian administration if it solved a countrys problems, there can be no surprise that democracy is being shaken to its core in some areas in our hemisphere.
For Guyana, having returned to the fold of democratic nations in 1992 and the CARICOM countries with their entrenched democratic traditions, our embrace of democracy is non-negotiable and our support for democratic rule is unwavering. This simple fact has at times been misconstrued and has brought about unnecessary misunderstanding. To us have been ascribed motives of opportunistic relations with this or that country. Such notions misinterpret our naked preference to uphold principles rather than friendships. In relation to Haiti, the manner of the departure of the former President from that country was never our principal concern. More importantly, we were distressed that by not going to the aid of an elected government, we signaled to present and future insurrectionists that it is acceptable to utilize force particularly in a country which has known so little democracy. This is the principle with which we are concerned and it is why we are supporting the efforts to bring Haiti back to the democratic fold. We have observed that the interim government is yet to convince the international community that it is laying down the rule of law in a balanced and impartial manner and we would urge the OAS to remain engaged so as to ensure that the elections restore democracy to the Haitian people and in order to mobilize resources to support urgent development needs. Countries like Haiti are proof, if any was needed, that just as there is need for special and differential treatment to integrate different levels of economic development, so there is need for special and differential treatment to integrate different levels of democratic development in our hemisphere. If democracy is to be applied uniformly in the interests of all the peoples of the hemisphere, democracy within nations should be matched by democracy among nations and democracy within institutions.
Mr. Chairman, recent natural disasters in the hemisphere have served to illustrate the vulnerability of nations, weak and strong, in our hemisphere. We doubt that the peculiar vulnerabilities of the smaller countries of the hemisphere are always appreciated. In Guyana a flood earlier this year inflicted damage worth 60 percent of the GDP and damaged 44 percent of the buildings in the country. This comes at a time when we are expending 40 percent of our GDP on energy costs.
Another facet of vulnerability is the specter of crime including trafficking in illegal drugs and arms, transnational organized crime, asset laundering, politically motivated crimes and violence. In addition, the flow of guns from North America to our territories is unregulated and deportees from developed countries are overwhelming our security systems. As a result, tourism is inhibited, the inflow of investment capital is slowed and the middle classes migrate with their skills. The OAS, IDB and CDB would do well to examine the patterns and effects of crime and stability in our societies, with a view to formulating coordinated approaches.
On the issue of corruption, Mr. Chairman, while acknowledging the necessity of combating corruption domestically, we would wish to see the OAS work to put in place a deeper level of cooperation. Trans-boundary corruption, like the illicit drug trade, has a demand side and a supply side. There is a need for greater information sharing and for each country to provide a clearing house to process requests for information which should be provided in a timely and reciprocal fashion. Information on tax evasion and money laundering should be more readily accessed. In addition, it would be useful to seal up legal loopholes which allow for foreign officials to be bribed.
Long before an Inter-American Democratic Charter was drawn up, the OAS played an important role in the re-establishment of democracy in Guyana. That the OAS has agreed to be the site of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea proceedings between Guyana and Suriname is testimony to the responsiveness and constructiveness of the role being played by the Organization. My appearance here today, Mr. Chairman, is in recognition of the esteem in which this institution is held by the Government and people in Guyana. The Organization of American States has a pivotal role to play in shaping the aspirations of our hemisphere. Guyana looks forward to taking part in the Fourth Summit of the Americas and in the negotiation of the Social Charter and Plan of Action. These events are of great importance in achieving economic progress and advancing the social rights of our people. The prerogative of our times is the legitimate desire of our people to strive in greater prosperity and live in larger freedom. We, the guardians of the present day interests, must not fail them or our generation will lose its opportunity. When succeeding generations look back on this era they must say that leaders took the correct and courageous choices which were necessary at that time to secure their peace, progress and prosperity.
Thank you very much.