Today, as Guyana joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Day of Democracy, we take a look back at the life of former Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, who put up a fierce fight for Guyana’s democracy following the March 2020 General and Regional elections.
Arthur, Barbados’s longest serving head of Government, led the country for an unprecedented three consecutive terms, from 1994 to 2008, having served as Member of Parliament for the constituency of St Peter from 1984 to 2013.
Even after his career in politics had ended, he continued to offer service to his country and the region. Weeks prior to his death in July 2020, he served in a number of key areas, including the Jobs and Investment Advisory Council. This came after his work in the last year, as he helped the Barbados Government in the forging of a new industrial policy and in the review of the international trade options of Small Island Developing States. He was also still very actively involved in helping to forge regional integration.
Arthur was indeed the chief architect and intellectual guide of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). In many respects, he was a titan of regional integration, and a most distinguished son of the Caribbean. For many in the region, he will be remembered as a true Caribbean man.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley had put it this way: “His intellect was larger than life, believe you me. His love of country as constant as a northern star. He discharged his duty as Prime Minister of Barbados and as a Caribbean leader with distinction. He shall remain in that pantheon of Caribbean leaders”.
Certainly, in days to come, there will be a more detailed analysis of Arthur’s contribution to his country and the wider Caribbean Community.
Here, in Guyana, Arthur’s name will forever be among those who have maintained the fight to ensure that democracy and the rule of law prevail.
Arthur headed the Commonwealth Elections Observer Team in Guyana for the March 2 General and Regional Elections. His task was not an easy one. Perhaps he even expected some of what he was exposed to, due to his knowledge of our political and social history.
However, he stood up to the “forces”, as described by Mottley, who were bent on subverting the elections. When caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Karen Cummings threatened to revoke the accreditation of International Observers, he challenged her and did not back down. He made it known in no uncertain terms that he would not be bullied in the face of attacks.
Also, when he was attacked and ridiculed by APNU/AFC’s strongman Joseph Harmon, now Guyana’s Opposition Leader, for making his views known regarding the attempts by persons within the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the APNU/AFC, he again took the APNU/AFC to task. He was never afraid of saying it as he saw it. For him, citizens must have a right to choose their leaders in a democratic process, and nothing or no one should come in the way of their ability to do so.
As was stated by Vincentian Prime Minister and Caricom Chair, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, prior to Arthur’s brief hospitalisation, he was deeply agitated about the imminent threat to democracy in Guyana. He said Arthur reserved some of his finest and most biting barbs for those in Guyana who, without right reason or principle, verbally abused Prime Minister Mia Mottley and himself because of their stance in defense of free and fair elections.
Arthur had firmly stated that there are instruments of governance on which all relationships in Caricom, as sovereign countries, are based. He had explained that Guyana, along with other Caricom countries, is a signatory to the Charter of Civil Society, and this places an obligation on countries to ensure that they follow key democratic practices – a main element being the holding of free and fair elections.
He was very concerned about Guyana being portrayed as a “pariah state”, and had cautioned all the political leaders here to put country first. Sadly, to this date, the APNU/AFC has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the call by Arthur and the world to concede in order to allow the country to move forward.
We salute the late Owen Seymour Arthur for his selfless service to our country on this International Day of Democracy!