US Diaspora and free and fair elections

Dear Editor,

A handful of overseas-based Guyanese assisted in the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana during the 1970s thru 1992, when the country held its first democratic election after independence. An appeal is being made to the diaspora to help secure a fair election in 2020. The group of freedom fighters who led the overseas struggle for democratic elections is no longer enthusiastic to lead, or even join, the campaign for an election that is free and fair and free from fear, which is due by 2020, because of the shabby treatment meted out to them by successive governments since 1992, particularly in the post-Jagan period.

Only a handful of us carried out the international aspects of the struggle to restore democratic rule in our former homeland. We lobbied the US Government (the Administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush, Snr) and Members of Congress to help return our country to democratic rule, and to the open economy that existed prior to independence in 1966.

The US and U.K. were responsible for installing the PNC into office in 1964, and propping up the Burnham dictatorship to keep the pro-Soviet PPP out. After the Cold War ended in 1990, with PPP no longer a major concern to the West, and as we appealed to Washington to help liberalize and liberate our former homeland, the US demanded economic and political reforms in Guyana.

Desmond Hoyte caved in to the demand by Washington for the (Jimmy) Carter Center to observe the election. The Carter Center itself was lobbied by us in the US to observe the elections. A relatively fair election was held under international supervision in October 1992, resulting in the defeat of Hoyte.

Democratic governance and free and fair election would not have been possible without the US intervention, which came about largely through that very important and direct role played by the diaspora in the US. The diaspora in the UK, Canada, Trinidad, and other countries also lent a helping hand to liberate their former homeland.

The PPP was returned to office, but the role of the diaspora in the restoration of democracy was never really acknowledged or fully appreciated.

The relationship between the post-Jagan governments and supporters abroad eventually turned sour. However, although the former freedom fighters are disillusioned with the rule of the coalition, they are not very enthused about returning to the PPP. The NY diaspora bitterly complains about a few individuals in their midst who alienate supporters in the Big Apple.

There is a hands-off approach on calls to help secure a free and fair election in 2020. The diaspora has, over the years, been treated too badly by the political forces in Guyana, and they don’t want to be burnt again.

The proverb “Once bitten twice shy” is apt here. The political parties and their leaders would have to provide a lot of guarantees before the diaspora re-joins any campaign to secure a free and fair election, or for any party to be victorious in their former homeland.

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram