Last week, at several public meetings during a state visit in the US, the large Indian diaspora that also included hundreds of thousands of Indian Guyanese in the USA was lauded by the Prime Minister of India and the President of America for its very important role in helping to bring the two countries together. Since the 1970s, several Indian Guyanese (including this writer) and Trinidadians have joined nationals from India to lobby for closer ties between India and USA and the establishment of a partnership. (A small group of us from the Caribbean worked closely with nationals from India on several projects including championing the restoration of democratic governance in Guyana). The Guyanese Diaspora (of all ethnicities) in America, which is larger than the population of Guyana, has the capacity (numbers and resources) to play a similar meaningful role comparable to the Indian diaspora in cementing ties between the US and Guyana. The Guyanese diaspora can act as an effective player in impacting the dynamics of relations (trade, investment, development, security) between these two nations. Regrettably, successive administrations in Guyana have not maximized use of the large and growing diaspora to strengthen ties with the most powerful nation in the world. No one should discount the significance of USA in Guyana’s affairs.
The USA is indispensable when it comes to democracy and political change in Guyana. Guyanese must never forget that the US was responsible for the restoration of democracy in Guyana in 1992 after 26 years of authoritarian rule and again in 2020 when there was an unabashed effort to rig the counting of the votes in general elections. The US was also tied to change in administrations in 1953, 1964, and 2015. Thus, one must not discount the powerful role of the US in securing democracy or change in administrations in Guyana.
Opinion surveys conducted by this writer found that the Guyanese diaspora and Guyanese at home are/were very grateful for the role played by Washington in restoring democracy in 1992 and 2020. The diaspora wants closer ties with America. But successive governments and some political parties in Guyana and their support groups in the US did not pay heed to popular opinion to bolster ties with Washington; they were more interested in closer ties with the then Soviet led East bloc (now defunct) and of late China. Had the political parties listened to pro-America activists like myself, Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, among others since the 1970s, democracy would have returned to Guyana much sooner than in 1992 and would have been institutionalized and secured and protected by the US. In addition, Guyana would have been very developed rivaling the East Asian tigers whose economies surpassed Guyana’s when during the 1960s they were at par in terms of GDP per capita.
During the period of the dictatorship, particularly in the late 1970s and continuing thru 1992, a few of us dedicated political activists, Guyanese and Trinis in America, lobbied Washington lawmakers and the Executive branch to help in our struggle for the restoration of democratic governance in Guyana. We unsuccessfully sought the assistance of left wing or socialist or communist Guyanese support groups in America affiliated with parties in Guyana to join us in lobbying Washington towards the noble effort of putting pressure on the Guyanese dictatorship to return the country to democratic rule. We were rebuffed by these left wing Guyanese activists with some choicest words used to describe those of us who sought to engage Washington officials to restore democracy in our homeland. We even appealed to the left wingers to join us in organizing fundraisers for some American lawmakers; they were not interested referring to American lawmakers as exploiters and imperialists. Mahadeo (Mike) Persaud can attest to our relentless efforts to fundraise for American politicians in order to win them over to support our Guyana cause. The left winger anti-Americans from Guyana were not interested in any pro-America cause or efforts to support American politicians. We (Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, me and others) made trips to Washington and wrote letters to as well as visited offices of Members of Congress. We were abused and belittled and called bourgeoisie, imperialists, lackeys, and agents and tools of the American exploiters. But we were undeterred in our mission recognizing that only the USA can restore democratic rule in Guyana. We collaborated with nationals from India attending their events and supported their advocacy for closer links between India and USA. We appealed for support from our brethren from India. The nationals from India sympathized with our struggle and supported our lobbying effort relating to restoration of democracy in Guyana. Lobbying paid off. American lawmakers inclusive of Ted Kennedy, Stephen Solarz, Elliott Engel, joined by President Bush Sr., Chairman Ron Brown of the Democratic Party, among others, issued statements calling for free and fair elections in Guyana. Had Washington not intervened, Guyana may well have remained an authoritarian state. Similarly, after the no confidence motion in December 2018 and continuing thru August 2020, a small group of us, yes some of the ‘same imperialists’ (including me) involved in the pre-1992 struggle, appealed to American lawmakers and the Trump Administration to protect democracy in Guyana. It worked. They listened to our appeals and responded to our lobbying. The Americans (Congress and Trump Administration) put pressure on the Granger Administration to respect democratic practices and adhere to the constitution of Guyana. An election was scheduled in March 2020; there was an effort to rig it. The Granger Administration was warned about the consequences of rigging. Without Washington intervention, the voters’ democratic choice would not have been honoured in 2020.
As observed in the case of the Indian diaspora, lobbying, and soft power work to win allies in Washington and closer relations with India. The lobbying power of Indian Americans resulted in a state visit by the Indian PM and various agreements between the two largest democracies in the world. The same can result if Guyanese Americans work closely with American lawmakers and the Oval Office. Guyana needs a strong partnership and closer ties with the US to secure our democracy and protect our borders, and for greater investment and increased trade.
Given the power of the US to secure democracy in Guyana and the role of the diaspora in appealing to US officials to protect democracy at home, is it not wise for any administration in Georgetown to bolster ties with Washington. Shouldn’t political parties and the government of Guyana encourage the diaspora for an active role in American political affairs, especially in winning over lawmakers and executive officials, with the goal of strengthening ties between our two nations? Closer ties will benefit both nations.