For most of this year, the U.S. government has been toying with the idea of plowing money into nongovernmental civic organizations and political parties in Guyana to help them strengthen democracy at the local level largely because the system has gradually broken down over the years.
The U.S. has set aside a grant of $1.5 million for the various groups to tap into, allowing them to build local organizations that could run community affairs rather than have political parties dominate the situation.
But once Ambassador Brent Hardt announced plans for the project, the administration of Guyanese President Donald Ramotar offered up spirited opposition to it, saying it allowed for zero input from the Guyanese government. The administration proclaimed that it wanted absolutely no part in its implementation.
Ramotar’s governing People’s Progressive Party and the U.S. have a long and bitter history of political engagement dating back to the CIA’s well-publicized involvement in Guyana in the ʼ60s as it had successfully destabilized the then left-leaning PPP administration.
Race riots at the time claimed the lives of more than 150 people, large parts of the capital were destroyed by fire and civil service strikes brought life to a standstill. So any move by the U.S. to involve itself openly in local politics is quickly seen as an effort to once again destabilize a still paranoid PPP.
In the past week, the level of suspicion and distrust between the two sides boiled over into an interesting exchange between Hardt and government.
Guyanese Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon said that the government had rejected the project out of hand because it was presented to them as a done deal, and they were simply asked to sign on the dotted lines. “Cabinet had no option but to pull the plug,” said, calling the United States’ actions grievous.
Hardt said that it was not an offer and that it was going ahead as planned—whether or not the government got involved.
“The project contractor is on the ground. We will engage with those stakeholders who wish to engage. We will continue to work in that spirit. We hope government will find a way to work with us. We have had over one dozen meetings. From the onset of this proposal, we have worked diligently to involve the government and have been working to get the government input on this project.”
Hardt and other western ambassadors are concerned that no local elections for the city and five towns have been held since 1994 and that the system is completely broken down and needs reinvigorating with fresh polls. The envoys have even led garbage removal campaigns in the city to make the point.