THE GUYANA masterpiece is being perfected. The returning officer for the disputed Region 4, Clairmont Mingo, has, I understand, achieved immortality: in the new lingo, to “mingo” someone is to shaft the person. There has been a flurry of court judgments, and the onus of resolution of the issue has been placed on the Elections Commission (Gecom).
I assume that by the time this article appears Gecom will have taken a decision: recount or not? Caricom presence or not? What reactions and repercussions might there then be? More appeals to the courts? A state of emergency (covid19 could be a convenient cover) and a national lockdown? And could the sliding oil price upend the politicians’ expectations?
We’ve been through election hoops with Guyana before. In January 1986 a private gathering on the matter was held in Mustique, attended by then Guyana president Desmond Hoyte and then PMs St John of Barbados, Charles of Dominica, Blaize of Grenada, Compton of Saint Lucia, Simmonds of St Kitts and Nevis, and James Mitchell of St Vincent and the Grenadines (who arranged the meeting). This is how Mitchell, in his April 2008 Desmond Hoyte Memorial Lecture, described the background to the meeting and the results:
“We in the Caribbean Community had heard of the irregularities in Guyanese elections. We knew that overseas voting through representatives in our islands was fraudulent. There simply was not the number of Guyanese then in our islands that the votes indicated. We read of the analyses in England and the United States, where certain addresses of voters did not exist. We learned of the skewed results in certain villages in Guyana…
“It was Dame Eugenia Charles who first took up the Guyana issue in Caricom. With the furor around president Hoyte’s succession, she demanded publicly that we throw Guyana out of Caricom and forthwith move the secretariat out of Guyana…We got Eugenia to understand that we could not, nor should we, attempt to move the secretariat out of Guyana, and that the threat of expulsion was a non-starter…
“But the first thing Desmond Hoyte agreed to was that future elections in Guyana would be observed by us and internationally monitored. This was our secret compact. We would not put out a release to embarrass Desmond, but would say that we had resolved outstanding issues (for the advance of democracy)…
I subsequently wrote to Desmond following up on our Mustique commitment, and stressed the importance of internationally accepted standards for national elections.”
After the National Alliance for Reconstruction took office in TT in December 1986, then PM ANR Robinson became involved in the matter. Appointed his permanent secretary two years later, I was suddenly told one day that I would also be his special envoy to Hoyte (Robinson was of course reporting to his Caricom colleagues).
I flew down, I think three times, to Georgetown to meet with Hoyte, just the two of us, and to try to impress on him the need for a transparent electoral process in keeping with the Mustique conversations. Robinson and I also met, in late October 1990, with Cheddi Jagan.
Hoyte was naturally under tremendous party pressure to ignore Caricom (and other “do-gooders”) and proceed as Forbes Burnham would have done. But Hoyte wasn’t Burnham; nobody was. He conceded, and changed the electoral rules. That cost him and his party dear: they lost the 1992 election to the Opposition led by Jagan. There was however widespread agreement that the entire process, including the counting of ballots, had been free and fair. Have Burnhamite sinuosities now made a comeback?
Given all Caricom’s efforts, beginning in 1986, towards electoral normalcy in Guyana, I was interested to note that the report of the (Jimmy) Carter Center on the1992 election doesn’t even mention the word “Caricom,” though its very first chapter is titled “Background to the 1992 Guyana elections.” One might be forgiven for concluding that success was due solely to the center’s work.
But that is what happens when, instead of writing your history yourself, you leave it to be written by others, always foreigners from “developed” countries. Wouldn’t you expect them to set down their own perspectives, always self-serving, often colonialist, even racist? Here, for instance, is Hugh Trevor-Roper, then the Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, speaking on Africa:
“(P)erhaps in the future there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little. There is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness…(and) darkness is not a subject for history.”
One last, surprising, point. Do you know who suggested to Mitchell the informal Caricom meeting with Hoyte? The late, much-maligned Sat Maharaj.