IN GUYANA CRISIS, HEMISPHERE'S NATIONS EXPRESS SOLIDARITY
January 13, 1998
The nations of the hemisphere on Tuesday offered an outpouring of solidarity for the people of Guyana in the wake of post-election events in that country.
This, after Guyana's permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, detailed the grave situation that has been unfolding in that country in the aftermath of the December 15, 1997 general elections.
In a comprehensive presentation to a specially-convened sitting of the OAS high-ranking Permanent Council, the ambassador asserted he did not feel that "member states of this organization should stand by and allow democracy in Guyana to be threatened by people who resort to lawlessness." He went on to state that "issues cannot be resolved when the government is besieged by forces which are not interested in upholding of the democratic process."
Tensions broke out in Guyana as the main opposition Peoples National Congress (PNC) refused to accept the declaration by the Guyana Elections Commission, of a win by the People's Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic coalition in the December polls which were observed by the OAS and other international and regional bodies.
Yesterday, the Guyanese envoy reported, the country's chief justice upheld a government position, "thereby throwing out" the PNC's petition against the appointment of the new president. As violent demonstrations continued, the government last evening slapped a one- month ban on all public meetings and demonstrations in the capital Georgetown.
Meantime, the OAS assistant secretary general, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, delivered a statement in the Council, noting that despite charges of irregularities in the elections, "no such substantiated claims were brought to the attention of the OAS mission." Ambassador Thomas had headed up the OAS team of 28 election observers representing 10 countries.
He explained that on election day, his mission had visited 466 polling stations, or about one fourth of all polling stations across the country. He also reiterated the OAS position conveyed in a press statement issued on election day, that the organization remained "satisfied that the Elections Commission worked with great care and attention to assure that all citizens of Guyana were given an opportunity to cast their vote."
And Ambassador Denis G. Antoine, the permanent representative of Grenada--the country now occupying the chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) group--reported on the CARICOM mission heading to Guyana tomorrow, January 14. He said the mission had been endorsed by the major political parties involved, and would make every effort to help settle the current crisis and "plan the way forward."
Other OAS member state representatives voiced support for the Guyanese people, and among them, Brazil's permanent representative, Itamar Franco, observed that notwithstanding the OAS Charter article on non-interference, "the internal situation in one of its member states ought to be an ongoing concern for the OAS." Support also was registered by the representatives of Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Canada and the United States.
The newly-appointed U.S. permanent representative, Ambassador Victor Marrero, welcomed the CARICOM efforts and said his country also welcomed the decision by the Elections Commission for an international audit of the election results. "Such an audit could play a useful role as a central feature in any agreement to resolve the dispute," said the ambassador.
Ambassador Ishmael's appeal, on behalf of his government, for international assistance, was made, he said, because development in his country had been poised to "escalate and destroy all the democratic gains of our society." He said that could also bode ill for regional and hemispheric security.
The ambassador explained that the government had also approached the OAS to mediate in the crisis, and also conveyed appreciation for the monitoring role the hemispheric body has been playing, including for the observation of the election itself.
In his statement to the Council, the OAS assistant secretary general also indicated that a full OAS report on its observation of the elections is being prepared. It is to be passed to the Permanent Council by month-end for consideration and will contain, among other things, "recommendations related to the further strengthening of Guyana's electoral administration."