Organization of American States ..............................News Release


January 21, 1998

Defenders of democracy must be constantly vigilant to protect the institution, Guyana's foreign minister, Clement Rohee, told the hemisphere's representatives at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington on Wednesday.

Mr. Rohee cited this as a major lesson to emerge from the recent tensions that gripped his country in the wake of the December 15, 1997 general elections. "Countries that have just come out of dictatorial rule have an extremely fragile democracy," he asserted.

The remarks came as the minister briefed the members of the Permanent Council, a ranking body of the OAS, on developments in his country, where a peace agreement was just brokered by a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mission, ending the civil strife that broke out when the main opposition party refused to accept the results of the elections that gave the incumbent People's Progressive Party/Civic coalition the win.

The minister argued--before a packed Council of ambassadors, observers to the OAS which monitored the elections, and other diplomats at the Council's first regular sitting for this year--that despite the effort put into setting up democratic institutions, installing good governance and stamping out corruption at all levels, "there are forces within the society who are determined to destroy that fragile democracy."

Life has returned to normality, he was quick to assert: "Guyana is once again a bee-hive of activities; businesses have returned to normal; schools have reopened...," declared the foreign minister, saying that was what Guyanese had wanted. "It is our conviction that the people of Guyana, at the end of the day, have won, on the basis of this agreement that has been reached."

Another important lesson to which Mr. Rohee pointed--citing the former Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide--was that the real test to democracy came not in the first elections, but in the second elections, in a country just emerging from under dictatorship.

He referred to a final lesson: that even though a party may be declared the winner of a free and fair election, "that party and that government would have to take into consideration the broader picture beyond partisan considerations, if it wants that country to move forward."

Details of the accord signed by the parties were also outlined by the minister, among them an international audit of the election results. He disclosed that Grenada's prime minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, would be in Guyana tomorrow to name the audit team.

After the audit, which is expected to be finished within three months, a constitution review commission would be set up, comprising the political parties, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. It would report to the parliament, and any recommendations on a new constitution would be put to referendum. Mr. Rohee said there was a three-year time frame for all the review activities to be done.

"With these measures, it is quite possible that elections could be held before the five-year term of the government," said Mr. Rohee.

Expressing appreciation to the multilateral institutions such as the OAS, CARICOM, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations for the outpouring of goodwill for the government and people of Guyana, Foreign Minister Rohee invoked the support as testimony that, because Guyana had abided by sound policies, those institutions were committed to ensuring that the country remain on its chosen path.

The OAS meeting was chaired by the permanent representative of Suriname, Ambassador Albert Ramdin, who conveyed the appreciation of the Council for the briefing delivered by the minister. He also congratulated all the parties involved in reaching the agreement.

Mr. Ramdin said the agreement hammered out "demonstrates, clearly, the importance of regional and sub-regional bodies in securing stability and security in this hemisphere," sentiments reflected by the OAS secretary general, CÚsar Gaviria who, speaking for the assistant secretary general, Christopher R. Thomas, described the accord as "remarkable."

Ambassador Denis Antoine of Grenada elaborated on the visit by his prime minister to Guyana, indicating that Dr. Mitchell would also be meeting with the leaders of the political parties in Guyana.

<--Press Releases