Guyana: Victory for CARICOM?

By Wazim Mowla*

David Arthur Granger, Former President of the Republic of Guyana.

David Arthur Granger, Former President of the Republic of Guyana/ Flickr/ Creative Commons License (not modified)

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) played the critical role in bringing Guyana’s five-month political impasse over the March general elections to an end – without compromising on its longstanding principle of non-intervention – but the threat of broader international sanctions was certainly key. The grouping, which has 15 member states and five associate members, conducted the vote recount, demanded by all of Guyana’s opposition parties, and certified that Presidential challenger Mohamed Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) won. After local and international stakeholders accepted the legitimacy of the recount, CARICOM’s institutions and individual leaders were increasingly forceful in calling for the incumbent President, David Granger, to concede defeat.

  • The initial tabulation of votes gave victory to Granger but was contested as fraudulent by the opposition parties and international observers. A high-level CARICOM team of Caribbean Prime Ministers brokered the recount agreement between Granger and opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo. CARICOM sent a three-person team to scrutinize the recount and produced the widely accepted elections observation report, which the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), an institution of CARICOM, upheld. Granger refused to concede, however, accusing CARICOM of interfering and showing bias. He launched scathing attacks on CARICOM’s current chair, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who joined other CARICOM leaders in speaking out against the then-government.
  • CARICOM was not alone in demanding that Granger accept the election results. In mid-July, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo called on him to “step aside” and announced restrictions on the U.S. visas of “individuals responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Guyana.” During an Organization of American States Permanent Council discussion on the Guyana crisis several days later, Secretary General Luis Almagro forcefully called for the incumbent administration to accept the recount, in which OAS observers also had a role. He said that “Guyana’s democracy remains hostage” to Granger and individuals doing his bidding.

The prime ministers who spearheaded CARICOM’s efforts in Guyana emphasized the organization’s interest in protecting democracy throughout the region, which they saw as threatened by Granger’s behavior. After the CCJ ruling on the recount, Chairman Gonsalves stated that there was a “rogue clique within Guyana [that] cannot be allowed to disrespect or disregard, with impunity, the clear unambiguous ruling of the CCJ. The time for decisive action is shortly.”

  • Keeping U.S. unilateralism at bay – consistent with CARICOM’s fundamental principles of non-intervention and sovereignty – was another important reason for CARICOM’s activism. Gonsalves saw an opportunity to promote CARICOM as a viable and sovereign organization that was capable of solving problems within its own community. He and other CARICOM leaders privately expressed concern that the longer Granger and his supporters refused to leave office, the more likely the Caribbean would see history repeat itself in the form of U.S. intervention.

CARICOM was heavily invested and influential during the crisis, and its leaders clearly deserve great credit for getting Granger to step aside so President Ali could be sworn in on August 2 and inaugurated last weekend. The long delay, however, suggests that the organization did not have enough leverage by itself to force Granger’s hand – and that pressure from the Commonwealth of Nations, the OAS, and the United States was also decisive. The additional foreign actors acquiesced in CARICOM’s authority in Guyana’s situation and based their actions on the organization’s elections reports and the CCJ ruling. CARICOM was vindicated in its insistence that the Guyana crisis remain a “community affair.”

  • If Granger had not conceded, CARICOM’s credibility and ability to hold its member states accountable during periods of democratic backsliding would have faced damaging blows. The organization would have faced an existential decision – to push even harder and potentially exceed the mandate of its Civil Society Charter, or to pull back and lose credibility. Under such a scenario, the United States and the OAS would eventually have escalated pressure, and Guyana probably would have achieved its transfer of power. But CARICOM and democratic institutions throughout the region would have emerged weaker. As Ali’s inauguration brings this stage of the Guyana crisis to a close, CARICOM has passed the test, with some outside help, and validated, for now, its fundamental belief that problems should be solved “in the family.”

August 10, 2020

* Wazim Mowla is a graduate student at American University, specializing in Caribbean Studies.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations to CARICOM! It seems that effective regional cooperation — whether in the Caribbean, North America, South America, or elsewhere in the world — requires some mix of the following three components: 1) Economic integration, 2) A political vision of a common future, and 3) Extra-regional pressure on regional decision makers, inspiring fear of a worse outcome for all in the absence of intra-regional accommodation. Scholars and policymakers often privilege the first or second dimensions. Yet the practice the third may be necessary, or even sufficient.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Leslie Elliott Armijo Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: