THE AMERICAN diplomat, Brent Hardt, who has been serving as his country’s Ambassador to Guyana for almost three years, is scheduled to leave shortly against a backdrop of political controversies in which he has been involved and seemed to have relished.
Not since political independence was attained by Guyana 48 years ago, has a diplomatic envoy of a foreign nation been so involved in open domestic political controversies as Mr. Hardt. His frequent public interventions in matters of national interest, at times revealed scant disrespect for the norms of quiet diplomacy that other accredited foreign diplomats routinely observe when they find it necessary to engage the government on specific issues.
After his latest public utterances last week, that included direct accusations against Guyana’s Head of State, President Donald Ramotar—who was at the time participating in CARICOM’s 35th annual summit in Antigua—he seemed to have courted sufficient anger from a then acting Foreign Minister (Priya Manickchand) and subsequently Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon that could well have resulted in an official request to President Barack Obama’s administration for his recall.
But experienced as he is in his diplomatic footworks, the provocative media-oriented Mr. Hardt-known to have developed rewarding working relations with influential domestic political opponents of the government—chose his ‘farewell’ reception last week to reveal more scathing accusations, foremost being that President Ramotar himself has been consciously violating Guyana’s constitution.
In what would be his swansong, or last political swing, Ambassador Hardt decided that last week’s traditional observance of America’s historic July 4 annual commemoration of its now 238th independence anniversary was perhaps an ideal occasion (was it?) to deliver stinging salvos at the Guyana Government for failing to hold much overdue local government elections.
The experienced diplomat, reputed to be well connected with the US foreign intelligence service, was previously immersed in serving with the US Embassy in Bridgetown for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean during which I also shared in various media encounters with him.
Quite attracted to media coverage, much of which is guaranteed for him in the Guyana media—and known to be disposed to espousing conservative ideological preferences-the end of Hardt’s diplomatic service in Guyana is now quite immersed in controversies of his own creation.
His new role back in the USA is to be that of a ‘Political Adviser’ to the Commander of US Special Operations Command’ as he disclosed at the reception he hosted at his official residence and to which he seemed to have guaranteed elements to engage in some booing and jeering against caustic criticisms of him that flowed from then acting Foreign Minister Manickhand.
The unexpected verbal broadside he ran into at his reception from Guyana’s then acting Foreign Minister, Manickhand, was as surprising as his own evidently calculated undiplomatic salvos at the Guyana Government and, worse, aimed directly at President Ramotar.
He had previously garnered much media publicity-both in the state and private media—with his assumed crusading role against the government for failing to conclude arrangements for local government elections.
The last such poll occurred in 1994, two years after the defeat of the then long rule-(without free elections)-by today’s main opposition People’s National Congress which had shown no commitment in holding free and fair elections. Several pieces of legislation have been drafted, and assented to by President Ramotar but assent for a new local government poll remains outstanding.
While others, among them the British High Commissioner and Opposition parties have also been urging arrangements for local government elections, Ambassador Hardt has distinguished himself with frequent undiplomatic interventions and alliances with Opposition parties that may have unwittingly done him a disfavour with immature embraces-particularly the minority AFC.
However, after a recent meeting with the Guyanese President that turned out to be his farewell before the Guyanese Head of State left for last week’s CARICOM Summit in Antigua, Ambassador Hardt opted to make sweeping condemnatory remarks over the government’s failure to hold local government elections.
In the process he even launched into a personal broadside against the President, contending that as Head of State he was violating the Guyana constitution by failing to assent to legislation.
Earlier verbal clashes included the President’s refusal to okay a US-funded “democracy” project. Currently being reviewed, its implementation was deferred following strong complaints from the government about aspects being controversially implemented by US personnel, in collaboration with opposition forces-without prior agreement with the government on details of the programme.
It took the suspension of the work permit granted by the government for the US director of the project (Glen Bradbury) before mutual agreement was reached for scheduled resumption of this project.
But the utterances at his ‘reception’ address were apparently laced with too much of political insolence for the Guyana Government’s representative present for the occasion. Manickhand, the Education Minister, was then deputising for Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, who was with President Ramotar at the CARICOM Summit.
It was following Ambassador Hart’s contention that President Ramotar was party to a breach of Guyana’s constitution for failing to give his required approval for the local government legislation, that Minister Manickchand-recognised as a quite articulate and tough-talking Cabinet minister-accused him of having “crossed the redline.”
She declared: “For a professional foreign service officer, with the appointment of an Ambassador, to make such declarations, accusations, allegations and innuendos about the Executive President of Guyana, or any country for that matter, is totally unacceptable…”
While some guests, who were identified among known supporters/activists of Opposition parties engaged in booing and heckling her, the minister remained firm in her denunciation of the calculated criticisms of Ambassador Hardt against the Guyana Government and Head of State.
A surprising development the following day was a public statement by Opposition Leader of the People’s National Congress, David Granger, who called for an “apology” from President Ramotar for Minister Manickchand’s verbal broadside against Mr. Hardt, while being quite silent on the US envoy’s direct criticisms of the Guyanese Head of State.
But then, this sort of self-serving posturing is so much part of Guyana’s political culture and, sadly, with shades elsewhere in a few other CARICOM states.
For his part, the very influential Cabinet Secretary and skilful articulator of government’s policies and programmes, Dr. Roger Luncheon, signalled a stern warning at his weekly media briefing.
The government, he said, “will not tolerate disrespect, meddling and interference from foreign envoys in its internal affairs, especially when they are clearly pursuing a political agenda. There is a line that must not be crossed and stated clearly in all international diplomatic conventions and protocols…”
(Analysis by Rickey Singh)