No foreign influence, period!

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– Guyanese have a right to decide their own fate

Dear Editor,
IT IS with deep concern that I pen this letter to express my dismay at comments made by US Embassy staff, Professor Ellis, as reported in the local media. Ellis’s comments are political in nature, and strike at the heart of Guyana’s democracy. These comments appear to be an unwarranted intrusion into Guyana’s electoral independence.

This recent news report could not have come at a worst time, a time of heightened political tensions in Guyana, when the country is heading to National Elections in a few months. His comments seem to have indicated that he has effectively put his thumb on the elections scales in Guyana, declaring that one opponent will win as opposed to another. The APNU, one of the leading political parties to contest the upcoming elections, has already responded and expressed its dismay at Ellis’s comments. Had Ellis not been a current employee of the US government, his comments could have been viewed with less suspicion and potential interference in Guyana’s elections. His comments can be seen as an attempt, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to influence Guyanese voters. The US Embassy’s response, though with some degree of swiftness, to this matter was inadequate. It matters not that Professor Ellis’s comments were made at a time when he was not employed with the US government.

What matters is that he is a current employee of the US Embassy, located in the country his elections predictions were centered on. I read the Embassy’s statement on the matter, and wondered if Ellis’s comments were only now discovered, after they were published on the Online media! Was there no due diligence done to ensure that any potential US Embassy staffer was clear of any conflicting political position, whether explicitly stated or implied by conduct. It should be no surprise that a partisan political commentary by a US Embassy staffer would draw the ire of local politicians, political parties and the Guyanese people.

The Embassy should have foreseen that a stated bias political position by one of its staff, on the domestic politics of a foreign nation could be construed as political interference in that country’s politics. In any democracy or any country that believes in free and transparent elections, this comment could be a serious concern to the people. According to the US Embassy in its statement, Professor Ellis’s comments were made in April last year, less than two years ago. Therefore, the Embassy ought to have known that the professor’s fairly recent partisan comments could follow him into his new role. His comments could also be used by a political opponent, and branded or interpreted as a US government position.

One would think that given the present political realities in the USA, where the sitting president is presently facing impeachment charges for allegedly asking a foreign government, Ukraine, to interfere in the US’s upcoming elections, would be of good guidance to the US Embassy in Guyana. Like Americans, Guyanese would not want any external interference in their elections, especially from government officials of a country they admire and hold out as a beacon of true democracy, the USA.

Sadly, Professor Ellis’s comments have awoken a deep sense of suspicion. It is unfortunate that prior to him being employed by the US Embassy, an official disclaimer or a nullification of his comments were not done. My belief is that if this kind of full disclosure/disclaimer was done, Guyanese would have had no reason to be suspicious of this Embassy staff, and questions of potential election meddling would not have surfaced. Further, the Guyana government would have had no reason to issue a statement of concern. Guyana, regardless of administrations, has had a good relationship with the USA.

However, any attempt, which suggest that any agent of the US is putting its thumb on Guyana’s elections scale have the potential to injure that relationship. I believe it would be in the interest of the US Embassy to issue a more fulsome statement, and encourage Professor Ellis to clarify or withdraw his comments. These I believe will serve well to put to rest any idea that the US Embassy in Guyana, and by extension the US government, has openly injected itself in Guyanese politics and have picked a winner for the next election. The Guyanese people must not go to an election with a feeling that they have not been the sole decision makers in deciding who their government will be. Guyanese people must go to the next elections knowing that their elections were void of any interference of a foreign power, whether by a US Embassy staffer or any other means.

Professor Ellis’s statement cannot just be wished away or slightly brushed aside. His pronouncement can form part of a political campaign that is likely to result in some very serious charges and issues. Guyanese value their right to decide their own fate, as regards who becomes their government. This right should be respected!

Sincerely,
Lurlene Nestor