By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Political analyst and educator
DR. IRFAAN Ali kicked off his first visit to the U.S as President with a warm welcome everywhere. He impressed Guyanese and others with his plans for Guyana and relations with the diaspora. The enthusiasm, coverage, the hype, and the critique from the opposition that Ali’s trip to the US generated were enormous. Regardless of the actual policy accomplishments, the trip is regarded as a success. The trip and its several engagements allowed the President to meet individuals important for Guyana’s future as well as to lay down the stage for the country’s position on global issues future policies. The trip also allows the diaspora to get to know the President although there were limited exchanges because of COVID-19 protocol restrictions.
The President’s trip in America was a busy one. He had bilateral engagements with leaders of other countries and multi-lateral summits with leaders of selected nations. He also had a meeting with UN officials, addressed the UN General Assembly, paid tribute to victims at Ground Zero, interacted with spiritual leaders from the Guyanese diaspora in Queens, parleyed with Christian heads of churches from Brooklyn, held discussions with business people (including CEOs and COOs of companies) on investment in Guyana, fielded questions from the press, conversed with influential members (community leaders, politicians, police officers, among others) of the diaspora, and hosted the Lieutenant Governor (a Guyanese American) of New York before wrapping up his public appearances. The proceedings or take away from these multiple discourses, summits, exchanges, interchanges, assemblies, conversations, confabulations, and conferences will no doubt help to shape his government, in addition to his party’s manifesto commitment, over the next year.
President Ali discussed a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, vaccine apartheid (non-recognition of certain vaccines by the developed countries), trade, climate co-operation, etc. in his public appearances. In his exchange with the diaspora, he discussed election rigging, Venezuela, foreign policy, economic development, oil and gas, Exxon, local content, vaccines, investment, role of diaspora, technology, crime, co-operation with police and law enforcement bodies as well as local governments (New York City and Schenectady) in New York State. His dialogue with the diaspora and the media conference were open. There was a no holds barred exchange with the diaspora including addressing the shooting incident in Essequibo, ethnic issues, and employment opportunities including retaining and hiring supporters of the political opposition.
The President said as far as he and the government are concerned there is no border conflict with Venezuela. “All of Guyana’s territory belongs to us,” he declared. He also made poignantly clear that no PPP Government has ever discriminated against anyone. “It is not our policy.”
The President was advised by the UN not to have large diaspora events as in previous visits to the US by Guyanese presidents, as part of COVID-19 measures. But almost all of his events were broadcast live or aired delayed tape.
The President’s trip has generated a lot of buzz in the Queens-based diaspora as I travelled around in the greater Richmond Hill area. His remarks were much talked about by the diaspora. As recent incidents and events have shown, Guyanese, especially government supporters and the elite in the diaspora who are most likely to influence public opinion, are prickly about their country’s honour and pride. The diaspora and the homeland like the idea of the President being proactive and an advocate of Guyana abroad. The President was heard loud and clear. Deference and respect were accorded to the President by the international community at various global parleys.
The Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo, also spoke at diaspora exchanges and he, like Ali, drew loud applauses. The Foreign Minister (Hugh Todd) was also present at some meetings as was the Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud. The VP and the Foreign Minister were very clear on the country’s foreign policy and foreign relations. The President laid the groundwork for closer ties with all countries. Prior to his arrival in the US, the President met with Latin American leaders in Mexico City that hosted a CELAC summit, impressing them with Guyana’s willingness to work closely with countries in the region. The President noted that he would be visiting the Middle East in November and the VP will visit Ghana in October and will lead a delegation to the Climate Summit in November in Scotland. The President of Kenya is expected to visit Guyana.
The VP and President were also clear on economic and development vision. They expressed a strong belief in Guyana’s future prospects. As the VP noted, when the PPP inherited the economy in 1992, per capita was just US$300. The PPP grew it to $5,000 when it was removed from office in 2015. The PPP government is looking to grow the per capita to US$30K by the end of this decade.
Both the President and VP stressed the fact that the country will not depend on oil and gas to develop but resources from them will fuel other sectors for a sustainable development. There will be no oil resource curse for Guyana under their watch. They both marketed the country as attractive for investment.