The Truth of the Matter

Posted February 28th. 2004 - Special Feature by David Hinds

Guyana, Haiti in Waiting

Dear Editor

No two countries are the same, but some countries do share some characteristics. The situation in Haiti has some resemblance to the one in Guyana; hence there are some lessons for the latter. Like Haiti, Guyana's transition to a viable democratic state has been held hostage by both external and internal forces to the extent that both countries can be called failed states. Both states are unable to deliver to their citizens the basic guarantees of a modern state - social, economic and political security. While one may argue that Guyana is not as far down the road of failure as Haiti, the difference is really academic; both countries are far past midnight. What is beyond dispute, to my mind, is that while the state in Haiti and Guyana survive in their legal forms, the structures have collapsed and or ceased to carry out their prescribed functions. My contention is Guyana is Haiti in waiting.

There are four forces at work in Haiti today - the government, the "rebels", the official opposition, and the Americans. Similarly, in Guyana there are four forces - the government, the official opposition, the "African resistance" or "Freedom fighters", and the Americans. In Haiti while the opposition is separate from the rebels, this separation is blurred as the two have a common objective, the removal from office of the democratically elected Aristide. In Guyana, the opposition and the freedom fighters also share the common objective of removing the democratically elected PPP government for office.

Aristide was democratically elected but the outcome of his election has been instability and bad governance instead of stability and democratization. Several factors, including some outside of Aristide's control, have led to this outcome. But there can be no doubt that Aristide has contributed to the situation the country now faces. Similarly, the PPP was democratically elected, but the outcome has been instability and bad governance instead of the anticipated democratization.

The big question is why have these democratically elected governments presided over the withering away of the state? It is easy to blame the opposition or the rebels or outside forces, which are indeed agents of destabilization, but the real culprit is the convergence of these forces with a mode of governance that mistake democratic election for license to govern without accountability. Arrogant and non- accountable governance are easy prey for extremism.

Both the Aristide and the PPP governments have come to rely in extra-judicial forces for protection. This signals a lack of confidence in the security arm of the state or an admission that the latter is either dysfunctional or non-functional. When this pivotal arm of the state disintegrates, the rule of law dissipates.

The Americans have always played major roles, mostly negative, in Haiti and Guyana. This is a phenomenon that is at variance with the independence of these two countries; something American hegemony has scant regard for. Many forces in Guyana have denounced the role of the US in influencing the country's destiny during the 1960's, but public and private evidence point to a renewal of that role over the last decade with the complicity of both major parties. Professor Thomas's recent statement on foreign intervention to save Guyana was, therefore, not a call for intervention, as some read it, but rather a recognition of what is. Just as the contending forces in Haiti cannot resolve their differences on their own, so it is in Guyana where it seems that the PNC and PPP have given up

Note that when Mr. Bacchus came forward with information on the alleged government-run Death Squad, he went not to the police or the opposition but to the American Embassy. It was only when the American Embassy official was kidnapped that the Buxton operation was cracked. Neither the opposition nor the government has done anything about the Gagraj issue, but the Americans have canceled his visa. President Jadgeo reportedly accused one of his comrades of passing information to the Americans. If the President did accuse his colleague of this sin, how did the president learn of the leak? From the Shiprider Agreement to the US request in relation to the International Criminal Court, the PPP government has been a willing and ready tool of the US foreign policy in the Caribbean, even to the detriment of CARICOM solidarity. Finally, Mr. Corbin has over the last year fallen in line; hence his regular sojourns to Washington. The evidence is clear.

Guyana, since 1997, has had enough practice at what is currently happening in Haiti-there have been several little uprisings. Guyanese have at least put on the table the power-sharing solution, which the Americans have now proposed in Haiti. In 1979, Walter Rodney explained that his urgency to help liberate Guyana from the clutches of dictatorship was motivated in part by a need to prevent Guyana from going down the Haiti road. Now, 25 years later, as Haiti fights for its last breath, Guyana can seize its last chance to rise from the dead.

David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and Africana Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. He is also a political and social commentator who has written extensively on Guyana and Caribbean politics. More of his writings can be found on his website.