Guyana: A Brazen Heist in Progress

Guyana has been tethering on a dangerous precipice for over one and a half years. Many believe it is about to flip over, an event that is bound to create a political and economic tsunami. 

And if it does, it will bring to an end nearly three decades of uninterrupted democracy and shatter the dreams of economic prosperity and security that the world’s newest petro-state promises to deliver. 

If the people of Guyana collectively decided to do nothing, they might as well revert back to the old colonial spelling of “Guiana” as V.S. Naipaul did in a  “A Handful of Dust: Return to Guiana (New York Review, April 11, 1991). Doing nothing is to acquiesce that post-independent Guyana has been a colossal political failure. 

In my three decades as a journalist I’ve learned that every story has a focus and  this one is no exception. Scrape past all the shenanigans in and out of dilapidated colonial style buildings and the feeble courts in Georgetown, when all is said and done, this is a “thiefman”story. 

Growing up in Albouystown, a dangerous ghetto on the outskirts of Georgetown, you learn from an early age to recognize the “thiefman” who lounges around all day only to slither out at night to steal what does not belong to him. 

“Oil Dorado”

The prize is of course oil, but more important, it’s the riches that come from selling it. 

In 2015 Exxon Mobil discovered nearly four billion barrels of easily accessible light sweet crude oil some 200 kilometers off the coastline of Guyana. The government signed a deal with Exxon and a few other companies that turned out to be shell companies of Exxon. It was a very bad deal, but nevertheless, the profits that Guyana will reap are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. 

The government recently issued its annual forecast of oil revenues at nearly $300 million U.S. for 2020 and that’s with the economic shutdown due to COVID-19. 

Sarah-Ann Lynch, the American ambassador in Georgetown, said that Guyana  could become the “richest country in the hemisphere and potentially the richest country in the world.” 

By 2025 Exxon is expected to be pumping 750,000 barrels of oil a day surpassing oil producing OPEC countries like Kuwait. Even at incredibly low market prices of US$40 a barrel, it is safe to say that the country’s wealth will be stupendous. 

But in order for anyone to lay his or her hands on it they would first have to steal a victory in the March 2, 2020 elections.  

And this is the drama that has been playing out in Guyana since December 21, 2018. 

The Protagonists

El Brigadier: 75-year-old President David Granger

While Granger’s term as President began in May 2015, it’s what he did before coming to office that provides an insight into why his actions might betray the fact that he believes the Presidency is his birthright.   

75-year-old President David Granger (photo Nazim Baksh)

Granger has never been shy in declaring his absolute reverence for the dictator Forbes Burnham. He describes Burnham as a visionary and it was under Burnham that Granger rose to prominence and eventually to Commander of Guyana’s Defence Force in 1979, a year before his mentor green-lit the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney in June 1980 at the vibrant age of 38.  

Granger doesn’t have the bluster and flair of Burnham, but he matches the  gumption of El Professor, the mastermind in the hit Spanish series on Netflix -“Money Heist,” – who staged spectacular robberies of the Royal Mint and the Bank of Spain. 

Since he was elected to office in May 2015, Granger has tasted the fruits of wealth that he had no part in earning by looting the Bank of Guyana and the Royal Mint without having had to fire a single shot. The governor of the BoG, Dr. Gobind Ganga, might have played a small role in meekly handing him the keys to the vaults.

With a declaration of victory for APNU-AFC on the horizon, Granger is now determined to claim the country as his own while the world watches it unfold in real time on social media. 

To achieve his goal he needs a supporting cast of characters.  

The Organization

Partnership For National Unity (APNU) and Alliance For Change (AFC), often referred to as APNU-AFC. Incidentally, its motto is “Honesty, Decency and Integrity.” 

Political Players

Joseph Harmon (Minister of State), Volda Lawrence (Minister of Health, Region 4), Khemraj Ramjattan (Minister of Security), Moses Nagamootoo (Prime Minister, ceremonial). 

The Enablers

Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield; Returning Officer of District Four, Clairmont Mingo; Chair of Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Claudette Singh; Commissioner GECOM, Vincent Alexander; Commissioner GECOM, Roxanne Myers. 

The weighty task of the enablers is to find a way to turn the defeat of APNU-AFC in the March 2 elections into a victory.   

Echo Chamber

Guyana’s state owned media. Nigel Hughes (former member of AFC);  Patrick Nicholson (The Guyana Report Card), Rickford Burke, President of Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID). Yvette Clarke, U.S. Congresswoman and co-chair of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus. (Incidentally, on AFC’s Facebook page, the administrator failed to spell-check the word ‘caucus’ before posting Clarke’s ill-advised comment that apparently exploited the tragic death of George Floyd in support of APNU-AFC). 

APNU-AFC’s Playbook

Stonewalling the opposition and the international community is the cornerstone of Granger’s strategy. Combine it with a mixture of bullying, stirring up racial tensions, obfuscation, lying, deception and making zero effort to correct fake news when it works to his advantage. It sounds like Granger ripped a few pages from Donald Trump’s playbook.

In the nine months following the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly on Dec. 21 2018, Granger and his cabal did everything to avoid setting an early date for national elections. He argued that Charrandass Persaud’s vote in favor of the motion was invalid on grounds that the APNU-AFC member held dual Guyanese-Canadian citizenship. 

Charrandass Persaud

Charrandass embarrassed Granger. It made him look weak and because he was suffering from ill-health and receiving treatment in Cuba for what turned out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it appeared as if his government was spiraling out of control.  

His embarrassment mounted when it turned out that four other senior ministers in his coalition were also dual Guyanese citizens – Joe Harmon,  Carl Greenidge; Rupert Roopnarine and Granger’s own son-in-law, Dominic Gaskin. 

Granger countered with another spurious argument. He posited that a majority of one was not sufficient to topple his government. Of course it was a wild misinterpretation of the constitution but it bought him even more time. Eventually, the matter was settled by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the highest court in Guyana. Granger was wrong and the CCJ ordered him to make haste in setting a date for elections. 

Still, he dithered, arguing that an entirely new voter’s registration list had to be first completed. And finally, when he was absolutely confident that the pieces were in place for a potential victory, he set the date, allowing six months for a campaign, the longest in Guyana’s post-independence history. 

Having lost the elections, APNU-AFC resorted to old tricks. Attack and keep on attacking the credibility of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). 

Ramjattan, a patsy for Granger and a cockolorum whose desire to become the new ceremonial prime minister, has turned him into a liar. In television interviews, he falsely accuses the PPP of using “mischief, impersonation, non-residents, dead people, and ghosts to snitch (he means snatch) votes here and there at some of the country’s 2,339 polling stations.” 

On June 2, 2020, in an interview on Trinidad’s CCN TV6 morning edition, Ramjattan told host Fazeer Mohammed, that “the PPP spent a lot of money to hire extraordinary high-tech companies – British Analytica (he meant Cambridge Analytica which went bankrupt in 2019 and ceased operations) and Mercury (?), to do what is called really bad racialized ads directed straight at the person they feel is persuadable.”  He meant ‘undecided’ or ‘swing votes.’ 

Ramjattan told CCN TV6 that one of the PPP’s targeted ads said that “Black people can’t run oil money, you have to have East Indians doing that.” Ramjattan admitted in the same interview that “we (APNU-AFC) are [only] now hearing of all this.” 

Even if this were true, and it is not, why bring it up in a foreign media outlet? An ad with such an overtly racist message would give APNU-AFC credible mileage on home turf. If it existed at all, the ad could be used to discredit the entire PPP’s campaign. However, it still wouldn’t alter the results of March 2. 

If using foreign companies to target undecided voters was illegal, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump would have been overturned a long time ago. In the case of Brexit and Trump, the evidence of interference is a mile long.     

Invoking race and class is a favorite theme in APNU-AFC’s playbook. It has been alleged that under Jagdeo, hundreds of Black Guyanese were murdered. The lowest number that appears in print is 400. No proof, no investigation and no inquiries are proffered to substantiate the allegation. If it were true,  APNU-AFC has had five years to launch an independent inquiry and has not done so, evidence of a gross dereliction of duty. 

Satyadeow Sawh a.k.a. Sash

The state-owned newspaper had the temerity to publish an article that alleges Jagdeo did nothing to solve the murder of Satyadeow Sawh and members of his family in 2006 conveniently forgetting that the PNC has done nothing in 40 years to solve the murder of Guyana’s finest son, Dr. Walter Rodney. 

A favorite talking point of APNU-AFC is to allege that Jadgeo and PPP’s presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali, have amassed great wealth. Reference is often made to Irfaan’s palatial home. The only thing palatial about his home is that it offers an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. One is left to assume that perhaps Jagdeo and Ali, the “coolies” they are, should still be living in their grandparent’s “logies.”  Maybe a picture of this grand home Ali lives in would help readers determine whether it is in reality “palatial.”

Jagdeo and Ali would have to stash their “great wealth”  somewhere other than under their mattress. And if the Panama Papers scandal has taught us anything, it is next to impossible to hide substantial wealth from the prying eyes of international agencies.  

The Antagonists 

El Presidente: 56-year-old former President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo.

Former President Jagdeo (r), with Presidential candidate Irfaan Ali

Jagdeo is no pushover. He is shrewd, eloquent, incredibly patient and disciplined. He was mentored by Dr. Cheddi and Janet Jagan and learned the art of politics growing up at Freedom House. When Janet Jagan was forced to step down as President due to ill-health in 1999, the party’s top brass deemed Jagdeo capable of assuming leadership. The PPP won the 2001, 2006 and 2011 elections. However, in accordance with the two term limitation on the office of the presidency, something he signed into law, Jagdeo stepped aside in 2011 to become the secretary general of his party and Donald Ramotar stepped into the role of the President. It is for this reason that I believe he deserves the title “El Presidente, not because he is the President or wants to be, but because he willfully relinquished the position 

The Organization

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).  Its motto is “One Country, One People, One Future.” The PPP has been the ruling party since it took power from the People National Congress (PNC) in 1992 and in May 2015 it lost to APNU-AFC by approximately 4000 votes.

Political Players

Mohamed Irfaan Ali (Presidential candidate), Anil Nandall (former attorney general), Gail Tiexeira, Mark Phillips (Prime Ministerial candidate)

Cast of Supporters 

CARICOM, The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organization of American States (AOS), the governments of the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom. The European Union. Most independent media platforms inside Guyana. The vast majority of Guyanese in the diaspora, but most important of all, the majority of Guyanese who voted on March 2 – 15,000 more “valid votes” than those who legitimately voted for APNU-AFC. 

PPP’s Playbook

PPP/C’s strategy has been to play the long game. I’ve visited Guyana twice since the no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly and I was amazed at how calm people were. 

The ones inciting tensions by constantly playing the race card have always been APNU-AFC members. It appears it is the only thing they know how to do. 

Instead, Jagdeo stuck to a campaign aimed at highlighting a litany of  APNU-AFC failures while reminding the people of the PPP’s legacy of economic growth and prosperity between the years 1992 and 2015. 

Guyana Flag

Guyana is “broke” and it is not because of the brand new Cheddi Jagan International Airport. The country is in the red.  

According to the Bank of Guyana’s Official Gazette’s statement of Assets and Liabilities, Granger’s APNU-AFC has depleted the country’s general reserves to $0 and has gone into an overdraft to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Any Guyanese with a computer can look up the Official Gazette of the Bank in 2015 and see that Guyana’s gold reserves was $15 billion. It is now standing at $715 million. That’s a decline in five years of $14.3 billion not counting input of new reserves. 

The general and contingency reserves are also in the negative digits. When the PPP handed over to APNU-AFC there were billions of dollars in reserves. 

In his frequent long rambling media briefings, Jadgeo spells out in great details the gross incompetence, rampant fraud and corruption of Granger and his government. 

You don’t have to take Jagdeo or Ali’s word for it, just ask the spirited Charrandass Persaud.  

With the international community already endorsing the validity of GECOM’s recount which puts the PPP/C 15,000 votes ahead of Granger, the possibility of severe economic sanctions on APNU-AFC should it refuse to concede looms over Guyana, and by implication, the wider Caribbean region for years to come. 

First published at Republished with permission.