President Continued from Page 3 positions because of hard work,” he told us. “My whole intention was wanting to play a part, but politics is such that — speaking for myself — I got more and more deeply involved until it became my life.” Following the election of Nov. 28, 2011, Ramotar was declared the winner, although the PPP fell one seat short of an outright majority in the National Assembly, winning 32 out of 65 seats. That put Ramotar in the position of serving as president, even though a coalition consisting of the People’s National Congress and several smaller opposition parties comprises a parliamentary majority. “The opposition sees its role in Parliament largely to harass us more than anything else,” the president lamented. “That’s why they’ve passed all kinds of bills, most of them proving to be unconstitutional. They’ve tried to cut our budget and even stop one of our ministers [Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee] from speaking in the National Assembly.” Years earlier, the PPP also regularly encountered opposition from the United States, with the Kennedy administration viewing the man who led Guyana to independence — Cheddi Jagan, the son of Indian sugar plantation workers who became a U.S.-trained dentist — with suspicion. The United States and Britain backed the PNC over the PPP because of fears that Jagan’s party was cultivating ties to communist states such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, helping the PNC consolidate power over the next three decades. However, decades of mistrust between the PPP and the U.S. government dramatically thawed in 1992, when Jagan won Guyana’s first internationally monitored elections and was embraced by Washington, which hoped he would stem a tide of corruption, waste and economic mismanagement under the PNC. Today, Guyana’s relations with the United States are robust; Ramotar and his wife Deolatchmee met President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel in September 2012. “Guyana wants good relations with the United States, because it’s the biggest power in the world and because it’s in our interest to have good relations,” the president said. It’s also in America’s interests, given the economic gains Guyana has made over the last 20 years. Under Burnham’s authoritarian rule, many schemes to nationalize industry essentially bankrupted the country. In recent years, however, Guyana has managed to stabilize its economy and attract foreign investors drawn to its vast natural resources. Even so, there’s very little direct U.S. investment in Guyana; Ramotar said he suspects that has to do with “misinformation” about the country. Asked to explain, the president said the PNC frequently accuses his government of corruption — a ploy he dismisses as a “political weapon” with little, if any, substance. “I’m not saying there’s no corruption. I would be the last to say there’s no corruption in our society — but not the kind of corruption they’re speaking about,” he told us. “About two months ago, I released every privatization action taken by the PPP to clear up any questions they had. That is a public document. It shows how many bids we got, how they were advertised and where the money went.” There’s no question, said Ramotar, that before 1992,
things were much worse. “When we came into office, the auditor general hadn’t issued a report in more than 10 years. Since then, we’ve ensured that every single year, the government books are audited,” he said. “The opposition chairs the public accounts commission, and all our senior officers go there to answer questions. Secondly, we’ve established four standing committees in the National Assembly. Senior government ministers can be summoned, and have been summoned. These are things you’ve never seen before in Guyana.” The government is also working to tackle crime, a major issue for the whole Caribbean. “But the fact is that Guyana has become a transit point for narcotraffickers, fueling a lot of this crime. There’s no other
explanation in my view,” Ramotar told us. “It’s not because of any economic situation at home, but because as the Americans squeeze Colombia, the traffickers look for alternative routes to transport their drugs out of South America.” Despite the problems facing his country, Ramotar is confident his administration will make a difference by the time he leaves office at the end of 2016. “Guyana is a free and open society. We have respect for democracy and the rule of law. We have a lot in common with the United States,” he said — though it’s clear this president isn’t taking anything for granted. “I’d consider 20 years of democratic rule quite young. I would be the last to say it is totally irreversible,” Ramotar said. “Probably dangers are still lurking out there.”
Guyana wants good relations with the United States, because it’s the biggest power in the world and because it’s in our interest to have good relations.
— Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar, president of Guyana
April • May 2013