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man of many talents

Guyana’s ‘Accidental’ Ambassador Moves With Diplomatic Purpose


ayney Karran always dreamed of becoming a disc jockey, not a diplomat. As a teenager, Karran was active in his high school drama club and performed in plays that were recorded for radio, sparking his lifelong fascination with broadcasting.

At 17, he left school and began working at Radio Demerara, which back then was the most popular station on the air in Karran’s native Guyana. “Eventually, I did all kinds of programming: music, news, interviews, DJ stuff. I thought I could go far in broadcasting,” Guyana’s longtime ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States recalled during an interview at his residence in Bethesda, Md. “By 19, I was getting to be a household name. There was no television in Guyana at the time, so I was a celebrity. I even used to get fan mail. That was pretty cool.” But Karran’s father would have none of that; he insisted his son study law instead. Ram Karran was deputy leader of the leftist People’s Progressive Party (PPP) under its founder, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, and spent more than 28 years as a member of Parliament. So the young man took his father’s advice and went to law school — beginning in Guyana and finishing up in Barbados and Trinidad. “By the time I got back, the Guyanese economy had collapsed and I couldn’t make a living in radio anymore,” said Karran, who eventually joined a law firm and spent years immersed in torts, contracts and debt recovery for financial institutions. However, Karran never lost his love for radio, which proved to be an asset. “When the PPP got into office in 1992, they had been out of power for 20 years and needed a chairman of the board of directors for the Guyana Broadcasting Co.,” he said. “I was the only guy who knew anything about radio. In two years, we were able to turn GBC from a loss-making to a profitmaking institution.” Karran impressed his elders so much that when the PPP-led government decided to replace its ambassador to Venezuela, they offered him the position in Caracas. “It wasn’t so much that I came to diplomacy, but diplomacy came to me,” he said. “They asked me to serve as ambassador as a stopgap measure. They wanted to make a change, but not leave the post vacant, due to Venezuela’s territorial claims on Guyana. The idea was that I’d go for a year or two. But I ended up staying seven years.” During Karran’s 1997-2003 posting in Caracas, relations between the two South American neighbors improved considerably — to the point that the Venezuelan government under President Hugo Chávez conferred upon Karran one of its highest

April • May 2013

Bayney Karran, Guyana’s ambassador to the United States. Photos: Larry Luxner

It wasn’t so much that I came to diplomacy, but diplomacy came to me. — Bayney Karran, ambassador of Guyana to the United States

national awards: the Order of the Liberator, First Class. In fact, the medal itself was ceremoniously pinned on him by Venezuela’s then-foreign minister, Roy Chaderton, who is now the country’s permanent representative to the Organization of American States, where Karran also works. By November 2003 — when Karran was sent to Washington to replace Guyana’s outgoing ambassador, Odeen Ishmael — the one-time DJ had already become a seasoned diplomat. Ishmael, who is now Guyana’s envoy to Kuwait, had served here for 10 years. That means that since 1993, Guyana has had only two ambassadors representing it in the United States, when other countries might have had five or six during that time. “As ambassador, you build up contacts and gain people’s confidences, so there’s something to be said for long postings as well. We find that works for us,” said Karran. Karran’s seniority in Washington has made him the longest-serving ambassador from any Latin American or Caribbean country, though his 10 years here isn’t enough to make him dean of the entire D.C. diplomatic corps; that honor goes to Djibouti’s Roble Olhaye, who’s been here since 1988. Karran presented his credentials in 2003 to thenPresident Bush. He’s met with President Obama five or six times, most recently at the OAS Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. He says relations Sponsored Report

between the United States and Guyana have improved dramatically since the 1960s, when the Kennedy administration considered PPP founder Cheddi Jagan to be a dangerous Marxist and worried that Guyana would become a communist beachhead in the hemisphere. “I think security cooperation has improved a great deal. We fight common challenges in the fight against drugs and HIV/AIDS,” the ambassador said. “We have a very large Guyanese Diaspora in the United States, and the overall atmosphere of our relationship is on a much friendlier and more cooperative footing. In 2011, when we recently celebrated our 45th anniversary of independence, Congress passed a resolution congratulating us.” Karran said his top priorities as ambassador in Washington are to encourage U.S. investment in his country — particularly in agriculture, telecommu­ nications, forestry and tourism — and to connect members of the large Guyanese Diaspora with their homeland. To that end, Guyana already has consulates in New York, Miami and Houston, and will soon appoint representatives in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Perhaps the only major issue separating the two countries is Cuba, but Karran said that on this topic, Guyana is united in solidarity with Caricom’s other 14 member nations. Continued on Page 22

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