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US-funded democracy project not destabilizing but helpful to opposition

Opposition Leader, David Granger (green shirt) and Winston Felix (right). Partly hidden is Dr. George Norton

Opposition Leader, David Granger on Friday rubbished claims by the government and the ruling Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) that a US-funded democracy project violated Guyana’s sovereignty but acknowledged it could help the opposition.

“I see them making Guyanese citizens, particularly young people, more aware of the issues that confront us and it will help them to make decisions when the time comes so that they could select leaders who could run this country in a more orderly fashion….That will be advantageous to the opposition,” said Granger in an interview.

Contracted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI) has been contracted to run the US$1.250 million Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) project.

The IRI’s activities in Venezuela, Haiti, Honduras and Egypt have come in for sharp criticism in recent years but Granger does not believe that those would tarnish the Institute’s credibility in Guyana. “I want a different government. Nobody has to inspire me or organise any sort of programme to overthrow the government. The people will do that when the time comes,” he said.

He dismissed concerns by the PPP that the opposition’s fortunes were being bolstered by LEAD in a similar fashion to when the US government had channelled funds through the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) to destabilise the Cheddi Jagan’s PPP-led administration in the 1960s over concerns that he was about to set up another communist outpost in Guyana. “A lot of allegations about destabilisation and breach of sovereignty are a smokescreen by the PPP to prevent help from coming to the people who need the information,” said Granger.

The Opposition Leader also dismissed concerns by the PPP and the government that the LEAD project would interface directly with political parties and engage a broad cross-section of Guyanese in crafting public policy that might lead to constitutional reform. “The government cannot decide what people are thinking and whether they need constitutional reform or not and the government is living in a different era,” he said.

The US embassy has declined to respond to a series of questions emerging from ongoing criticisms by the Guyana government. American Ambassador, Brent Hardt has already said that the project benefitted from extensive consultations with Donald Ramotar-led administration. Despite government’s disapproval of the project, Hardt has said that the project would go ahead, a move that has prompted the Foreign Ministry to write the US State Department to register its concerns.

Asked whether the project should go ahead in light of government’s disapproval, Granger said the US should keep Guyana abreast of what is going on. “Obviously if is a government-to-government matter, the United States should ensure that the Government of Guyana is aware of what is taking place but I cannot speak about the level of consultation that took place,” he said.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Granger confirmed, has benefitted from valuable input through the LEAD project in informing youths in Anna Regina several weeks ago about the new Local Government system. “Right now the young people are starved for information and IRI is playing an important role in allowing the discussion and free passage of ideas among the young people of this country,” he said. Many youths who are now eligible to vote were not born in 1994 when the last local government election was held. While IRI was not element in decision-making in Guyana, Granger said it could be a catalyst for ideas about local government.

The APNU Chairman, like the Alliance For Change (AFC), reiterated his endorsement of the project. “This process has to go ahead and I believe if the IRI has to play a role, that role is legitimate, I don’t think it’s subversive and government cannot stop it either,” he said.

Reiterating that there was no threat of destabilisation, the Opposition Leader contended that the times have changed but the PPP still appeared glued to ideas from the former Soviet Union.