Last Updated on Thursday, 14 September 2023, 21:18 by Denis Chabrol
President Irfaan Ali and his high-level delegation on Thursday held talks with United States (US) House Minority Leader Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, but nothing was raised about alleged racial discrimination and other concerns, Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud said.
“Absolutely no question or any issue on racial discrimination nor inequitable distribution of wealth was raised,” Mr Persaud told Demerara Waves Online News.
Thursday’s meeting with Congressman Jeffries, the Chairman of the Black Caucus and other members of Congress comes weeks before Guyanese opposition-aligned groups are scheduled to hold a two-day conference in Washington DC on the socio-economic and political conditions in Guyana, with the major plank being alleged racial discrimination against Afro-Guyanese by Dr Ali’s largely Indo-Guyanese backed People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).
The Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) had said Mr Jeffries would be headlining the September 27-28 confab, but the Guyanese Foreign Secretary on Thursday night said that American politician did not raise any previously voiced concerns with President Ali. CGID said conference delegates hoped to meet key Members of Congress and US Senators, US EXIMBANK officials and the Congressional Black Caucus, with one of the objectives being to scuttle a US$134 million loan from that financial institution for the gas-to-shore project unless the incumbent administration ends bad governance.
Back in August 2021, Congressman Jeffries had mounted an opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) political platform in New York with People’s National Congress Reform’s Aubrey Norton and had expressed solidarity with attendees to deal with the situation in Guyana and had vowed not tolerate racism, hatred, xenophobia, racially motivated violence, discrimination and injustice. Other Democratic Congressmen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris had separately cited the need for inclusion and transparency.
But the Foreign Secretary said Mr Jeffries did not flag the need for inclusion as a concern in his meeting with the Guyanese leader. “Congressman Jeffries raised no such issue during the meeting,” Mr Persaud said.
Mr Persaud said the President used the opportunity to detail what his administration was doing to push wealth creation as well as Guyana’s position in Latin America and the wider Western Hemisphere. “The meeting discussed Guyana’s leadership role within the region and hemisphere. The President outlined his government’s position on a number of key issues to foster prosperity and unity for Guyana and the region as a whole,” said Mr Persaud.
According to the Foreign Secretary, President Ali emphasised his government’s commitment to “fostering national unity at all levels.” “The President provided updates on his government’s policies and vision for Guyana and the region during the very productive interaction,” he said.
Another senior Guyana government official echoed Mr Persaud’s account about whether Mr Jeffries had raised any concerns about governance in Guyana. “That kind of discussion did not come up at all…This was a straight case of constructive engagement, Guyana’s involvement in leadership in climate change, food security, energy security and building prosperity for everybody across Guyana,” he said. The official believed the the US elected officials understood the “magnitude and the footprint” about government’s spending of oil revenues.
In October, 2022 during a pro-Democratic election campaign, New York Attorney General Letitia James had vowed to mobilise support among colleague Democratic Attorneys General countrywide to ask the Federal government to probe a series of allegations levelled against the Guyana government. Mr Jeffries, Ms James and other Democrats rely on votes from among Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals in New York to improve and sustain their electoral fortunes.
The opposition and allies have been complaining bitterly about discrimination in the award of contracts and natural resource licences as well as the provision of basic public goods such as roads in their strongholds. But Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo is on record as challenging those aggrieved to file complaints to the constitutional Ethnic Relations Commission.