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Statement by President Carter Upon his Departure from Guyana


CONTACT: Kay Torrance

GEORGETOWN, GUYANA…I would like to thank once again President Jagdeo and Chairman Corbin for inviting me to visit Guyana. I have had an opportunity to meet with a wide range of organizations and individuals, who all have given generously of their time and have shared their opinions and suggestions. I had productive discussions with Mr. Corbin and other leaders of the People's National Congress Reform, President Jagdeo and the Central Executive Committee of the People's Progressive Party/Civic, members of parliament of both ROAR and WPA/GAP, the chairman and commissioners of the Ethnic Relations Commission, the speaker of the National Assembly, the chancellor, chief justice, and president of the bar association, representatives of the private sector and trade unions, the Rights of the Child youth group, the international donor community, and others.

Although my faith in the Guyanese people remains, it has been a sobering visit. Except among a few political party leaders, there have been almost universal expressions of concern about the present condition and future hopes of Guyana, based on a failure of political leaders to heal the incompatibility and animosity that characterize their relationship.

When I first met Dr. Cheddi Jagan more than 12 years ago, he expressed a desire to heal the political divisions and ethnic polarization in Guyana and, with the approval of President Desmond Hoyte, The Carter Center assumed the responsibility of monitoring the election of 1992. Since then, we have worked for several years with political leaders and private citizens to develop a National Development Strategy, which prescribes a future for Guyana based on a shared commitment of private citizens and political leaders working in harmony, regardless of their social status, ethnic origin, or political party affiliation. This plan was developed under the direction of Bharrat Jagdeo, who was then an official in the finance ministry. One of its key provisions was a call for participatory democracy, in which opposition parties would share fully in shaping policies of the nation. Subsequently, there were promises of constitutional reform that would fulfill this commitment.

Instead of achieving this crucial goal of inclusive and shared governance, the Guyanese government remains divided with a winner-take-all concept that continues to polarize many aspects of the nation's life. Most members of parliament are directly dependent upon and responsible to the political party that chooses them, and not to the people whom they profess to represent. There are only spasmodic meetings between political leaders, and publicized agreements reached during those rare and brief sessions have not been fulfilled. The promises of constitutional reform have been frustrated.

Guyana is blessed with extraordinary human and natural resources, which President Jagdeo and other leaders are struggling heroically to utilize. However, there is little prospect for either substantial economic or social progress unless there is a truce in the political wars. No one party should bear the blame. The traditions and culture of both major political parties are deeply entrenched and have their roots in 50 years of fierce rivalry that denies the legitimacy of the other party's concerns. This problem can be solved only with basic constitutional changes in the system of governance.

Based on many years of observation and my recent conversations with Guyanese citizens and members of the international community, I have shared with President Jagdeo and Robert Corbin my thoughts on some steps that might be taken to ensure political harmony, peace, and stability.

1. The political leaders should consult with each other regularly, beginning with the implementation of agreements already reached, as described in the May 6, 2003, communiqué and other documents.

2. Representatives of the People's National Congress should return to their posts in the parliament.

3. All the provisions of the National Development Strategy should be debated in the parliament, with as many as possible implemented into law.

4. The Standing Committee on Constitutional Review should be reactivated to implement proposals for substantive governance and election system reforms, drawing heavily on civilian participation. The two party documents on governance represent a starting point.

5. An independent civil society forum should be created to lead a structured national discussion on a vision for governance of the country to promote reconciliation and the NDS. I hope civil society will organize itself in a nonpartisan fashion for this purpose.

The Carter Center and other international organizations will be eager to assist in these official and unofficial efforts and also to help ensure the integrity of future national elections, as requested by Guyanese leaders and civil society. In addition, the Center promotes legislation ensuring access to information and political campaign financing and has offered this service to the government of Guyana.

Of all the countries I have visited in the world, Guyana has the most unrealized potential. It is my hope and prayer that the future will be filled with peace, harmony, mutual respect, and economic and social progress.

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