More Links in News & Events

Guyana Trip Report: March 2001

By Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn, John Hardman, Chuck Costello, and Nancy Konigsmark accompanied me from Albany, Georgia, to Georgetown, Guyana, on Friday, March 16, on J.B. Fuqua's Challenger. Michael Ashcroft provided the funding that made it possible for us to participate as election monitors. We arrived to find the Guyanese sharply divided as they had
been during previous elections.

Guyana is a country of about 800,000 people with great human and natural resources (mining, forestry, fishing, rice, sugar) but with an annual per capita income of only $800 - sharing the bottom rank in this hemisphere with Haiti. The problem has always been the deep political divisions among the people that break down on ethnic lines.

A few more than half are Indo-Guyanese, descendants of indentured servants from India whose political party is the People's Progressive Party (PPP). Slightly fewer are Afro-Guyanese, whose ancestors were slaves and whose party is the People's National Congress (PNC). In addition, there are about 50,000 indigenous Amerindians who live mostly in the forests and interior savannahs.

When we served as the primary international monitors in 1992, the first really free and fair election, there were serious riots in Georgetown, with three people killed and several dozen wounded. A number of stores and other buildings were burned before police could restore order. This was when I was most in physical danger since leaving the White House -- or, in fact, since leaving the submarine service.

I was surrounded by an irate mob that had already destroyed the central election headquarters and was rescued only after appealing twice by telephone to incumbent president Desmond Hoyte, whose party members had launched the riots when they learned that they would probably lose the election after 28 years in power.

The 1997 election was won by Janet Jagan, wife of Cheddi Jagan, who died in of-fice in 1997. The election results were disputed, and, following unrest, CARICOM nego-tiated an Accord under which the PPP administration agreed to shorten its term from five to three years. A long legal challenge finally resulted in the 1997 elections being declared null and void early this year. Consequently, this year's contest was to be a true test of whether democracy could survive in this beautiful little country.

This time, several other international observer teams were present, including a large joint EU/UN team, and teams from the Organization of American States, Commonwealth, and CARICOM. After thorough briefings, our 25 Carter Center teams were dispatched on Saturday to all te10 regions in the country, most of them in the vicinity of Georgetown and along the eastern coast where a majority of the population is concen-trated.

Former Barbados Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford joined Rosalynn and me as co-chairman, and before election day we met with President Bharrat Jagdeo, former president Desmond Hoyte, their party leaders, heads of the military and national police, major donors, other international observers, the news media, the national elections commission (GECOM), and some of the minor candidates.

On election day, Rosalynn and I began early, and we and our team were able to visit 64 polling sites. Everything was in good order, except that there was some confusion about the voters list and the absence of ID cards for many of those who were registered. Several of the parties were also concerned that the voters list did not contain the names of all persons who had registered.

Despite the relative harmony, there was a lot of tension raised all over the country by inflammatory statements from political party leaders and incredibly obnoxious television talk show hosts. One of them had been jailed earlier because of his attempts to incite violence. Election laws permitted these TV shows to continue all during the voting period and throughout election night.

Our early team reports, from about 380 polling sites, indicated that the over-whelming majority of stations functioned normally or with only minor problems. A small sample of election results, which we collected after poll counts, indicated that the PPP would prevail with about 54% of the total votes, and that Jagdeo would stay in office for a full five-year term as president. It happens that he has worked closely with The Carter Center for several years in preparing a national development strategy for Guyana.

At the beginning of this time he was just a technocrat in the Ministry of Finance, but his superb work was instrumental in his taking office in 1999 after Janet Jagan stepped down.

Despite maximum pressure from all the international observer teams, GECOM failed to publish preliminary results throughout the day following the election, although they shared them with us privately. In our press conference late that afternoon, after giving a summary of our teams' findings, I preached a political sermon about how, in this
divided country, there had never been any inclusion of the losing party in governing the nation and what they must do to heal the political wounds.

Afterward, leaders of both parties expressed appreciation for what I had said, and I drafted a common declaration the following morning and took it to Desmond Hoyte and Bharrat Jagdeo. After both of them approved the text, I released it to the news media Wednesday morning shortly after we left Guyana to return to Atlanta. If they carry out their commitments, this can bring an unprecedented era of inclusiveness to the government and civic processes and perhaps end decades of vituperation and lack of social, cultural, and economic progress.

Text of the declaration:
Georgetown, Guyana
21 March 2001

Recognizing the need for political, cultural, and economic progress in Guyana, we agree that the first major step must be to complete the work of the Special Select Committee, which will result in a new constitution for our nation. The constitution will be put to a referendum for approval by the citizens of Guyana within 12 months. Adequate staffing and resources will be provided to implement its provision.

Our goal will be an inclusive organization of government, within which the majority and opposition political parties will both be involved in the leadership of parliamentary stand-ing committees and the selection of leaders to fulfill major responsibilities of governing and management. These will include but not be limited to the Chief Justice and chancellor, the Auditor General, members of a strong human rights commission and an ethnic relations commission, the allocation of lands and housing, the tendering of contracts, a permanent committee on constitutional reform, and a permanent elections commission. A new elections code is needed, with provision for the maintenance of an accurate voters list.

We will cooperate fully in maintaining a constructive dialogue between the top leaders of PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform parties, and will include appropriate representation from other political and civic organizations, including the Amerindian community and women.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top