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Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Trip to Guyana, May 8-10, 2015

May 15, 2015

The purpose of this visit to Guyana was to become acquainted with the leaders of the country and to monitor the election of president and members of the parliament. The Carter Center has been deeply involved in Guyana since observing the election of 1992, which was politically transforming.

Guyana was a British colony for 150 years and achieved independence in 1966. About 43 percent of the population are Indo-Guyanese, descendants of indentured workers brought in from India. About 30 percent are Afro-Guyanese, descended from former African slaves, nine percent are indigenous people, and the other citizens are of mixed parentage. There has been a general political division between the two major ethnic groups since early independence, when British and American governments supported Forbes Burnham, an Afro-Guyanese, instead of Cheddi Jagan, an Indo-Guyanese, who was accused of being a communist. Burnham's successor was Desmond Hoyte.

In 1991, Cheddi Jagan visited me to request that The Carter Center monitor the election of 1992, and I visited the capital, Georgetown, and had extensive discussions with President Desmond Hoyte. He eventually agreed to this proposal, fully confident that his party, the People's National Congress (PNC), would prevail. On election day, it became obvious that Jagan's party, the People's Progressive Party (PPP), was winning, and riots erupted in Georgetown with buildings being burned and several people killed. The central election headquarters was attacked by a mob, but I remained there with four Secret Service agents, eventually calling on the White House to intercede. The president then prevailed on President Hoyte to provide police protection, and order was finally restored. The PPP has remained in power since that time, but recent elections have indicated its steadily decreasing margins of victory.

Unfortunately, there is a "winner take all" custom in Guyana, and the efforts of The Carter Center to change this system to a greater sharing of power have been fruitless. On my last visit to Guyana in 2004, I announced in frustration that we were through with these efforts to help. Since both major parties and the Guyanese election commission (GECOM) invited us to observe this election, we agreed to return.

Although I had contracted severe cold symptoms after a recent trip to the Middle East, I decided to proceed to Guyana on May 8. In Georgetown, I was joined by two co-leaders, Dame Billie Miller of Barbados and Dame Audrey Glover of Great Britain. Our observer group of about 55 was headed by Jason Calder and David Carroll. On our first day, we met leaders of Guyanese for Peace, and the next day, we met with President Donald Ramotar, Chairman Steve Surujbally and other members of GECOM, ambassadors of key countries, UN agencies, and the European Union. Then we had a discussion with religious leaders of different faiths before visiting Brigadier General Mark Phillips, Chief of Staff of the military forces. Our next stop was the Police Force Headquarters for a discussion with Commissioner Seelal Persaud.

During this evening, our medical doctor (who accompanied us from Johns Hopkins) decided that I should go to the local hospital, and I reluctantly agreed to return to Atlanta after consulting with local doctors and my personal physician at Emory. Before leaving the next morning, we met with presidential candidate David Granger, who leads the opposing coalition, A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC), followed by another meeting with President Ramotar and former president Barrat Jagdeo. Both major candidates promised to accept the results of the election if they are judged by GECOM and international observers to be free and fair.

David Carroll and Jason Calder kept me informed about progress of the election. The voting process seemed to be orderly and peaceful, and both candidates claimed to be ahead in results from party poll observers. I called GECOM Chairman Surujbally, and he said he would give preliminary (perhaps conclusive) results Wednesday night or early the next morning at the latest. I then talked to both candidates, who said that they issued claims of being ahead only after the other party declared victory, but both promised me not to claim victory until after the GECOM announcement.

I issued a statement calling for all polling results to be published and for parties to accept them. When preliminary results were released, Granger prevailed with 206,817 votes to 201,457, but PPP so far has refused to accept their defeat, demanding a recount of all votes. If finally implemented, this will be the first change in Guyanese party leadership since 1992.


Guyana's election observation delegation was co-led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Ambassador Audrey Glover of the United Kingdom, and former Barbados Minister of Foreign Affairs Billie Miller. Above, Dame Miller visits a polling station on election day.

Uranie Piper, 77, cast her vote on May 11, 2015, in Guyana. Purple, indelible ink is used at polling stations as a safeguard to prevent double voting. (Photos: The Carter Center)

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