My Turn | Shadows of Sanctions

The High Court is expected to rule tomorrow on yet another constitutional motion to decide on the way forward in bringing to a formal end the impasse over the March 2 elections.

This is a fresh cycle over the past four-and-a-half months of involvement by the judiciary in the disputed elections, which both the governing Coalition and opposing parties claimed to be crooked, at least in different stages of the counting and recounting processes. But in a strange twist of events, the United States Secretary of State publicly has demanded that the incumbent President should “step aside”, which was buttressed by an indeterminate raft of sanctions, including visa revocations against unnamed State and elections officials for their alleged role in undermining democracy.


American Congressman Hakeem Jeffries immediately weighed in on the decision of the current US administration, saying that it is in no position “to lecture Guyana or anyone else about democracy”.

Jeffries noted that there is currently a contested parliamentary election in Guyana. “The outcome is in dispute…With respect to the outcome of the election in Guyana, I take no position. Neither should the Trump administration”.

For its part, the Guyana Government expressed regret over the decision taken by the US State Department, since the matter affecting the outcome of the elections is still before the courts, and no declaration of the results of the elections has been made.

Another Member of Congress, Yvette Clarke, has described the sanctions as an infringement of Guyana’s sovereignty. She suspects that there is a “corrupt intent” for this untimely intrusion, and has affirmed that the democratic process under the Constitution of Guyana is very much alive.
“It is phony for anyone from outside to dictate how the process must work,” she said. In swift repudiation, the Washington-based American attorney, Bart Fisher said Thursday that since the March 2020 election has not been declared, the United States should respect the Guyanese people as they deal with their electoral challenges peacefully.

“It is wrong for the US Government to threaten the officials of the Guyana Government, the courts and election body with visa revocation,” he added.


The apparent rape of Guyana’s sovereignty, and the naked threat of sanctions have elicited an emotional wave of patriotic sentiments. Many Guyanese have identified themselves with, and have posted on social media the country’s National Pledge.

They pledge “to be obedient and loyal to Guyana”, and not allow the lure of a foreign visa to be placed around their necks as an instrument of hate and rejection.

Having lived under the shadows of sanctions almost all of my political life, I readily identify with the way Guyanese feel over the use of a foreign visa as a weapon of bullyism; a form of terror diplomacy. Like them, I did not cringe in the past, and I am not about to do so now.

I was born in a British colony where my political consciousness was fertilised by the influences of national liberation struggles. Before I became a teenager, I had already learned to echo the emotive refrains, “Vande Mataram!” and “Uhuru!” as part of life in our villages, where we celebrated the independence of India and Ghana.


In 1953, the British sanctioned our country, the form of which was an armed invasion. As the colony had belonged to the British, the right to personal freedom was enjoyed at the pleasure of the foreign imperial government. It revoked that privilege when it jailed key Guyanese nationalist leaders. Their movements inside the colony were restricted, and they were banned from travelling overseas. But no one could stop the tide. Guyana eventually gained her independence!

My generation has lived through colonial and post-colonial rule, always under the shadows of sanctions. We sensed it after the Cuban Revolution, when the West charged that Guyana would become another Cuba. But we paid little heed to the threats, as we were swept away by the folk rhythm of “Guantanamera” and the poetic lyrics of Jose Marti, some of us learning our first words in Spanish: “Patria o Muerte!”

In our years of revolutionary romanticism, we reveled in the conviction that we were not alone as we protested against the unjust war in Vietnam, the coup in Chile, and Apartheid in South Africa.

We embraced solidarity, not sanction, when we rallied for Grenada during an invasion that buried a revolution that was already dead from its own bullets. On that fateful October 25, 1983, I was the last voice on telephone with Radio Free Grenada before a bomb fell on the studio.


Until 1989, I have had no appetite to visit the United States of America. I did so for the first time at the end of the Cold War to lobby for free and fair elections, and for support to end post-independence, one-party rule in Guyana. We found great friends in America. Looking back at what we achieved then, it is timely to note that the only support that would make any sense is that aimed at preventing the return of one-race, one-party authoritarian rule in our multi-ethnic society.

The democratic will of the Guyanese people cannot be fully expressed if the proverbial Sword of Solomon is used to divide the Guyana child in half.
Today, we have returned to the past, or what V.S. Naipaul described as “the bend in the river”. The most difficult political challenges are ahead. For this, Guyana needs engagement, not isolation: Not sanctions. The leaders have to come to the table and work out a post-election détente. The time for this is now!

The “Big Stick” will not work; it never did, as we have learned from the vintage text, “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy” by William Appleman Williams.

I recall a vignette from The Ten Commandments where, after Pharaoh had decreed the death of all first-born of Israel, Moses remarked, “Close the door, Joshua, and let death pass.”

This sentence of sanctions will also pass.