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Press Statement issued by the CARICOM Mission to Guyana in Georgetown, Guyana, 15 January 1998

We have come to Guyana on the initiative of the Caribbean Community as stated in the Press Release of 8 January 1998 by the Community’s current Chairman, Prime Minister Mitchell of Grenada. Also, as there stated, we have come with the specific concurrence of the two main political parties in Guyana – and we hope as well with the support of all political and other elements of Guyanese society.

Our first message is to all the people of Guyana. It is for you as part of the wider society of West Indian people that there exists a primary sense of care on the part of CARICOM. It is to you that CARICOM owes its fraternal responsibilities. Our Mission reflects that underlying reality and will be responsive to it. We appeal to all Guyanese to give us their help and cooperation, placing the goal of viable democratic governance and the interest of Guyana above all other considerations.

In the particular context of the December 15 elections and its aftermath a basic tenet of CARICOM philosophy is the right of all Caribbean people to democratic systems and processes that conform to the highest standards of fairness, transparency and integrity. These rights, of course, are not limited in their enjoyment to election days, but arise before, after and between elections. They have found expression in a variety of Community instruments, but most recently and directly in the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society to which all CARICOM States are Parties. Articles VI, VII and XVII of the Charter dealing with ‘Political Rights’ , ‘Meetings, Demonstrations and Petitions’ and ‘Good Governance’, are particularly apposite in their assurance of ‘fair and open democratic systems’ in CARICOM Member States.

These Regional commitments to democratic norms are themselves reflected in National Constitutions and electoral laws and in the more general aspiration for democratic governance. On all these matters we expect that Guyanese like other Caribbean peoples are of one mind. It is in relation to these translations into practice that disputation can from time to time arise. Such disputes must themselves be resolved in the manner prescribed or allowed under law, including the exercise of rights and freedoms normal in free societies. But this apart, there remains the right to invoke the help of friends and, in our regional context, that means prominently CARICOM partners. That is how and why we are here.

We mention processes of law. That is a fundamental factor in relation to democracy. There can be no true democracy unless all elements in the society accept the supremacy of the Rule of Law. We ourselves in undertaking this Mission do so mindful of our obligations to respect the primacy of the laws and legal processes of Guyana. This has particular significance in relation to aspects of the dispute that might be before the Courts of Guyana. We are not here to usurp the Rule of Law but to respect and defer to it – even as we strive to contribute to a resolution of current problems. We will be guided by these considerations.

We must stress one other matter. There have been inevitably other initiatives besides CARICOM’s. We do not seek to supplant any other approaches; but we are entirely independent of any of them. As explained in the CARICOM Press Release, it is a specific objective of our Mission ‘To enable CARICOM to formulate an independent position on the situation in Guyana’.

Other specific objectives of our Mission are ‘to attempt to arrest the trend towards escalating violence’ and ‘to do everything possible to ensure that the people of Guyana are united in their quest for free democratic expression’. Those aspects of our Mission are uppermost in our minds since the events of last Monday. All parties will surely agree that the country must rapidly return to a position of normalcy in which law and order prevails in a democratic environment so that grievances can be pursued through legal processes and negotiations conducted in a climate of order and good governance. All the political parties, and all elements of Guyanese society, have contributions to make to this end.

It is in the context of all the above that we must begin our task, as stated in the CARICOM Release, of ‘investigat(ing) the developments emanating from the election results of the December 15, 1997 poll’. While respecting any judicial process that might be pursued, we will focus our review on developments subsequent to the poll itself and of course we shall do so with the aid of all the political parties and all others in a position to contribute to our efforts.

However, in the light of current dangers of the escalation of conflict we must first address that situation. The interests of Guyana transcend those of any of its elements, political or otherwise; and your CARICOM partners have interests too in conditions of normalcy here in which political issues, however contentious, can be pursued in freedom under law.

We were invited by the Chairman of CARICOM to undertake this Mission less than a week ago. We have come as quickly as was feasible, and will approach our task with an appropriate sense of urgency. Inevitably, however, this is a preliminary visit. Meanwhile, the CARICOM Secretariat has assembled for us a compendium of relevant material, including the work of others like the Commonwealth Observer Group, the OAS Mission and your own Electoral Assistance Bureau. There is already much to consider. We shall use the time of this visit to talk with the political parties and the Elections Commission and others who can help us in fulfilling the objectives of our Mission.

We have started by meeting with the Media. You will understand, however, that it will not always be conducive to the furtherance of the objectives of our Mission that we provide a contemporaneous account of our work. Where we can, we will. We rely, therefore on the cooperation, and the forbearance of the media.

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