Guyana and Venezuela

US sharpens Guyana election focus amid oil buzz

Bnamericas Published: Monday, February 25, 2019
US sharpens Guyana election focus amid oil buzz

The US is calling on Guyana's government to maintain democratic institutions as it faces a potential constitutional crisis with major implications for the country's political future and the impact from a historic oil boom.

A letter Friday from US President Donald Trump to Guyana President David Granger implored the leader to maintain democratic principals, ahead of a March 20 deadline to hold general elections as required in response to the passage of a December 21 no-confidence vote.

"As your government and the people of Guyana assess the future direction of your country, know that the United States recognizes and honors Guyana's respect for the principles and integrity of democratic governance and institutions," Trump told Granger in a letter on the occasion of Guyana's 49th anniversary as an independent nation Saturday, as reported by local news outlet Demarara Waves.

The remarks arrived only days after US, UK, Canadian and European diplomats met with the Guyana elections commission (GECOM) for an update on its preparedness for the general elections, the outlet noted.

By a majority vote, the seven-member GECOM decided last week that elections could not be held by March 20. That is when a 90-day constitutional window to hold fresh elections closes. Lawmakers could however vote for an extension.

Instead, the commission decided to hold house-to-house registration this year in keeping with its pre-existing 2019 work plan, according to Demarara Waves. Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo has vowed not to support an extension "at this time."

Elections were originally due to be held in 2020.

According to the local Starbroek News, former legislator Charrandass Persaud, whose vote led to the passage of a no-confidence motion against the current administration, said a constitutional crisis is looming and that either elections should be called or the opposition must come together and agree on an extension.

The political impasse arrives atop the long-standing divisions between the nation's two main ethnic factions (both connected to the UK's colonial legacy), the Afro-Guyanese populace, largely living in or around the capital of Georgetown, and the Indo-Guyanese living mostly in the countryside.

The former group dominates the PNC party of President Granger, whereas the Indian-dominated PPP party has led the drive to oust the Granger-led coalition.

Oil boom on the horizon

The political imbroglio and the US' insistence on Guyana's continued commitment to democracy weighs heavily within the context of the deepening crisis in neighboring Venezuela, and more locally, the nation's own impending economic explosion.

"When ExxonMobil begins oil production in Guyana next year, mining crude from its seven new deepwater wells, life may change dramatically in this small South American country," wrote Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt, who is a visiting assistant professor of politics and international studies at Kentucky-based Centre College, in a essay for academic journal The Conversation.

"The mega deal is expected to increase Guyana's gross domestic product from US$3.4bn in 2016 to US$13bn by 2025. That's because Guyana, one of the poorest in South America, will receive about half of all ExxonMobil's oil revenue after the company's exploration costs are repaid," wrote the scholar.

"Nearly 40% of Guyana's 800,000 people live in poverty. The oil money will provide a remarkable economic boost that could strengthen education, health care and infrastructure," said Lunde Seefeldt, who pointed out that there is also a risk that the boom could become a "resources curse."

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