Many hoped that the discovery of some 8 billion barrels of oil off the coast of Guyana, one of the poorest countries in South America, would offer a means for national development. However, in the wake of Guyana’s first general election since the discovery, the country’s political and economic future has been shrouded in uncertainty. The racial divide between Guyana’s two largest ethnic groups, the Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese, has long plagued the country and continues to permeate Guyanese politics.
[Read Related: Why I Will Never Celebrate Indian Arrival Day]
The 2020 election took place on March 2, between the governing party, the People’s National Congress (APNU+AFC), represented by current President David Granger, and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), led by Irfaan Ali. Partly lines are almost entirely delineated by the persistent racial divide with Afro-Guyanese supporting incumbent President Granger and Indo-Guyanese backing the opposition leader, Ali. Exxon’s discovery of oil off Guyana’s shore in 2015 has only deepened this divide with many unsure if the government is equipped to manage the economic transition from sugar and bauxite mining to major oil production. Jan Mangal, the former energy advisor to President Granger, believes Exxon has taken advantage of Guyana’s lack of experience negotiating with large corporations. He stated:
Exxon will take what it can get, everything it can get. And in terms of Guyana, the people are only beginning to realize what they have lost.
Reviews of the contract have supported this. The New York Times reported that one study found that, “Guyana could lose substantial annual revenue because it agreed to receive a below-average share of oil production.”
With mounting concerns growing over the agreement between the oil giant and the current government, many fear exclusion from the tens of billions of dollars the country is expected to reap from its newly found oil.
Since the election, both parties have claimed victory, plummeting the nation into a political crisis. As of March 5, the PPP led APNU+AFC by 51,539 votes with results from a critical region, Region 4 (Demerara/Mahaica), still outstanding. Recently, opposition supporters took to the streets, burning tires and blocking roads, when Guyana’s electoral authorities, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), went against the acting Chief Justice and announced unverified results from Region 4 that favored the ruling party.
On March 12, the Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs stated in a series of tweets:
We join the Guyanese people and the international community in calling for Guyanese election authorities to follow accepted procedures and allow international election observers to verify the results. It is essential that the High Court-mandated elections tabulation in Guyana be concluded in a free, fair, and transparent manner. Under U.S. law and practice those who participate and benefit from electoral fraud, undermine democratic institutions and impede a peaceful transition of power can be subject to a variety of consequences. De facto regimes do not receive the same treatment from us as democratically elected governments.
Several international observer missions have joined the Western embassies and withdrawn from the tabulation process in Region 4 who stated:
..It was clear that a transparent and credible process was not put in place by the responsible officials. Further, we are concerned about intimidation tactics we observed against those seeking to ensure that a credible process is followed.
We must be clear that in the absence of a credible process, as directed by the Honorable Chief Justice, it is our view that any results for Region 4 which will impact the over results of the 2 March elections will not be credible and a President sworn in on the basis of those results will not be considered legitimate.
The statement highlighted the distrust in the current process and was supported by the Observer Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAS) who added:
…These irregularities are so pronounced that the process is unlikely to create a result that is credible and is able to command public confidence.
At the time of publishing, three weeks since the national election, credible and final results remain to be seen, although a partial recount is currently underway.
[Read Related: Journey to India: Indo-Caribbean Woman Fulfills Lifelong Dream]
For many Guyanese, election season is accompanied by a perpetual state of anxiousness—apparent by the empty schools, closed gas stations and boarded-up businesses. In a country rife with separatism rooted in its colonial past, still, some like Guyanese author Akola Thompson, advocate for an equitable future:
While many hope for a post-racial future in which we can live equitably with each other, our voting patterns continue to belie this dream of a country free from the racial wounds we continue to inflict on ourselves.