CARICOM mission notes need for dialogue

Stabroek News
January 16, 1998

The CARICOM goodwill mission, in a meeting with President Janet Jagan yesterday expressed the need for an initiative to "establish and maintain dialogue between the disputing parties," a Guyana Information Services (GIS) release said.

Meetings with President Jagan, People's National Congress, Desmond Hoyte, and representatives of the Alliance for Guyana (AFG) were among the first day's activities of the CARICOM mission headed by former Barbados foreign minister, Sir Henry Forde SC.

President Jagan and Hoyte as well as the AFG's representatives led by Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, described their encounters with Sir Henry and his colleagues as cordial and useful. Sir Henry accompanied by Sir Shridath Ramphal, SC, former Commonwealth secretary general; and Sir Alister McIntyre, a former CARICOM secretary general arrived here on Wednesday evening and are reportedly due to leave over the weekend.

The meeting with President Jagan and her colleagues, was held at the Office of the President and lasted for an hour, according to the GIS release.

With the President, were prime minister-designate, Samuel Hinds; Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon; Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee; Labour and Health Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey; Agriculture and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud; Information Minister, Moses Nagamootoo; Moen McDoom, SC; Ralph Ramkarran, SC; and Political Adviser to the President, Kellawan Lall.

According to the GIS release both sides agreed that as a matter of urgency the political hostility and breakdown of law and order should be addressed.

The release said that the mission expressed the community's deep concern at the escalation of violence and hoped that it would go no further, pointing to the wider implications of such an eventuality.

The meeting with PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, SC, scheduled for 11.30 am was put back to 1 pm as Hoyte was leading a peaceful protest march around the city, which he left to speak with the mission at its Herdmanston House, Queenstown, base.

Speaking with the Stabroek News later, Hoyte described the meeting as exploratory, during which there was a frank exchange of views in a cordial atmosphere.

The PNC leader said in the telephone interview that he had explained to Sir Henry and his colleagues why the PNC was of the firm belief that the elections were fraudulent and the reasons for their protests.

Hoyte said that Sir Henry's team had raised in a general way the need for some accommodation to resolve the present impasse. He added that it was his impression that the team intended to study the information which had been provided by himself and Mrs Jagan to see if some mechanism could be fashioned that would facilitate dialogue between the two parties.

Dr Roopnaraine, also in a telephone interview, said that the AFG had provided the mission with its ideas as to how the present political situation could be addressed.

He said that it was impressed upon the mission the importance of the PPP/Civic and the PNC talking together since the short- and long-term solutions to the problems were political. Also, he said, it was indicated that if there was to be a drift away from confrontation, it was necessary that agreement on the audit be addressed as a matter of urgency.

But Dr Roopnaraine said his team had cautioned that it did not feel that such an agreement would necessarily bring an immediate end to the street protest until there was a clear indication as to the way forward.

The AFG, which included vice presidential candidate Sheila Holder, Dr Nanda Gopaul, Eusi Kwayana and Bert Carter, also presented Sir Henry and his colleagues with a brief outlining its proposals for addressing the question of ethnic security.

Earlier in the day, at a press conference at Herdmanston House, he Sir Henry and his colleagues issued an appeal for all Guyanese to place the interest of the nation above all other motives in the light of the current trend towards escalating violence.

"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," Sir Henry said.

Sir Henry also outlined the team's objective and priorities. One of the mission's objectives, he said, was to enable the Caribbean Community to formulate an independent position on the situation in Guyana, adding that the mission was independent of other initiatives being taken by local groups. Hugh Chomondeley, who returned to Guyana to continue his efforts to bring the parties to together, agreed with this view, saying that the CARICOM mission was complementary to what he was doing.

Sir Henry told reporters that the team would focus its investigations on "the developments emanating from the elections results of the December 15, 1997 poll," and planned to do so with "the aid of the political parties and all others in a position to contribute to our efforts."

Because of Monday's events, Sir Henry said, these two priorities were uppermost in their minds as all parties must agree that the country must rapidly return to a position of normality in which law and order prevailed in a democratic environment so that grievances could be pursued through legal processes and negotiation conducted in a climate of order and good governance.

"All political parties, and all elements of Guyanese society, have contributions to make to this end," he said.

He said that a fundamental factor in relation to democracy was the acceptance of the supremacy of the Rule of Law by all elements in the society. The team's leader noted its obligation to respect the primacy of laws and legal processes of Guyana, adding that this was of particular significance since it would have to defer to these "even as we strive to contribute to a resolution of current problems."

Responding to questions from the press, Sir Henry said that they had not come with any preconceived ideas or solutions.

The seven-member Elections Commission, Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief, David de Caires, and former CARICOM general counsel, Bryn Pollard, SC, also met the CARICOM mission during yesterday.

Today, the mission is likely to meet the Trades Union Congress, the United Force and the Private Sector Commission among other organisations.