Our embassy in Washington is lobbying for investment
Stabroek News
February 20, 2002

Dear Editor,

I refer to Mr. Peter Ramsaroop's letter captioned "Our Ambassador in Washington must engage in lobbying for investment" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] (l9.2.2002). While I agree with the view that we must aggressively promote investment, he incorrectly assumes that this is not done out of the Embassy in Washington.

For example, he states that the "embassy in Washington, D.C. continues to perform only a diplomatic role." This is not true. Despite having only two foreign service officers, the Embassy performs creditably in meeting with potential investors and providing them with relevant information and contacts in Guyana.

He goes on to ask: "One must wonder what diplomatic issues we face as a small country in the U.S.A. and is our embassy a necessity?" Surely Mr Ramsaroop, as a politician, knows that diplomacy is a necessity in Washington, and I am surprised he is unaware of the issues involved. Currently, there are serious engagements on the US proposed "Third Border" initiative, and it is important that we maintain regular discussions with the US on this matter. There are of course many other matters that we have to be on top of, such as the deportation issue, and the campaign for increased trade benefits for our products. Further, our diplomatic work in the OAS also includes the FTAA negotiations which emphasize trade and investment issues.

I must state that many of the Americans pursuing investment opportunities in Guyana were initially contacted by the Embassy. Follow up discussions took place at the Embassy between myself and these business persons before they eventually traveled to Guyana. I myself have visited many states in the United States to meet with other business persons and with state legislators to aggressively pursue efforts to attract investment. On most of these occasions, I did not deliver "speeches" so these would not be posted on the Guyana.org site on the Internet, where many potential investors are happy to find a link to GOINVEST.

I hasten to assure Mr. Ramsaroop that every "diplomatic" speech I have given helps to promote Guyana's international interest and image. And, contrary to what he believes, it is not a matter of luxury to promote your country's diplomatic interests.

With regard to the debt situation, I have always been in the forefront in promoting debt relief for Guyana, since the period of the presidency of Dr. Cheddi Jagan. This I have done at the bilateral level and also within the World Bank and the IMF. And these efforts have by no means stopped.

I also "lobby" on Capitol Hill. I get the feeling that Mr. Ramsaroop, as a Guyanese political leader based in Washington, does not seem to know that there is now a very active legislative group within the US Congress called the "Friends of the Caribbean" with whom I, as well as other Caribbean ambassadors, interface regularly to advance our interests. And all of these members of Congress are fully aware of where Guyana is located and of our environmental policies including those relating to our rain forest, and whether or not we are "cutting down our trees." Meeting one US Congressman who does not know this does not mean that there are not others who are fully aware. Every month the Embassy sends economic and political information on Guyana to members of Congress, so it is not that we are not keeping them informed. Others also seek information themselves. Recently, I walked into the office of a member of the House of Representatives, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an aide reading the Stabroek News and Chronicle on the Internet.

Over the years I have been able to establish strong relations with leading members of the US Congress. When we had some problems with the PL480 programme in the mid 1990s, they assisted in resolving the issue and even helped me in arranging visits to states exporting wheat to Guyana, so that I could meet with farmers and legislators to explain why the programme was beneficial to us and to them as well.

As recently as August 2001, Senator Charles Grassley, who is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance, took me on a four day trip all over his home state of Iowa to meet with the business community, civic organizations, and universities to promote Guyana and also trade with the state. Along the banks of the Mississippi River, the people who maintain the docks spoke highly of our greenheart logs which form the pilings planted in the river, and insisted that they would continue to need Guyana's greenheart for further expansion work.

I have also addressed Chambers of Commerce and business organizations in Washington, Houston, Dallas, Richmond, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Lansing, Miami, and Baltimore, among other cities.

In addition, the mainstream Washington newspapers have published encouraging articles about Guyana. Actually, over the past year, Guyana has had more favourable media attention in Washington, both in the press and radio, than any other Caribbean country. This is not accidental. It is also because of persistence on the part of the Embassy and close contacts cultivated with these media. I have appeared on National Public Radio on a number of occasions to promote Guyana. I do not know of any other third world ambassador who has done so. Further, I remain the only Ambassador over the past decade who has addressed a full sitting of the Senate in a state legislature, that of Michigan, two years ago. At least, for that state, no other foreign Ambassador has ever done so before in its history.

And it was in Lansing, Michigan, that I visited a large Ford plant, and met with the top executives of that company. This was before the Ford Explorer's tyre related accidents. We talked then about the potential of the Guyana Brazil road link, and I certainly suggested to them about examining the possibility of establishing a plant or even a factory for manufacturing auto or farm machinery parts in Guyana. While one has to be optimistic, one also has to face reality. Ford, or any large company like that, will have to do their marketing analysis before deciding on such an operation. There are not many Ford plants in South America, but if Ford has to build a new one and has to choose a location in Guyana, Brazil, Chile or Peru, I am sure the company will opt for a location where it will have a large market, even if other factors are considered and that location may not be Guyana.

Incidentally, all the executives I talked with knew about Guyana and that we speak English. They said they knew about Guyana since they were in high school. One of them even told me that his uncle served as an air force pilot at Atkinson Field in 1943. I don't know where Mr. Ramsaroop met his Ford "executive", but certainly it was not in Lansing, Michigan.

If I recall correctly, Mr. Ramsaroop was part of a political group that claimed to have a long list of potential investors, including Americans, all lined up to start business in Guyana after March 2001. Since I am sure that Mr. Ramsaroop has Guyana's interest at heart, he himself can help by introducing these potential investors to the Embassy or to the relevant authorities in Guyana. Many other Guyanese nationals in the United States do so all the time.

Yours faithfully,

Odeen Ishmael