President Donald Trump’s masterful handling of the recent election crisis in Guyana has received little attention in the U.S. press; it deserves more. Not only has the President protected U.S. strategic interests in the region, he has saved democracy in Guyana, enhanced US influence in the Caribbean and northeastern corner of South America, and is keeping up the pressure on the rogue dictatorships of Venezuela and Cuba.
Some background -- on the northeast coast of South America, the so-called Guiana Shield, lie two countries -Guyana and Suriname. Both countries began 2020 under the threat of dictatorship. But thanks to President Trump, and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, democracy prevailed. Both countries now have duly-elected governments
Guyana is a small, multi-ethnic country of 750,000, which has suffered years of political oppression and poverty at the hands of an anti-Indian dictatorship (Guyana’s population is 43% Indian origin). The instability, corruption, and violence in Guyana, led many Indo-Guyanese and over half of the population to migrate to the United States beginning in the 1960s. Many now live in New York and Florida. President Trump's home county of Queens, in New York City, is now 10% Guyanese- American.
But the world changed for Guyana, as huge oil reserves were discovered offshore, and oil started pumping early in 2020. Guyana now has the second largest oil reserves per capita in the world, after Kuwait. That oil rush prompted the government of President David Granger, a former military official of the dictatorship that ruled Guyana from 1966 to 1992, to try to cheat and seize power.
The March 2, 2020 elections were heavily monitored by the Trump administration. When it became clear that the mostly Indo-Guyanese Peoples Progressive Party ("PPP") had fairly won the election, Granger tried to cheat. His agents forged fake results, sometimes right in front of US observers. International observers were harassed. When Granger scheduled a "swearing-in" to seize power, the Trump administration told him to back-off, and accept the election results.
For five months, until August, 2020, Granger and his gang tried fraud, frivolous court actions, intimidation by drunken mobs, and thuggery to try to steal the election. But the message from the Trump administration, working diplomatically and closely with all the democratic players - the UK, the EU, Canada, Brazil, CARICOM, the OAS - was clear and strong. Secretary Pompeo announced tough US sanctions against Granger and his henchmen. Military action was openly discussed. The Trump administration summoned the Guyana military leadership, and they agreed to ignore illegal orders from Granger.
Isolated diplomatically by the Trump administration, and pressured domestically and internationally, Granger finally agreed to accept the election results in August, and Dr, Irfaan Ali of the PPP was sworn in as Guyana's new President. In September, Secretary Pompeo traveled to Guyana - the first US Secretary of State to ever visit Guyana - to congratulate Ali on the victory for democracy and further strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between the two nations.
On the same trip, Secretary Pompeo additionally visited the neighboring country of Suriname, where US pressure also allowed for free elections. Thanks to President Trump, in 2020, Suriname finally had a free election and ousted a former dictator, Desi Bouterse, who has now been replaced as President by Chandrikapersad "Chan" Santokhi. Suriname is also a multi-ethnic country with an Indian origin population of some 35%.
The dictator Bouterse had previously “won” an election against Santokhi, held during Obama's administration, marred by fraud and intimidation. Bouterse openly mocked Santokhi, a former Justice Minister of Suriname, as "the Sheriff" because of Santokhi's reputation for morality, honesty and "law and order."
Bouterse was a wanted criminal, convicted of drug smuggling, money laundering, and charged with the cold-blooded murder of 15 labor leaders, journalists and members of the opposition.
In 2020, Santoki ran for President again, and this time Donald Trump was President of the United States. His administration's policy was that free elections were to be held in Suriname, and that Bouterse needed to respect the results. The difference was startling. Santokhi and his multi-ethnic coalition partners won a huge majority, in a fair election, and he is now President of Suriname.
International stability is not an accident, and the victory of democracy, over thugs and dictators, is not preordained. Too many millions of people on earth still suffer under brutal anti-democratic regimes. But thanks to President Trump, two countries that have experienced the darkness of dictatorship were saved, and now enjoy freedom and democracy.
This is a historic moment, and a great win. Stopping dictatorship in Guyana and Suriname stabilizes the overall Caribbean and CARICOM, as well as northeast South America and the OAS. The message to Maduro’s Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba, and outside powers who might seek to make mischief is loud and clear – the United States is back in the game, and will vigorously support democracy.
About the author:
Deborah Misir is a partner in the New York based law firm of Lally and Misir, LLP. She previously served as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, and ethics counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office. She also served as counsel to the US Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force and the US Delegation to the International Maritime Organization.