GUYANA: The Modern Day El Dorado or Middle East?
Guyana’s recent oil discoveries have put the nation at a fork in the road, with one path leading towards riches, and one path leading towards unrest. The new government would therefore benefit from analyzing the effect of oil on several Middle East countries.
El Dorado is a tale about gold. There are several versions (some about a king cloaked in gold and some about a golden city) and many theories about where it all took place. One “eyewitness” account placed a city of gold in Guyana. The famous British explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, led four excursions to the treacherous Guyana jungles in hopes of finding this city of gold.
Raleigh came across a written account of a captured Spaniard while Raleigh was in Trinidad. The Spaniard claimed that he was captured by an Amerindian tribe in Guyana and taken deep into the jungle. The tribe led him to what seemed like a bustling site in the middle of an uncharted frontier. It was as if the tribe created a city made entirely of gold. The Spaniard escaped but the only reference point that he could relay was that there was supposedly a large lake nearby. Raleigh never found El Dorado and he lost many years, and even his son, in his quest to find it.
The Middle East
The Middle East is perplexing to some. The constant news coverage regarding the unrest and wars can tend to blur the distinctions among the countries. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran are unique but there are underlying similarities.
Afghanistan was part of an original cradle of civilization (the Indus Valley), and also sits on at least 3 billion barrels of oil formed millions of years ago. During its ancient and medieval times, the region saw many dynasties, several conquests, flourishing trade, and cultural and religious changes. The modern era is marked by war and outside influence from Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan seized power, oppressed dissidents, allied with the Soviets, and fought against guerrilla mujahideen. The mujahideen were covertly trained by the United States and Pakistan. In 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to stabilize the unrest. The United States and Pakistan continued to support the mujahideen rebels with cash and weapons. The Soviets withdrew but, in 1994, the Taliban emerged as a rebel militia of students aided by the Pakistani government. In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to surrender Osama Bin Laden. The United States joined the Northern Alliance and eventually overthrew the Taliban.
Iraq, too, has a deep history. The Sumerian era is credited as producing the first writing system, among many other firsts. Iraq was part of the Babylon, Assyrian, and Ottoman empires. Baghdad became the largest multicultural city in the Middle Ages until the Mongols burned down the city and destroyed the library. Iraq gained independence from the British and overthrew its own monarchy in 1958 to create a republic. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United States intervened (the First Gulf War) because of the war’s effect on oil prices, and the Iraqi armed force was severely destroyed. In March 2003, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq based on false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The Coalition Provisional Authority was then established but the nation remained in post-invasion disorder. In the summer of 2003, an insurgency against U.S. troops began and jihadist terrorist groups like formed. Though all U.S. troops were withdrawn in 2011, a civil war erupted in 2014 due to ISIL’s rise.
Lastly, Iran’s history begins in the ancient Lower Paleolithic times. Ancient Greek writings referred to the Iranian province of Persia but the name “Persia" persisted and is often used culturally in reference to the whole country. Iran is actually one of the largest countries in the world with 83 million residents, and like Iraq, it was part of the Assyrian Empire. During WW2, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt issued a declaration for postwar Iranian independence and boundaries, but Soviet troops remained until Iran granted it oil concessions. Iran then nationalized its petroleum and oil industry. However, the United States quickly participated in a covert operation to overthrow the government. On January 3, 2020, Iran’s revolutionary guard Qasem Solemani was assassinated by the United States in Iraq. Some thought the assassination would lead to a world war. Of importance, Iran’s gas supply is the largest in the world and its oil reserves are the third largest.
History of Guyana
Guyana is located on the northern tip of South America, between Venezuela and Suriname, and north of Brazil. The Caribs, Akawois, and Arawaks were the most populous and most powerful natives, known as Amerindians. The Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize the area. After that, there were shifts in the reign between the British and the French. Britain ultimately prevailed and ruled “British Guiana” (as Guyana was known during that time) for over a century.
The British colonized Guyana in order to capitalize off of its sugar. To do this, they first enslaved Africans to labor in the fields. The British ended slavery in the 19th century and replaced it with a system of indentured servitude. The British began importing Chinese labourers for a short period and eventually began importing Indians. The Indians were told that they would work for a certain period of time and then return home to India. In reality, the inhumanity of indentured servitude was not much different than slavery. After importing hundreds of thousands of indentured workers to Guyana, the British ended this system because it was no longer profitable. Many Indians remained and formed the majority of Guyana’s population.
One lasting effect of British reign was that it created and promoted racial tensions between Africans and Indians.
Guyanese Politics & The 2020 Election Saga
Britain allowed the Guyanese to hold elections in the mid-twentieth century; the elections, however, were not free and fully democratic. The crown colony system kept legislative power away from elected representatives. Britain also undermined the will of the Guyanese people by gerrymandering districts, suppressing opposition speech, promoting racial divisions, and underfunding education.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan eventually emerged as a leader of the laborers. Jagan’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won major victories in the 1953 election but the sitting governor suspended the constitution and replaced the winners with his own supporters. Jagan’s party reemerged in 1957 but faced funding barriers from the crown. The British attempted to undermine Jagan by pitting the Africans (then led by Forbes Burnham) against the Indians. The United States also interfered in Guyana’s politics and elections as a strategy to inhibit any nation that did not subscribe to the United States’ notion of capitalism. The fraudulent elections (based on external and internal schemes) continued even after Guyana was granted independence in 1966.
Most recently, Guyana’s government has been in an upheaval since December of 2018. President Granger and his APNU-AFC [A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC)] party suffered a vote of no confidence but failed to step down. General elections were finally held over a year later on March 2, 2020. This election was condemned from both inside Guyana and from outside states, and it remained uncalled officially for months. The election was plagued with fraud starting with alleged attempts by Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo to exclude votes from the most populous Region Four area, and inflate votes in favor of the APNU-AFC. President Granger initially claimed victory for the March 2nd election.
The votes were then recounted. The preliminary tabulation showed that the opposition leader, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali of the PPP, garnered 15,416 more votes to win 33 seats in the 65 seat legislature. The release of the official recount report was delayed, and there was an attempt to have the judiciary prevent the release of this report. On June 22, 2020, the Guyana Court of Appeal, however, ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to enjoin the report from being published. It also held that the phrase “more votes cast” in Guyana’s Constitution meant “more valid votes cast” to determine the winner of an election.
On June 23, 2020, Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield submitted another recount report to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) but discarded nearly 115,844 votes. The recount report claimed that the APNU-AFC received 171,825 votes and the PPP received 166,343 votes, contrary to the first report showing that the PPP received more votes than the APNU-AFC. CEO Lowenfield discarded the votes on the basis that he only counted votes which could be verified as “validly” casted.
The PPP then moved the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to strike the Court of Appeal’s June 22nd order. On July 1, 2020, the CCJ announced that it would issue a ruling as to whether it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal regarding the meaning of “votes cast.” On July 8th, the CCJ proceeded to rule that (1) the Guyana Court of Appeal did not have jurisdiction, (2) the Constitution's clear language did not need interpretation of the phrase “votes cast” to mean “valid votes cast”, and (3) held that the June 23, 2020 Report was invalid for excluding votes deemed not “valid.” The matter returned to GECOM to declare the winner of the recount.
The CEO then sought clarification from GECOM regarding which results to utilize. The CCJ ruled that he must use votes and information furnished by “Returning Officers” of the election. However, the CEO pointed out that the recount was not conducted by Returning Officers. On July 11, 2020, the CEO presented a report that showed a win for the APNU-AFC despite the GECOM chair’s order to utilize the recount tabulation showing that the PPP obtained the most votes. The GECOM Chair then ordered the CEO to submit a (fourth) report utilizing the recount votes.
On July 14, 2020, the day the fourth report was due, key officials left a GECOM meeting because a third court case was filed to prevent GECOM from declaring the election. An APNU-AFC supporter sought to have the election results based on the initial 10 declarations showing that the APNU-AFC received the most votes. The APNU-AFC supporter also contended that the order requiring the National Recount was unconstitutional, and consequently the recount data was improper. The Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire dismissed the suit. On July 22, 2020, the voter’s counsel filed a formal petition with the Court of Appeal to challenge this ruling. One point of appeal was that GECOM officials altered ballots during the recount. On July 30th, the Court of Appeal denied the petition.
That same week, the OAS Secretary General commented that the election and recount were transparent but the issues stemmed from Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, and his alleged attempts to alter the voting results of that district. He then said that the multiple court actions were continued attempts to suppress democracy. The European Union also echoed the same sentiments in an effort to finalize the election.
In late July, the APNU-AFC released a press statement again calling for only valid votes to be tabulated. They claimed that GECOM should not consider what they assert are fraudulent votes. Two private criminal charges were also filed against the Chairperson of GECOM, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, for alleged malfeasance in public office.
On August 2, 2020, five months after the election, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali was sworn in as President after CEO Lowenfield submitted a report utilizing the recount tabulation.
The recent election’s scandal was likely related to the infamous ExxonMobile oil deal.
There are oil reservoirs all over the world but several of the largest known reservoirs are in the Middle East and the United States. ExxonMobile, America’s largest oil company, initially discovered crude oil off of Guyana’s coast in 2015. Since then, there were 16 extraordinary oil finds. Five of the six largest oil discoveries in 2019 were in Guyana.
Exxon and Guyana’s oil deal raises concerns as to whether the contract is disproportionately in favor of Exxon to the extreme disadvantage of Guyana and its people. Of note, the parties entered into an oil contract and three days later Exxon announced a major discovery. Some claim that Exxon purposely withheld evidence of the find to minimize Guyana’s negotiating power. As a result, Guyana would receive a below-average share in oil production. The deal was also made hastily during heightened tensions with Venezuela over the Venezuela-Guyana border, with hopes that Exxon’s presence would deter Venezuela’s attempts to expand their borders.
Is Guyana oil the modern El Dorado riches? Or is Guyana on the precipice of outside influence creating unrest in order to benefit from potential oil profits? Guyanese would likely prefer its government to take charge of the country and promote safe policies relating to its oil.
MDGR LAW specializes in foreclosure defense. If you are facing foreclosure, schedule a consultation for an analysis of your options and legal defenses.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning business and trademark attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, formation, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794