Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Odeen Ishmael' new book: The Democracy Perspective in the Americas consists of speeches and articles dating February 1994-2003 when he was on the permanent council of the Organization of American States (OAS) and from then to September 2008 as Ambassador.
The book traces Odeen's development as a keen observer, active participant and earnest reformer of the OAS, as it floundered towards the 21st century encountering new situations and challenges.
Odeen Ishmael in his writings shows an amazing openness to new forms of democracy other than the traditional and questioned representative democracy that entered into a deep crisis during the period treated in the book.
Running through all the speeches and articles is the author's Guyanan roots and long comradeship with Guyana patriot, Cheddi Jagan and the People's Progressive Party.
The history of the homeland, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana forms a backdrop to The Democracy Perspective in the Americas and the author's political outlook, as he drops here and there hints of racial problems and dangerous divisions that have threatened harmony and democracy at home. It's a pity the Ambassador has not written more about the ideological roots of the Cooperative Republic as a contribution to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which, one could say, followed Jagan's decision to put a seal or adjective on his country's name to indicate where he wanted it to go. The official title of Guyana is scarcely used or heard nowadays ... will the same happen to the adjective Bolivarian, one wonders.
Chapter 53 titled, "Cheddi Jagan's Vision for Hemispheric Integration" is a good start to understand where the Ambassador is coming from and his dogged insistence on the need to eliminate poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, if democracy is to flourish.
Guyana has a foot both in South America and in the Caribbean owing to the British connection and hence, its declared mission to become a bridge or meeting place between Spanish and Portuguese-speaking South America and the English-speaking Caribbean nations. It appears to be still an objective rather than reality.
During his time at the OAS, Ishmael was witness to the political meddling of the USA in Haiti, a gradual weakening of the OAS, the vacuum in applying the Democratic Charter and the failure of the US-sponsored Free Trade for the Americas (FTAA). On the positive side, he outlined the emergence of the South American Union of Nations (Unasur), the rise of Socialist governments stressing social programs at home to eliminate poverty, the campaign to introduce a Social Charter into the OAS and the negative reaction of the USA and national oligarchies to the new realities.
In a telling revelation Odeen commented that the fear of Socialism "drew the wrath" of the US against Cheddi Jagan's government in the early sixties and as a loyal ally of the US at that period, Venezuela was used as a "willing tool to apply imperialist pressure and destabilize Jagan's government by resuscitating a claim against Guyana's western Essequibo territory."
In the only reference I could find to the border conflict, the Ambassador quotes a Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) chairman who declared that given the Venezuelan government's current anti-imperialist position, it could "eliminate definitely that absurd claim."
All in all, the conclusion on reading The Democracy Perspective in the Americas is a happy one, namely that democracy has made inroads against the odds but that international bodies are finding it hard to keep up and will be replaced by new initiatives.
On reading the many chapters at leisure or for reference, nuggets of insights are there for the picking, such as when Dr. Ishmael pleaded in 1999 for the OAS to set up a permanent disaster assistance unit ... it would have helped enormously in the recent Haiti disaster.
Another suggestion from those years was for Northern countries to tackle the crippling external debt of many OAS member countries, which has also gone unheeded.
Dr. Odeen Ismael is a diplomat with clearly defined roots who has a fresh and open approach to changing situations and is not afraid to criticize and support alternatives. His word is the result of experience and a canny ability to read the signs of the times.
Patrick J. O'Donoghue