By Ray Chickrie
The third summit of South American and Arab countries (ASPA) will be held in Lima, Peru on October 1-2, 2012, and will bring together leaders of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Arab League, representing 12 and 22 countries respectively.
Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and is currently teaching in the Middle East
As of now, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI; the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani; the prime minister of Kuwait, Jaber al Sabah; Lebanon’s President Michel Sulaiman; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the secretary general of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani; and the Arab League secretary general, Nabil El Araby have confirmed their attendance. Indications are strong that the new president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, who is keen to diversify Egyptian relations, will be in Peru.
According to Peruvian deputy foreign minister, Jose Beraún Aranibar, the two-day summit will focus on political dialogue and cooperation. A business forum and bilateral meetings between the leaders of South American and Arab countries will be held on the first day of the summit and this is why it is essential that Guyana is represented in Peru at the highest level, and at the foreign ministerial meetings prior to the heads of state summit. The foreign minister of Guyana, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, herself should participate in this summit.
Interestingly, the ministry of foreign affairs in Guyana can’t confirm whether or not President Donald Ramotar will travel to Peru; a pattern that exists at the Guyana foreign ministry -- last minute planning shrouded in secrecy. Since this is a heads of government summit in Guyana’s backyard, South America, it is expected that Ramotar will attend and, given the fact that he is new in office, this is the forum to expand bilateral ties with member states and especially in the areas of trade and investments. If indeed President Ramotar is keen to advance ties with UNASUR and GCC countries -- Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman -- one would expect him in Peru.
There is a lot of rhetoric from Guyana about “economic diplomacy,” and that Georgetown wants to act as a bridge between the Arabs, CARICOM, and UNASUR; hence one would expect President Ramotar to lead a strong delegation comprised of Rodrigues-Birkett, Dr Odeen Ishmael and George Hallaq to Peru.
How many economically versed diplomats are posted overseas? Corruption, bureaucracy and ancient legislation have impeded foreign direct investments in Guyana and have been widely criticized by investors. One would expect both Odeen Ishmael and George Hallaq to be among Guyana’s delegation to Peru. To the dismay of the public, irrelevant people with no grasp on the subject and deliberation of various multi-lateral forums are sent overseas or accompanying delegations to represent Guyana. This is just a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Hallaq is going to host the first Caribbean Gulf Economic Forum in November and this could very well be the forum where he could advance his agenda. Sadly, much of Hallaq’s activities on behalf of Guyana in the Middle East aren’t carried by the Guyana News Agency (GINA) and attempts to report on his diplomatic activities in the Middle East have been unsuccessful due to restrictions from the Guyana foreign ministry.
Even the travels and activities of the foreign ministry in Georgetown aren’t posted on their website on a regular basis, and especially when you compare it to other foreign ministry websites in the region. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the media, the opposition parties and the public at large are questioning Guyana’s Middle East diplomacy since everything is a big secret.
Again, it beckons one to ask, why Guyana’s neighbour to the east, Suriname, has solidified foreign direct investments from the Middle East and not Guyana. And this is something that the media houses in Guyana don’t examine but, rather, one newspaper in particular condemns Guyana’s push to advance Middle East ties.
This could very well be the best opportunity for Dr Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s ambassador to Kuwait, to familiarize himself with the leaders of the region, since he will be appointed ambassador to Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Dr Ishmael participated in the last preparatory meeting in Cairo where they drafted the final text of the final declaration of the upcoming summit. However, the section on Syria is yet to be finalized, since the situation there is” fluid and ongoing.”
Former president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo’s attempts to visit Qatar were cancelled twice and there is much talk about Guyana seeking investments from the Qatar, the world’s richest country. Rodrigues-Birkett and Odeen Ishmael should already be setting the groundwork for a bilateral meeting between the Emir of Qatar and Ramotar in Peru, given the fact that Ramotar sent a letter immediately after taking office to the Emir of Qatar expressing Guyana’s desire to forge stronger economic and political cooperation with Doha.
However, Guyana is not serious about foreign direct investments. If Georgetown is keen to solicit investments, it must build institutions, end the bureaucracy and corruption, and employ homegrown talent regardless of race and political affiliations to improve the foreign ministry. Only recently, three Afro-Guyanese were appointed diplomats to various posts overseas.
Today, since former Brazilian president, Lula Da Salvia reached out to the Arab world, trade and political ties between the regions have increased tremendously. “It’s a great opportunity for both regions. Not only Peru but also all the countries of our region are looking to increase trade, investment and tourism. The Arab countries are net importers of goods and services and therefore there is a natural complementation that we must take advantage of,” indicated Beraún, deputy foreign minister of Peru.
Bilateral trade between both regions since the first bi-regional business forum ASPA took place in 2005 has increased from US$10.5 billion to US$19.54 billion last year. One major area of growth is transport. The introduction of direct flights between the regions, including new flights from Doha and Dubai to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires has encouraged trade and business.