New GECOM chair sworn in

Retired Justice Claudette Singh was sworn in as the first female chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as the country prepares to hold fresh regional and general election as mandated by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

President David Granger, whose coalition A Partnership for National unity (APNU) government was defeated in an opposition People’s progressive Party (PPP) inspired motion of no confidence last December, sworn in Justice Singh during a ceremony at the Ministry of the Residency.

President David Granger congratulating reired Justice Claudette Singh after she was sworn in as GECOM chairperson (DPI Photo)

Government ministers as well as Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo were among guests attending the ceremony that Granger described as ““a good day for the Republic of Guyana”.

He told the ceremony that he was satisfied with the criteria for appointing the new GECOM chairperson from a list of names that had been presented by Jagdeo in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution.

“That is to say, the chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or has held the office of a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth, or a Court of Appeal or any such court or qualified to be appointed as a judge,” Granger said, adding“free, fair, credible and timely elections are essential elements of a democratic state. The Elections Commission is not a plaything.

“Its independence is a condition for engendering confidence and ensuring public trust in the electoral system and for the efficient execution of elections,” Granger said, insisting that Guyana’s Constitution mandates that elections should be independently supervised.

“The Commission shall exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of elections and administering of instruction of elections for all the members of the National Assembly,” he said.

President Granger said that the latest appointment fulfils the mandate of the Constitution of Guyana and also satisfies the CCCJ, the country’s highest court.

The CCJ had earlier ruled that the appointment of retired justice, James Patterson as GECOM chairman last year, was flawed and had urged as a matter of the greatest public importance, “the President and the Leader of the Opposition should, as soon as possible, embark upon and conclude the process of appointing a new GECOM Chairman”.

Both Granger and Jagdeo had appointed teams to meet on the matter and last weekend the two political leaders agreed to the appointment of Justice Singh, who in 2017,  became one of the only three women here to be appointed Senior Counsel in history of Independent Guyana. She was called to the Bar in London in 1973 and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in 1976.

Justice Singh served as the Deputy Solicitor General and as a Puisne Judge and a Justice of Appeal. During her tenure at the Chamber of the Attorney General (AG), she spearheaded the Modernisation of the Justice Reform Project and is currently serving as the Guyana Police Force’s Legal Advisor.

After she was sworn in, Justice Singh told reporters that her decision to accept the post was dependent on the mutual agreement of both Granger and Jagdeo , vowing to execute her duties fairly and to the best of her abilities as she said she understood the challenges of the position.

“I will speak to everybody and I do not believe in people walking out when there is disagreement. I believe in sitting down hammering out whatever the problem is, not the media will try our problems”, Justice Singh said, recalling that when she served as a judge she was nicknamed “the Iron Lady”, and there will be no difference now.

CARICOM remains divided at OAS on Venezuela issue

Countries in the Caribbean remain divided on the way forward in dealing with the protracted political crisis in Venezuela.

At a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Tuesday, four Caribbean countries voted to “accept’ the nomination of a candidate supported by Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is seeking to replace President Nicolas Maduro as head of state in the South American country.

St. Lucia, Jamaica, Haiti and the Bahamas voted in favour of accepting Gustavo Tarre “as the National Assembly’s designated permanent representative, pending new elections and the appointment of a democratically elected government,” in Venezuela.

But Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, joined Venezuela in voting against the measure, while Barbados, Guyana, St. Kitts- Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Belize was the only CARICOM country absent when the vote was taken on Tuesday.

The OAS Permanent Council is chaired by the United States, which is at the forefront of efforts to remove Maduro, who was sworn into office for a second consecutive term earlier this year, from power.

The four CARICOM countries that voted in favour of the resolution have supported the so-called Lima Group that is seeking Maduro’s removal and last month met with United States President Donald Trump on Venezuela.

CARICOM has adopted a united position on the Venezuelan matter and in February, the regional leaders at their inter-sessional summit in St. Kitts-Nevis reiterated their position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and said they were prepared to mediate in the process to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The vote at the OAS came on the same day that the St. Lucia government said that it was re-affirming its position that the Caribbean must remain a zone of peace and that there should be “no third state intervention” in Caracas.

Sir Neville Cenac, Governor General St. Lucia

Governor General, Sir Neville Cenac, delivering the traditional Throne speech at the start of a new parliamentary session in St. Lucia, in which he outlined the government’s priorities, said that in the case of Venezuela, “we have reaffirmed that the Caribbean must remain a zone of peace, consistent with the provisions of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, endorsed by all 33 Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  “We are unequivocal in our view that there should be no third state intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela and will continue to resist any action that could jeopardize the peace, safety or security of the Caribbean region,” Sir Neville told legislators.

The Governor General also said that in July, St. Lucia will assume the chairmanship of the 15-member CARICOM grouping, adding “notwithstanding the matters that divide us, we must continue to deepen the integration movement to the benefit of all member states.

“We must take concerted action to combat climate change, we must find common creative ways to resist efforts to undermine our economic bases.  Above all, we must identify the means of pursuing individual developmental interests without rending asunder the ties that bind us as a region,” the Head of State told legislators.

Caribbean countries remain divided on Venezuela crisis at OAS

Several Caribbean countries have again voted in favour of an Organisation of American States (OAS) resolution critical of the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.

This is the second time within three months that the division among CARICOM contries on the issue is showing and it comes one month after the CARICOM Intersessional Summit in St. Kitts/Nevis where leaders issued a joint statement advocating non-interference except in an effort to aid dialogue between the government and the opposition.

“The people of Venezuela must be allowed to decide their own future in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter – non-intervention, non-interference, prohibition of the threat or use of force, respect for the rule of law, human rights and democracy”, the statement said.

However on Wednesday, The Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and St. Lucia voted in favour of the OAS resolution that said Venezuela’s closure of its borders with Brazil and Colombia has, “in fact, prevented the population, especially the most vulnerable, from obtaining food, medicines, medical treatment, and educational opportunities”.

Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines voted against the resolution adopted by the Permanent Council of the OAS on Wednesday, while Barbados, Belize, St. Kitts-Nevis, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Dominica and Grenada were absent at the time of the vote.

The leaders of four of the CARICOM countries who voted in favour of the resolution (Jamaica, Haiti, St. Lucia and the Bahamas) met with US President Donald Trump on Friday, amid criticism from many of their counterparts including Trinidad and TObago’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley who told a press conference that his country stands by the UN charter which forbids intereference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

The OAS said that 19 countries voted in favour of the resolution, five against it, eight abstained, and two were absent.

The other countries that voted in favour of the resolution titled “Humanitarian Assistance to Venezuela” included Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Dominican Republic.

Nicaragua and Venezuela also voted against the resolution, and Bolivia, El Salvador and Mexico abstained.

This is the second time the CARICOM countries have remained divided at the OAS on the issue of Venezuela where the United States and its allies are pushing to remove President Maduro out of office in favour of the Opposition Leader Juan Guaido, who has since declared himself as the interim president of Venezuela.

In January,  the OAS passed a resolution to not recognize Maduro with 19 votes in favor, six against, eight abstentions and one absent. Jamaica, Haiti, The Bahamas, Guyana, and St. Lucia supported the resolution, while Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname voted against it.

St. Kitts -Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Belize abstained during the vote, while Grenada was not present.

CARICOM foreign ministers have since met with Guaido in furtherance of their position.

According to the new OAS resolution, countries were being urged to support “competent international organizations to continue providing support and implementing measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”

It also calls on the Venezuelan public institutions, especially the military and police establishments, “to refrain from blocking the entry of humanitarian aid into Venezuela, duly respecting the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and operational independence of humanitarian assistance, as well as respect for human rights”.

The resolution notes “that Venezuela’s closure of its borders with Brazil and Colombia has, in fact, prevented the population, especially the most vulnerable, from obtaining food, medicines, medical treatment, and educational opportunities.”

In addition, the resolution expresses concern over the collapse of Venezuela’s health care system, “which has led to the reappearance of infectious diseases previously eradicated in Venezuela, as well as in bordering countries and in the region.”

Political analysts here say Trump is using the division within the regional integration grouping to further drive a wedge among them on the issue, and used last Friday’s meeting as a subterfuge to further intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

Meantime, the OAS’s general secretariat has rejected what it described as “the uninformed comments of government spokespeople of the Russian Federation, who maliciously disqualify this organization in order to justify the recent and illegal Russian military incursion into Venezuelan territory.

“The general secretariat wishes to recall that the OAS is a regional organization whose core competency is to ensure peace and security in the region,” the OAS statement said.

“The general secretariat, therefore, reiterates its unequivocal rejection of the presence of Russian military personnel and military transport in Venezuelan territory for lacking the constitutionally required authorization of the National Assembly,” it added.

OAS opposes Russian support of Venezuela’s Maduro

The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a statement on Monday rejecting what it calls “recent Russian military incursion into Venezuelan territory”.

There are reports that over the weekend, Flightradar 24, a flight tracking site, showed the flight path of what it listed as a Russian airforce plane headed to Caracas.

Russian military aircraft sighted at airport near Caracas

A Venezuelan official later said the aircraft arrived in Caracas as part of ongoing military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela.

But the OAS statement issued on Monday afternooon said such activities were “not authorized by the National Assembly, as required by the Venezuelan Constitution, and which was done in support of a government that has been declared illegitimate”.

Luis Almagro, Secretary General Organization of American States (OAS)

The head of the OAS Secretariat Luis Almagro has been repeatedly calling for Maduro to step down and for there to be fresh elections in the country, citing humn rights violations, political corruption and fiscal mismanagement.

The council has held referenda seeking a majority vote to expell the South American country from the OAS and to approve more economic and political sanctions on the administration of Nicolas Maduro, which is being touted as illegitimate.

But the votes have been split with countries like Canada and the United States wanting to see sanctions imposed while most Caribbean countrires who depend of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil programme, opposed.

“The presence of military personnel and military transport constitutes a harmful act to Venezuelan sovereignty,” the OAS statement on Monday said.

“The foreign military personnel are an instrument of repressive intimidation in the context of a democratic transition led by the interim President Juan Guaidó.

“As previously stated in a declaration (E-080/18) and verbal note (OSG-555/18) of the General Secretariat, this military mission violates the Venezuelan Constitution by not having been authorized by the National Assembly, as required by Article 187 paragraph 11.

“It is unacceptable that a foreign government engages in military cooperation programs with a usurping regime that has been declared illegitimate by resolutions and Inter-American law, which also threatens hemispheric peace and security.”

CARICOM foreign ministers held meeting with Venezuela opposition

CARICOm Foreign Ministers , with Canada’s Ambassador Marie Legault, two Venezuela opposition officials and CARICOM Secretary General Irwin la Rocque at Saturday’s meeting

On Saturday CARICOM) foreign ministers met with Venezuela’s Opposition Leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó in Barbados, via video conferencing.

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