By Wazim Mowla
News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Mon. July 25, 2022: The United States is Guyana’s most important bilateral relationship. The United States remains a major power in the Western Hemisphere and holds significant influence worldwide.
It is this influence, the potential investment stemming from US companies, and the institutional knowledge and expertise that it houses that can help Guyana achieve its own national and regional ambitions. Courting and strengthening this relationship will therefore be vital for Guyana’s future, affording the country a powerful ally while providing a window that will allow it to exercise influence in US policy to the wider Caribbean when needed.
More so than in prior decades, Guyana is in a unique position in its relationship with the United States, commanding increased attention from the latter due to its emergence as an oil and gas producer. Guyana’s growing economic clout and its role as an emerging regional leader in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is augmenting its relationship with the United States. While the asymmetry between the two remains vast, Guyana is closing this gap. US policy to the Caribbean, or CARICOM specifically, must now account for Guyana, especially as the US lens for the region has shifted since President Joe Biden assumed office in 2021.
Recently, the United States has deemphasized traditional security concerns in the Caribbean, focusing instead on addressing climate change and energy security. And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the prices of foodstuff soar, food security has been added to this list. In each area, Guyana commands attention and simply, the United States cannot achieve its objectives in the region without sufficient participation from Guyana.
This is one reason for Guyana being the co-chair of the US-Caribbean joint committee on food security – an outcome from last month’s Summit of the Americas – recognizing the leading role the latter is playing in decreasing CARICOM’s high food import bill through its 25 by 25 plan. And regarding energy and climate change, Guyana’s longstanding protection of its forests and the future role the country will play to help anchor energy security for CARICOM members will make Guyana a key figure in US policy to the region for the foreseeable future.
However, a few challenges stand in Guyana’s path. Despite its unprecedented economic growth, Guyana remains a small factor in US foreign policy relative to other countries in the hemisphere and abroad. At the moment, political and economic crises pervade the Americas, where democratic backsliding is gaining steam and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated structural economic challenges. In many ways, Guyana’s political stability since 2020 – relative to its neighbors – and its burgeoning economy has worked against itself in trying to draw attention from US policymakers. Further, Guyana’s oil and gas position is ambivalent to current US foreign policy. President Biden and his administration has declared addressing climate change as a significant foreign policy position, effectively keeping Guyana at arm’s length.
Going local to strengthen Guyana’s relationship with the United States?
Despite some challenges, there are opportunities for Guyana to strengthen its relationship with the United States. The US-Guyana bilateral relationship is multidimensional, characterized by economic, political, security, and cultural ties, alongside a vibrant diaspora located in key cities in New York, Florida, California, and Texas. So, to capitalize and strengthen US-Guyana ties, the country should go local, working more often with the United States at the subnational level.
Doing so means putting less emphasis on relations with the US federal government and working closer with cities, specific states, companies, and educational institutions in the United States. At the federal level, bureaucracy can stifle policy implementation and imagination while periodic changes every four or eight years in the US executive branch, such as in the White House and Department of State, can drastically change policy initiatives, intention, objectives to Guyana and CARICOM. At local levels, US-Guyana ties could see more flexibility and create greater depth to the relationship.
First, Guyana can expand economic ties with cities and states in the United States, especially ones with high concentrations of diaspora members. As the economy grows, these cities can become new and stronger destinations for Guyanese products and services. These places, especially among diaspora members, can be the source markets to help jumpstart eco-tourism and – in line with President Ali’s diaspora initiative – continue to draw more investment and technical expertise to Guyana.
Second, institutions, such as the University of Guyana and new oil and gas institutes expected to come online soon, will find a greater diversity of potential partners to choose from, especially in non-traditional areas. Guyana can look across the United States to continue establishing partnerships in the oil and gas field, yes, but also in areas related to climate change, security cooperation, cultural exchanges, and financial services, among others.
Finally, going local can help Guyana ensure there is more continuity and longevity to policy initiatives from the United States by establishing stronger ties with the US Congress. Some members remain in power for decades, building more influence among their colleagues with each passing year, which also means that the frequent policy changes that might occur in federal government does not always apply in the legislature. Working with these members of Congress and different committees related to foreign policy, financial services, and energy are also good opportunities for Guyana to raise issues of national interest that find difficulty reaching the senior policy officials.
Strengthening relations with the United States will be critical to Guyana’s development and its interests for the short and long-term. One way to do so is by going local to deepen US-Guyanese ties in areas of the economy, education, and politics, creating greater resilience in a relationship that is likely to be Guyana’s most important in the decades to come.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Wazim Mowla, is a Guyanese American, the assistant director of the Caribbean Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, and a non-resident scholar at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.