Of NGOs and the silence of the lambs
Some years ago, head of the Libyan League For Human Rights, Soliman Bouchuiguir, reportedly initiated a petition that was signed by almost 80 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The document called on Western powers to intervene in Libya as a result of alleged atrocities being perpetrated on the people by then leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Bouchuiguir later informed the United Nations Human Rights Council that Colonel Gaddafi had killed more that 6,000 Libyans and was in the process of killing more. NATO subsequently intervened in Libya, and the rest is history.
Mr Bouchuiguir later admitted there was no evidence to substantiate his claims; that he had simply repeated what had been said to him by anti-government forces. NATO reportedly had not investigated his claim.
Some years before this, another NGO, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), visited Libya where its director Sarah Leah Whitson sang the praises of the Gaddafi clan, specifically the leader’s son Saif al-Islam, and spoke of his commitment to positive reforms in Libya. However, this was proven to be untrue as the young Gaddafi was very much a part
of a repressive dictatorial regime whose primary goal was to retain power at all costs.
Thus we had examples of two NGOs giving differing opinions of one country, based on their own agenda or the managers of those agendas.
In Barbados, we have a number of NGOs, the Clement Payne Movement, the Israel Lovell Foundation, Pinelands Creative Foundation, the Cuban Barbadian Friendship Association, and several others. Some wield greater influence than others. Some have greater sources of funding than others –– originating at home and abroad.
We do not assume to know how local NGOs get their funding, but it has been discerned that some NGOs worldwide receive funding from countries and interest groups to promote their agendas and to slant public or government opinion in the paymaster’s favour.
Politicians are quite aware of the influence NGOs can offer. It is now part of the folklore of Barbados that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur –– with almost Solomon-like wisdom –– introduced the politics of inclusion to the Barbadian lexicon, as well as to Pinelands Creative Workshop’s Hamilton Lashley, the Clement Payne Movement’s David Comissiong and Israel Lovell Foundation’s Trevor Prescod. And, these influential personages were assimilated into the Government of the day –– by body, if not soul, philosophy, jargon, et al.
Of course, such relationships between NGOs and governments are grounded more in expediency than philosophy. The fall of the Arthur administration was almost simultaneously accompanied by the flight of Mr Lashley from the Barbados Labour Party. Mr Comissiong’s Barbadian spring at the Commission For Pan African Affairs had long ceased.
One is always mindful of what is said by NGOs. But one should also be equally aware of what is not said by these same entities
The silence of local NGOs on the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute is as deafening as the noise made in championing the cause of Raul Garcia, promoting PetroCaribe oil, correctly advocating the removal of sanctions against Cuba, and a host of other causes.
The dispute has offered opportunity for those outside Government, and who are often swift to represent the oppressed, to have their voices heard in this cause célèbre. Instead, what has transpired is akin to the silence of the lambs.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as chairman of a 15-member Caribbean trade bloc, spoke recently on behalf of CARICOM and noted he backed the Guyana government in the border dispute with its neighbour Venezuela.
“CARICOM stands firmly behind Guyana. We do not think that there can be any compromise so far as Guyana’s territorial borders are concerned,” Mr Stuart noted of Venezuela’s long-held claim to two-thirds of Guyana, now made more vociferous by Exxon Mobil Corporation’s significant oil discovery in the Essequibo region.
Guyana’s President David Granger last week repeated calls for the withdrawal of a territorial decree issued in May by Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro, which he described as an attempt by that country to annex its waters because of the oil discovery.
“Our team, which was led by the chairman of CARICOM himself, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, impressed on the Venezuelans that the Decree 1787 on the 26th of May had an impact on several CARICOM states, including Suriname, and we were looking to ensure that the decree . . . . In fact Guyana wants the decree to be withdrawn,” Mr Granger said.
Mr Granger added CARICOM was aware of the danger posed by the decree, and was united in the desire that Venezuela should modify its position. It is noticeable that though CARICOM has met with the Venezuela vice president on the issue, President Maduro has not met directly with CARICOM on this most significant matter.
This is an issue close to all of us for whom regional integration means something. It is a situation that should hold more importance than happenings in Libya or the restoration of a convicted drug dealer to his Cuban family. The continued Venezuela-Guyana border clash is one on which both regional governments and NGOs should let their collective voices be heard.
But our local NGOs offer neither public support to Guyana nor condemnation of Venezuela. Perhaps a reflection on their history, closer examination of their agendas and the joining of the dots might present the reasons for their resounding silence.