(This article was reproduced from the Orlando Sentinel)
By ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN
As a political refugee, I have a unique perspective on freedom, opportunity and human rights.
Like many Floridians, I arrived in this country not knowing a word of English. I was eight years old, and my family had just fled the Communist Castro dictatorship on one of the last commercial flights to get out of Cuba.
I ran for Congress because I wanted to make a difference and help uphold the principles that have allowed my family and countless others to succeed. I knew from my time in Florida politics that I didn’t have to be the biggest person in the room — I’m only five feet tall! — to have an outsized impact.
As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and eventually its chairman, I got to work right away influencing U.S. policy toward Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In my South Florida community, foreign policy is domestic policy. Everyone has a family member or friend in these countries yearning for the same opportunities and freedoms we enjoy.
Sadly, despite years of bipartisan efforts to bring about real change — both in Washington and on the regional level — Castro, Maduro and Ortega are still clinging to power. In Venezuela, the situation today is catastrophic.
The recent economic embargo of Venezuela announced by President Donald Trump is the right move to ratchet up pressure. Our goal is to force a peaceful transition away from Maduro and quickly get the Venezuelan people access to the hundreds of tons of aid he has blocked.
So far, the corrupt Maduro regime continues to squander its vast resources while serving itself, rather than the Venezuelan people. But hope springs eternal that change will come; and when it does, the example set by Venezuela’s small neighbor to the east will likely have played a big part.
Guyana, a Caribbean nation of less than 800,000, has roughly the population of my former congressional district. But don’t let its size fool you. Today it is on the verge of an economic and cultural boom.
Guyana’s offshore shelf is home to massive energy reserves, as ExxonMobil discovered in 2015. Thirteen additional strikes later, Guyana looks poised to become one of the world’s largest oil producers per capita by mid-2020. Some experts expect Guyana to generate up to $5 billion in production revenues by that time, more than tripling its GDP.
Of course, it’s been a long road. Prior to the major discovery, oil exploration had come up blank again and again. The situation was so dire that in 2014, Royal Dutch Shell sold off its acreage for $1. The streak of finds seems to suggest huge potential for future prosperity in the small nation. Nothing is certain, however, as development is taking place alongside a fractious and protracted political battle which threatens to stall the country’s progress.
In December of 2018, the country’s governing coalition — led by President David Granger — lost a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly. After a series of appeals and months of legal battles, the Caribbean Court of Justice made a final ruling in July that the no-confidence vote was valid, setting the stage for future elections. Hopefully, a date will be set soon.
As the campaign gets underway, I urge both major political parties in Guyana to seize this opportunity to lay out a bold vision for the future. The Guyanese people want reforms to education, infrastructure and healthcare. Additional reforms to increase transparency and the effective management of energy revenues will also be key.
While the future is Guyana’s to decide, the U.S. and its regional partners have a role to play as well. I know our Guyanese-American communities are up to the challenge. It’s in everyone’s interests to help build a strong, prosperous Guyana where rule of law, good governance, and opportunity shine as a beacon throughout the region.
The author represented the 27th District of Florida in Congress from 1989 to 2017.