A lobbyist for Guyana’s newly crowned ruling party contacted Joe Biden‘s Latin America adviser several times this spring in what appears to be the first documented instance of foreign lobbying of the former vice-president’s campaign.
Gustavo Arnavat, a co-chairman at Mercury Public Affairs and registered lobbyist for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), spoke by phone twice with Daniel Erikson following disputed elections on March 2. The contacts are documented in a newly released disclosure filing with the Department of Justice.
The new revelations come as PPP candidate Irfaan Ali was sworn in as president of the oil-rich Latin American country on Sunday after a bitter recount. The defeated incumbent, David Granger, has vowed to appeal, claiming voting irregularities.
The disclosures are particularly noteworthy as Biden has vowed to ban foreign lobbying if elected president. And his campaign has restricted contacts with foreign government officials since soon after he announced he was running last year, Politico reported in June.
“There is no reason why a foreign government should be permitted to lobby Congress or the Executive Branch, let alone interfere in our elections,” Biden’s plan reads. “If a foreign government wants to share its views with the United States or to influence its decision-making, it should do so through regular diplomatic channels.”
A former special adviser to Biden on Western Hemisphere affairs during his time as vice-president, Erikson is now managing director at Blue Star Strategies, leading the Washington firm’s Latin America practice. Neither he nor the Biden campaign responded to requests for comment.
Arnavat also has ties to the Barack Obama administration, serving as the US representative to the Inter-American Development Bank starting in 2009. The latest Mercury filing show he was precinct captain for Biden during the Feb. 3 Iowa Democratic Caucus. Arnavat did not respond to a request for comment.
The PPP initially hired Mercury in March 2019 for three months and $150,000 to deal with anticipated “issues” ahead of the election. The relationship was terminated July 9, with Mercury pocketing a total of just over $300,000.
In recent months Mercury reached out to key stakeholders amid a US and international pressure campaign for Granger to step down, lobbying filings show.
Arnavat himself called and texted Carlos Trujillo, the US representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), several times in March and April as the political crisis deepened. The OAS called on Granger to step down based on recount results from the Guyana Elections Commission on June 16.
Arnavat also met several times with US Ambassador to Guyana Sarah-Ann Lynch during that period. The embassy eventually signed onto a June 24 joint declaration with officials from the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union that the PPP had won the election.
Meanwhile another lobbyist on the account, former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia of Florida, spoke by phone with National Security senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs Mauricio Claver-Carone on June 18. A month later, the State Department announced visa restrictions on Guyanese officials responsible for “undermining democracy.”
Mercury isn’t the only one courting Biden. Just last week, a lobbyist working for the International Center for Democracy, a New York outfit close to the PPP, wrote an op-ed in Guyanese media asserting that the Democrat stands with the PPP.
“The people of Guyana should not be fooled by a political cabal illegally clinging to power,” Cormac Group partner Jonathan Slade wrote for newsroom.gy. “Whether Trump or Biden wins in November, the US sanctions in Guyana will stay in place unless the legitimate winner of the March elections is acknowledged and allowed to form a new government.”
With their allies in Washington dwindling, lobbyists for Granger’s ruling APNU + AFC coalition have focused their recent outreach on the Congressional Back Caucus (CBC). Two members of the group — Democrats Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, both of whom represent Caribbean-heavy constituencies in New York — have criticized the visa restrictions as interference in another country’s sovereign affairs.
“With respect to the outcome of the election in Guyana, I take no position,” Jeffries said in a statement last month, reports Caribbean Life. “Neither should the Trump administration.”
In a message to the group last week, JJ&B partner James Albertine alluded to Granger’s ethnic background (his opponent Ali is of south Asian heritage):
The gambit appears to have failed, with the CBC as a group so far declining to stand by Granger.