|Ambassador Dr. Odeen Ishmael, CCH
Former Diplomat, Guyana
Odeen Ishmael was a Guyanese diplomat, historian, and author. He served as Guyana's ambassador in the USA (1993-2003), Venezuela 2003-2011) and Kuwait and Qatar (2011-2014).
Early life and education
Odeen Ishmael was born in Guyana on 29 January 1948. He held a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography, a post-graduate Diploma in Education and a PhD in Education.
Odeen Ishmael was Guyana's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Kuwait and concurrently (from 2013) as non-resident Ambassador to Qatar. He took up his post in Kuwait in January 2011. Before this appointment, he also served as ambassador to Venezuela (Nov. 2003-Jan. 2011) and to the United States of America (June 1993-Oct. 2003). While in the United States of America, he was concurrently Guyana's Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS). During his service in the United States and the OAS, he became dean of the diplomatic corps for Latin America and the Caribbean in Washington DC.
Ambassador Ishmael previously worked as a teacher and achieved in the 1980s the status of deputy headmaster in the Guyana school system. As a member of the Ministry of Education's Social Studies Curriculum Committee, he and a small team drafted and tested the Social Studies syllabus for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) in the mid-1970s. Working in the areas of both secondary and adult education, he also taught in The Bahamas from 1985 to 1993. And in a break away from teaching in 1970-1971, he worked as an information officer in the Ministry of External Affairs (now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) of Guyana.
Since 1993, he participated as a member of Guyana's delegation at the UN General Assembly and represented his country at the OAS General Assemblies and other specialised meetings of this body in various countries of the hemisphere. Additionally, he headed Guyana's delegation to meetings of the Regional Negotiating Machinery of Caricom from 1997 to 2001, and, as an OAS-trained trade negotiator, participated in the initial stages of negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). He was also a member of Guyana's delegation to the summit of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999.
From 1997, Ambassador Ishmael led Guyana's delegation to meetings of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). He also participated in the Summits of Heads of States of the OIC in Tehran (1997) and Qatar (2000).
He was also Guyana's chief negotiator at the Summits of the Americas in 1994 (Miami), 1998 (Santiago de Chile) and 2001 (Quebec City), and at the Summit of Sustainable Development in Bolivia (1996). Also, from 2001 to 2003 he was Caricom's representative on the executive committee of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) of the Summit of the Americas. He was also a leading negotiator in the process that led to the establishment of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001.
At the OAS, from July to September 1993, he became Vice-Chairman of the Permanent Council, while in August 1993 to July 1994 he served as Vice-Chairman of the Environmental Committee of the Permanent Council. In early 1994 he was also elected Chairman of the General Committee to prepare the OAS draft convention about persons with disabilities. He then became Chairman of the Permanent Council during October-December 1994 and oversaw the restoration of a democratic government in Haiti.
Further, in 1996, Ambassador Ishmael was elected Vice-Chairman of the OAS Working Group on Sustainable Development. And for a second time, during April-June 2002, he became Vice-Chairman of the OAS Permanent Council.
Then yet again, in April-June 2003 he became Chairman of the Permanent Council of the OAS, making him the only person from the Caricom region to serve twice in this capacity. He is also the only Guyanese, so far, to accede to this prestigious position in the hemispheric organization.
More recently, from December 2003, after becoming Ambassador to Venezuela, he has represented Guyana at meetings of the Latin American Economic System (SELA), headquartered in Caracas. In this organization, he was elected vice chairman of its governing body, the Latin American Council, for the period 2004-2006. He was elected as Chairman of the body in November 2009.
In political life, Ambassador Ishmael served in the Central Committee and the leadership of the Progressive Youth Organization from 1972 to 1982 and in the Central Committee of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) of Guyana from 1980 to 1988. During his political work, he participated in numerous international conferences and activities in various countries. He also assisted in lobbying Guyana's case for electoral reforms in North and South America, Europe and the Caribbean.
Ambassador Ishmael has written numerous articles on education, Guyanese history and international political issues which have been published in newspapers and journals in Guyana, the Caribbean, North America and Latin America.
His published books include Problems of the Transition of Education in the Third World, Towards Education Reform in Guyana, Amerindian Legends of Guyana, The Democracy Perspective in the Americas, The Magic Pot - Nansi Stories From The Caribbean, Guyana Legends and The Trail of Diplomacy - A Documentary History of the Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue - Volume One (Colonization, Boundary Dispute and Arbitration)
An Internet edition of The Trail of Diplomacy - A Documentary History of the Guyana-Venezuela Border Issue, was released in late 1998 and continues to be revised regularly up to the present time.
Further, he has compiled a lengthy collection of original documents on the Guyana-Venezuela border issue under the title, Guyana's Western Border. Also, a serialised edition of his history of Guyana, The Guyana Story, is available on the Internet. And as editor of the online GNI Publications, he has published a series of documents on Guyanese history, including The Campaign for Socialism and Democracy in Guyana (1965-1992). He is also the editor of the book, Cheddi Jagan - My Struggle for Guyana's Freedom and has written the foreword to the book From Bondage to Deliverance - Indentured Labour in Mauritius and British Guiana, authored by the Indian historian Dr. Saroja Sundararajan and published in New Delhi in 2006.
Honours and awards
For his work in diplomacy, Ambassador Ishmael received one of Guyana's highest honours, the Cacique Crown of Honour (CCH), in May 1997. Many years earlier, in 1974, he was awarded the Gandhi Centenary Gold Medal for academic achievement at the University of Guyana.
And during his stint in the United States, he received the prestigious King Legacy Award for International Service from the International Committee to Commemorate the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in January 2002. The states of Texas and Kentucky also honoured him with their awards. Significantly, the US Congress, by a joint resolution, paid a special tribute to him in October 2003 just before he completed his diplomatic service the United States.
Ambassador Ishmael was married to wife Evangeline and was the father of two children - a son, Safraz Waseem Ishmael, and a daughter, Nadeeza Ishmael. He enjoyed singing country music, playing the guitar, and playing cricket.
Ambassador Ishmael died on 5 January 2019 at his home in Ocala, Florida, USA. He was 70. His funeral service was held at the Roberts of Ocala Downtown Chapel, 606 SW 2nd Ave on Saturday, 12 January 2019. His body was interred in Forest Lawn Memory Gardens.