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I claimed last week that while in the 1950s/60s the PNC and their allies were involved in the global struggle against communism whose objective was to overthrow liberal democracy, the PPP’s relationship with the US in 2020 was motivated by no such principled concern. It was a commonplace desire for personal and/or ethnic political power. Global communism has been destroyed and ‘democracy’ has returned but elections are continually being manipulated and people are still wantonly being killed because ‘democracy’ has liberated the extremely divisive ethnic tendencies that lay dormant in Guyanese society.
In passing, in the PPP mythology, Forbes Burnham was the archetypical opportunist for dealing with the US, but now that the PPP is said to have opportunistically allied itself with the US to gain government in 2020, we are being told that Cheddi Jagan, who was the only national leader to have won substantial cross ethnic respect largely for holding fast to his ideological beliefs that priortised the interest of the working people, was flawed for not being sufficiently opportunistic in his relationship with the US in the 1950s/60s! It is as if we are now to understand that being opportunistic about one’s basic principles is a virtue. Politics is about negotiating who gets what, when and how, so one cannot be dogmatic. However, one must be willing to draw the line where one’s primary principles are concerned or; how will the individual or society function?
Much like the leaders of today, the Jagans’ mistake/ignorance was to believe that although the PPP was perceived as a threat to the liberal democratic order, its ethnic majority should and would have been given priority in terms of their holding power in Guyana. We know that this did not happen and that the PNC held government for three decades, during which the entire country was socialised to believe that the major political problems in Guyana were PPP communism, PNC electoral manipulations and the absence of democracy. The racial animosity that existed resulted from the above deficiencies and was to disappear or be significantly reduced with their removal.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall at the of 1989, Cheddi Jagan was no longer a problem for the West and they supported the PPP coming to government in 1992 and almost immediately the unmanageable ethnic nature of Guyanese society that had been previously muted came to the fore. The communist dream disappeared, leaving the Jagans and the PPP with their ethnic majority to govern one of the most difficult types of ethnically divided society. How Cheddi Jagan would have dealt with the situation is anyone’s guess. What we can say for certain is that his successors have not done well.
‘The PPP/C is again in government and again the president, now Dr. Irfaan Ali, has promised much in terms improved ethnic relations and development. President Ali: show us’(Future Notes, SN: 05/08/2020). In this challenge I was suggesting that the PPP does not and indeed that neither of the large ethnic parties individually has the capacity to quell and/or make Guyana’s ethnic diversity a developmental advantage. “…. because of its protean, polymorphous, and all-encompassing nature, that could promptly serve as an ideological trigger for mobilizing forces, élites and entrepreneurs, ethnicity is deemed to be among ‘the most difficult type[s] of cleavage for a democracy to manage.’ When these cleavages are salient in the political realm, the game for obtaining political resources is perceived as a zero sum one, the elections are transformed in a
kind of ethnic census and the right-left division difficultly permeates the party politics” (ETHNIC_DOMINATION_IN_DEEPLY_DIVIDED_PLAC.pdf).
Unsurprisingly, since that challenge, ethnic relations have become worse and the ongoing quarrels over constitutional/electoral reform, the politicization of the security forces, extrajudicial killings, inequitable distribution of national resources, the ongoing tit for tat politics, etc. have set the situation to decline further.
Of course, President Ali was following in the footsteps of every head of government Guyana has had. Burnham and his PNC took government in 1964 and having considered the situation, he said in his address to the nation that ‘the apparent ethnic cleavage that existed in Guyana was brought about by the dishonest, deceitful, opportunistic and racist propaganda and policies of the PPP that had been able to convince a large section of the population to vote against the PNC. He said that all the peoples of Guyana were equally important and would be treated as such by his party, that the enemies of Guyana wanted to see it divided but that beginning immediately his government would behave fairly and demonstrate to PPP supporters that there was nothing to fear but all to celebrate.’
This is 2021 and we are still waiting to celebrate. What we do have is Dr. Ali making almost the same sterile promises and I have paid some attention but am yet to discern that any of the present contestants for leadership of the PNC would go much further than their Founder Leader, Forbes Burnham, did in 1964.