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Once again it was a sad and pathetic experience in this nation. It was an experience that had all the hallmark of government discriminatory practices and acts of vindictiveness towards African Guyanese and the people of Linden/Region 10.
This nation saw the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that encouraged widespread squatting under successive People’s National Congress (PNC) administrations and championed squatters remaining undisturbed, turned the full force of its power, aided by law enforcement and a giant mechanical shovel, to destroy the humble abode of women, leaving them and their children with no shelter and protection from the element, wild animals and human predators. The area is populated primarily by those who have turned to farming for economic sustenance.
The incident occurred last Friday outside of Amelia’s Ward area and was showcased the evening on Mark Benschop’s Straight Up programme. There is no question, having seen this, that the government of Irfaan Ali/Bharrat Jagdeo is more tolerant to squatting when they encourage it, when their supporters squat, when squatting occurs under another government or is engineered by them to change the demographic for political and voting purposes. It would be interesting to observe how Prime Minister Mark Phillips asserts himself on this injustice not only as the person second in command in government but as an African Guyanese and resident of the Linden community. Does he feel for the people of Linden and their plight? Does he see the discrimination and violence meted out to these residents? Does he care?
The PPP has no tolerant for African squatters on state land in Linden and Success, East Coast Demerara (ECD), even as they sought to encourage their supporters to squat on transported private family land in Kingelly, West Coast Berbice, belonging to the heirs of Cudjoe McPherson, my great, great, great, great grandfather and former slave. Had we not stood up they were prepared to deny his heirs of the land wealth he accumulated from pittances earned from his laborious work.
In Success, ECD, reminiscent of the days of the colonial masters, lands occupied for years reportedly by thousands of persons were flooded by the state and said to have caused damage to the extent of hundreds of millions of dollars in building materials, household furnishings and valuables, crops, and livestock. Many vehicles were also damaged in the process. The government committed these dastardly deeds on the pretext of wanting to reclaim land for GuySuCo to plant sugar cane. To date, not one sugar root was planted but people were violently uprooted and forced to find living accommodations elsewhere.
In the situation of Linden, it was forested land, that the people spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear, built houses and created homes, and engaged in productive economic activities. Most of these homeowners are women and single parents. In that area they have planted papaya, pear, coconuts and other cash crops and some have even started reaping and selling. These are now all destroyed and likewise the people’s economic sustenance. We have seen in Linden where the PPP commandeered a state property that was used as the substation for the transfer of electricity and converted same into their party office. This is an abuse of authority, squatting on state land and coveting state property. This is the PPP Animal Farm- some are more equal than some.
Linden is an economically depressed community and has been for years. The situation has been escalating with the government’s refusal to address the industrial disputes with the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc (BCGI) which has resulted in hundreds of workers and families being placed on the breadline and economically impoverished. The PPP has been battering Linden/Region 10 since they entered office in 1992. In the first quarter of 1993, they sent home 3000 plus bauxite workers. There has been the breaking up of the bauxite workers’ Pension and Saving Plans, collectively worth more than $4 billion. Proposal by the workers’ union, i.e. the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), to reinvest the plans’ money in other to guarantee future pensions were rebuffed by the PPP government even as they used taxpayer’s money to ensure the security of sugar workers’ pension.
Though we should not begrudge sugar workers or any other for due and entitled benefits from government’s coffers, society must not ignore the extent to which the PPP will go to deprive and undermine economic self-determination where African Guyanese are the dominant group or beneficiaries. For instance, sugar workers who already received their severance benefits were each given $250,000 by the government as a grant on the pretext that they are facing economic challenges due to their termination of employment.
On the other hand, the hundreds of BCGI workers are still to receive the correct sum for their correct termination benefits and have their industrial disputes resolved. Letters requesting these matters be attended to were repeatedly sent by the GB&GWU to Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton and the Chief Labour Officer. These letters are still lying on their desks unattended. BCGI workers have also not received the $250,000 grant which was given to laid off sugar workers. Bauxite workers face the same marketplace and are experiencing the same economic challenges. The struggle for workers in Guyana is no not only class based but overridingly race based. These realities we must acknowledge and confront because an injustice to one is an injustice to all. Wake up Guyana!