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Welcome to the fact-finding delegation from the USA that is here to assess the allegations of racial, political, and other forms of discrimination being made against the Government of Guyana. It is the democratic and constitutional right of Guyanese to complain to whomever they believe is best located to help their cause if they believe that they are being discriminated against. I note that the government was informed about the mission’s visit and invited to participate but belatedly and not surprisingly chose not to be involved, which is their democratic right. The activities of such groups have the potential to topple the Peoples’ Progressive Party’s (PPP) decades-long effort to establish ethnic/political dominance in Guyana.
The situation in Guyana is arguably more complex than in the USA, where superiority racism has led to the institutionalization of myriad discriminatory actions against Africans and others. The result is that these minorities have suffered from persistent inequality due to centuries of racism, discrimination and the long-lasting effects of slavery, which have created conditions that make it difficult for them to get ahead.
The question is not whether the PPP is discriminating against African Guyanese and their social/political organisations: it does not even make a great effort to hide it any longer! Its approach is total and all-encompassing but its supporters would want us to view such behaviour as political even if dictatorial!
For example, trade unions have been the foundation of the major political parties in Guyana and their leaders have routinely been aligned to one party or another, but a few days ago, considering the government’s behaviour towards the recognised teachers’ union, the Stabroek New, which is not entirely unsympathetic to the PPP stated. “The PPP/C, … considers that a significant proportion of the teachers… public servants, vote for the opposition [and] seems to believe it can win over opposition voters to its camp now that it has oil money to dispense. … President Ali has been undermining local authorities … which are opposition controlled by the expedient of bypassing the elected councils and appealing directly to the residents. Leaving aside the special case of the GPSU (Public Service Union), which has been circumvented for many years, there is every appearance that the attempted miniaturization of the GTU (Guyana Teachers Union) is underway. Talking to everyone, over the head of the union or whatever, comes under the head of state’s rubric of ‘One Guyana’. “
The reference to the GPSU negates any suggestion that the PPP’s behaviour is new and has anything to do with Guyana’s recent oil discoveries and the ‘whatever’ indicates that the behaviour is widespread. In 2013 I concluded that, ’… there is not a single area in African social life that the PPP has not sought to dominate or depress.’ And in 2015 I put together a book on the subject – Political and Ethnic Dominance in Guyana: Meaning, Consequences and Solutions. Gateway 2 Dialog, London).
The chair of the Guyana chapter of International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPADA-G) has already outlined to the delegation the travails the organisation is facing as the PPP tries to control its activities and prevent it from identifying and speaking about Africans who are being discriminated against. I am certain that the PNC has already spoken of the PPP’s efforts to undermine its support base and ignore the parliamentary representatives of Africans.
At about the turn of the century, the PPP began to lay the foundations of its drive for ethnic/political dominance, and this led to economic stagnation. According to the IMF 2007 Working paper, ‘After a period of exceptionally strong economic performance, Guyana’s growth has stagnated since 1998’ and many lives were lost during the period that the opposition – mimicking the Northern Ireland situation – called ‘the Troubles’. The PNC claimed that some 1,300 (Stabroek News put the number at about 400) mainly African youths were killed by a ‘phantom’ squad associated with the PPP. Of course, as the mission may have already heard, likely political deaths have not stopped.
What is at present taking place in Guyana is the result of some three generations of political struggle between two ethnic groups – Indians (PPP) and Africans (PNC) – that are today of almost equal size and get about 90% of their support from their ethnic group. Since before independence, the problematical nature of this conflictual context was observed. ‘Spokesmen of the Negro PNC consistently put the blame on the rival PPP, while PPP spokesmen blamed the PNC. … [but] [t]he root causes of racial tension undoubtedly lie far deeper; they are not to be found in …the unscrupulous imaginations of local politicians, or in a real or in imagined partiality on the part of the British rulers. … The burden of the evidence indicates that the cause of the problem of these societies rests not, as we are often told, in the machinations of unscrupulous leaders but in the very nature of the specific type of multiethnic communities’ (Ernst Halperin -1965- ‘Racism and Communism in British Guiana).
In a competitive, majoritarian political system such as exists in Guyana, no one group can sufficiently dominate the other to effectively rule in a liberal democratic manner. Attempts by one group, usually using its majority, to try and dominate the other are not uncommon in this kind of ethnic/political reality: look at Israel, Fiji, Northern Ireland, etc. For nearly three decades, the PPP regime has been attempting to suppress Africans to drive them into its ranks or migrate. When a government representing essentially one ethnic group takes away the socio/political rights of another, what some want to perceive as political is the worst kind of racial/ethnic discrimination!
The Carter Center has been warning for decades about the winner-take-all majoritarian system and suggesting that it must change and become more inclusive. Recently, in an unprecedented move, the United States Department of State not only called upon the present government to change the system but also suggested a similar direction for that change.
The PPP continues along the old path. If you consider Guyana’s aspirational national motto ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny’, the present talk about ‘One Guyana’ is not new. What is new is that it is now only being used to camouflage the decades-old PPP drive towards ethnic dominance.