AN elderly Guyanese in Saint Lucia called my TV show ‘Earl-at-Large’ last Sunday to (sort of) diplomatically excoriate me for not sharing with Saint Lucians ‘the real experience of Black people in Guyana under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).’
She laid out a long list of ‘personal experiences’ that included PPP Leader Cheddi Jagan ‘taking away Black People land and giving in to Indians’ and ‘Black people feeling like slaves in Guyana whenever PPP is in office.’
I didn’t stop or question her claims because I knew that while some of the loudest and most emotionally expressed claims are simply not true as stated, deep down inside she believed herself.
Her passionate delivery was unbelievably helpful through, as it allowed me to respond – and to point out that a real fact of life in Guyana has been and still is today is that in too many cases, five decades after independence, Guyanese life and politics is still driven by race, religion and culture.
Guyanese with different texture of hair and/or complexion continue to see the same things differently today just as in the distant past after the British and Americans played the race card to their benefit to split and forever divide the two races that supported the PPP back in the 1950s when Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham shared in its leadership.
Today, there are still too many Guyanese of African and Indian descent still see the same half-a-glass of water differently: one sees it half-full, the other half-empty; and the two will most likely quarrel, even fight (and possibly to death), each insisting he or she is right – which both are.
They will not agree — or even agree to disagree.
That quarrel continues today and rang out loud in my caller’s voice.
This type of thinking is not genetic and does not affect every single Guyanese, but it has been conditioned over long years.
The two main parties are race-based, each with major backing from Indians and Africans that share the vast majority of the population.
As I said in my program, neither the PPP, nor the People’s National Congress (PNC) that leads the ruling APNU-AFC coalition alliance, can be described as institutionally racist because none has a constitution or book of rules that formally dictates that gubernatorial policy should be based on race or ethnicity.
It cannot be denied, however, that there are still too many people supporting both parties still conditioned by seeing things differently from a purely natural but racial perspective.
Racism not expressed in the rest of CARICOM like it is in Guyana and with all other nations (apart from Trinidad & Tobago) African-majority based, with Christianity as the main religion and cultural identity more overwhelmingly African than Indian, there’s also been a natural historical tendency for Eastern Caribbean governments, people and political parties to naturally gravitate to or automatically identify and associate with Afro Guyanese – and in political terms, the PNC.
Demographics and Geopolitics
The average CARICOM citizen really interested in the results of the Guyana elections and trying to understand what’s happening there today is innocent about the sheer size of the country and the demographics of its geopolitics and will therefore not understand why election results normally take so long — possibly as long as 15 days by law — to declare.
After all, even some very educated, certified and decorated literary Afro-Guyanese at home and abroad will go to the most unexpected extremes to defend positions arrived at based on race-based considerations, playing deaf, dumb and blind to crystal clear cases of electoral engineering at home, as long as it prevents PPP Leader Bharrat Jagdeo from taking office as President.
Racism is not today as bad and direct as long ago, but can still be traced by any CARICOM citizen who spends a week there and will naturally come up against natural elements of Guyanese life unlike they grew-up with in the islands.
What I know…
I know what it’s like: When I got married in Guyana, because I was a prominent non-Guyanese personality working in the national media under a PPP administration, it was automatically assumed by many that I had wed ‘an Indian’.
And when our African wedding photograph appeared on the front pages of the Chronicle and Stabroek News (daily newspapers) the next morning, it was then assumed she was Afro Guyanese.
I wasn’t all loved by all Guyanese, but those who disliked me either respected me or showed me some respect while containing their real feelings.
I do know Cheddi Jagan was not racist – and that his white American-born Janet was discriminated against.
She won a free and fair election and all was done by her political opponents across the spectrum to prevent her from being sworn-in as President, notwithstanding that she was the longest-serving Member of Parliament in the National Assembly, with 55 years unbroken service at the time she was elected.
Some who opposed her on the streets and through violent protests argued she was ‘not both here’, others coming straight to the point and said ‘We cannot have a white woman as President of Guyana.’
The trump card
The race card is always a trump card in Guyana politics, never mind all the denials by its major political practitioners.
But those with that deeply-rooted sense of denial have been floating high and around over there longer than those who deny Climate Change in the world today, or who seek to deny their criminal responsibility for and everlasting benefits from the Slave Trade to deny Caribbean people today long-overdue Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide.
In CARICOM territories there’s always talk from time to time about race from a Black-White perspective (Barbados and Jamaica, for example), but never (or hardly ever) from an African-Indian perspective as in Guyana.
However, race will continue to haunt national life and politics, as well as the life and politics of Guyanese at home and abroad as much and for as long today as yesteryear continues to dawn every day, from yesterday to tomorrow, old arguments like ‘The best Coolie is a dead one’ being refined and rebranded today with the likes of ‘Keeping the Coolies out by any means necessary.’
The unique nature of how race plays out in Guyana confuses even Guyanese abroad who now also try to understand the roles external factors may be playing in today’s post-election scene in Guyana.
But just as only CARICOM can only allow itself to be divided, racial divisions in Guyana today are still very-much home-made and any external involvement is only facilitated by internal collusion.
Voices of reason
The courts will rule and CARICOM Chairman Mia Amor Mottley will lead a delegation of Heads of Government to try to hammer out a solution, as did Saint Lucia’s Prime Dr Kenny D. Anthony when he did the same as part of a similar CARICOM delegation after 1997 to hammer out the political truce that later led to the Herdmanston Accord, that eventually cooled tempers and established CARICOM’S proposal of term limits to appease an opposition that had turned violent in pursuit of ethically cleansing Janet Jagan out of her elected Presidency.
CARICOM has been successful before and success is always possible when voices of reason triumph.
The PPP has presented evidence to support its victory claim and its Leader has openly put on the table his party’s willingness to share government.
Here again, the PPP is calling for the equivalent of a patriotic coalition for democracy as it did in the heady days of Burnham rule when Guyana was under threat and in danger.
How the APNU-AFC responds will tell how they feel about uniting in government in the national interest, but the response will certainly be guided by its preparedness to share in governance of an oil-rich Guyana.
The New Guyana that has forever eluded the land and people in their pursuit of common destiny can indeed be forged in these times of new possibilities that can mean everything earlier dreamed-of for Guyana-CARICOM relations in pursuit of genuine Caribbean unity and cooperation on new bases that would limit — and even possibly eventually eliminate — today’s near-total Caribbean dependence on Europe and North America for everything from food to fuel.
The possibilities are endless and the CARICOM delegation should try its best to get the leaders to see power in Guyana today not only from the standpoint of governing Guyana tomorrow, but also of finally developing that New Guyana that, as CARICOM’s biggest and richest nation, will be able to do so much so fast as to start making this Caribbean region what we all know it really is and can be, but which only they, the Guyanese leaders today – at this very point in time – can help make happen by just being ready to turn their proverbial swords into ploughshares to start ploughing the ground for the New Caribbean Nation.
I saw all those possibilities in my mind while penning this article.
Was I dreaming?
Yes, I was.
But in this case, when they meet, the CARICOM Leaders and Guyana’s political leaders will have in their hands and always on the table the one chance and only real possibility in recent times of Guyanese politicians acting towards genuinely making such dreams come true more quickly for Guyana and all Guyanese – and the entire Caribbean.