||Race: Does It Exist?
Implications for Guyana's Future
By Gary Girdhari
Guyana Journal, February 2007
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The United States Declaration of Independence.
SINCE these laudable and profound words were promulgated, the “American Dream” of equality, liberty and fraternity was stymied for blacks in America; the dream became An American Dilemma1 wherein “racism had compromised the American creed for equal opportunity, fair play and justice for all. Racism was seen not only as wrong but also as an irrational pathology... the Negro was himself pathological as a result of his oppression; he was the product of an insufficient, degraded subculture.” But change is inevitable.
It is now many years since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision when the United States Supreme Courts threw out the Jim Crow laws of discrimination against blacks. The “separate but equal” status quo was found to be without any legal constitutional basis. Since then, despite undisputed social and economic gains, the opportunity for equality is still in reality elusive for many blacks in employment, educational institutions, law enforcement and the judicial system. For although the federal and state governments stipulate it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, nationality, religion, disability and sexual orientation, many businesses and individuals continue to harbor prejudices, suggesting that the moral fabric of the society as a whole has to be continually enlightened and rejuvenated.
Racial discrimination and various forms of prejudices and bigotry continue to be common everyday practices oftentimes surfacing to national dimensions in the United States. Many nasty comments and actions are known; few get national attention through the news media. In the Texaco exposé, for example, senior executives of the company were recorded, where they described African American employees as “nigger”, “orangutans”, “porch monkeys” and “black jelly beans”. (http://www.online-distance-learning-education.com/article_info.php/articles_id/35)
The doctrine of racism is old and, in America, is based on a presumed superiority of one race (white) over the other (black). Even Abraham Lincoln2, noted for his Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in some states, laid bare the prevailing thinking, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.
There is a physical difference between the white and black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And insomuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Thus, the superiority/inferiority basis for racism is rooted in bigotry, without any sound foundation for the ideological stance; in other circles it is supported by pseudo-science. Throughout history, the belief has been propagated to sustain the “superior people” status quo. Well known “great” people such as Thomas Jefferson said that “they [Negroes] have never been viewed by us as subjects of natural history” and felt that blacks were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind”. The philosopher David Hume stated that “Negroes [are] naturally inferior to whites with no civilized nation.” Others, like Rudyard Kipling proclaimed blacks and other people of color as “inferior”, as a “lower form of evolution” and as “the white man's burden”. Clearly then, one can understand the rationale for bigots and racists they want to maintain the “natural order of things”.
In contemporary times, prejudice means “thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant” or “an avertive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group.” In certain instances, societal antipathy, such as the age-old caste system of India or tribalism may be regarded as an accepted cultural value system rather than prejudice of the particular society. Regardless, such “prejudice is an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization.” Indeed, in today's world one finds many cases (e.g., in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere) where the presumption provokes institutional targeting of and personal attacks on Muslims or those who 'look' like Muslims, markedly since 9/11.
When prejudice is displayed by simply talking negative things, it is referred to as antilocution. But it may develop to the point of avoidance, i.e., refusal to interact with the other group. Negative attitudes, beliefs and feelings can be played out in discrimination, such as refusal in employment and promotion, credit, red-lining, exclusion from housing, hospitals, restaurants, cafes, theaters, and other spheres of public life. Feelings sometimes become so intense that the result may be physical attacks, as in beatings, riots, lootings, physical eviction, desecration of synagogues, churches, mosques and cemeteries, or racial gang fights. In extreme situations, there may be extermination, e.g., lynching (Negroes), pogroms and genocides (Jews in Nazi Germany), massacre and ethnic cleansing (tribal warfares the Biafra war in Nigeria, Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda). In all of the above, rumor oils the wheels of the prejudices, fanning the flames of the human commotion.
IN THE UNITED STATES, racial segregation was also a consequence of prejudice. “Segregation is a form of discrimination that sets spatial boundaries of some sort to accentuate the disadvantage of members of the out-group.” For example, a discriminated black person may persist and finally obtain a job only to find that he/she is placed in a secluded area to perform his/her duties; s/he may get over the discriminatory practice of hiring (because of the law) but end up being segregated nevertheless. Similarly, blacks (called Negroes then) were allowed into cafes, restaurants, schools, and public transport, but delimited “for coloreds only”; or drink from a water fountain “for coloreds only”; or may be allowed to buy properties with provisos such as: “and furthermore, no lot sold or leased to, or occupied by, any person excepting of the white race”; “[p]rovided further, that the grantee shall not sell to Negroes or permit use or occupation by them, except as domestic servants”; or “shall not permit occupation by Negroes, Hindus, Syrians, Greeks, or any corporation controlled by them”; or “no part of the area may be owned or occupied by any person of Negro blood or by any person who is more than one-fourth of the Semitic race... including Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Turks, Persians, Syrians and Arabians....”3 Also, discrimination may occur in hiring such as “male preferred”, “no colored”, “openings for Christians”, etc.
Such institutionalized discriminatory practices were/are perpetuated for many reasons, but mainly because of exaggerated and inaccurate generalizations (stereotypes) and for manipulative and exploitative purposes. Private and public polices are sometimes developed or advocated because of racist ideology. This is borne out modern-day in the “incendiary conservative theorist” Charles Murray's The Bell Curve.4 Charles Murray concludes that basically people (American) can be divided into two major categories those with low I.Q. and those with high I.Q. He claims that I.Q. is based almost entirely on genetic inheritance. Genetics and I.Q. will determine who become the successes and leaders (“the cognitive elite”) or who will remain in poverty, crime and dependency. According to Murray, the social and economic dichotomy will inevitably become more entrenched and widened. He posits that society will have to strengthen its protective devices (military and police) to guard against potential and foregone reprisals from the growing underclass. Further, on the assumption that the lower I.Q. people cannot benefit from exposure to institutions of learning and social programs, he advocates the withdrawal of benefits for those at the lower end of the social ladder.
Many academic researchers have protested Murray's proposal to abolish welfare, food stamps and remedial education, to reject immigrants of below-average I.Q., to cut benefits to women who he believes encourage the reproduction of low I.Q. children. Charles Murray was dropped from the Manhattan Institute 'think tank', and the Boston Globe denounced his book, pointing to it as being pseudo-science.
The perfidious and dangerous aspect of The Bell Curve is that it offers validation to many, including closet racists, especially in business and government. It buttresses negative stereotypes. Murray gives no importance and credence to the impact of environmental cause and effect. He proselytizes with religious fervor that cognitive differences result in intractable inequality but does not recognize that inequality produces cognitive differences. Many academics doing twin studies and adoption follow-up research have, to the contrary, concluded that intelligence and I.Q. scores have an extremely high environmental etiology. The authors of The Bell Curve have treaded on dangerous ground and their work is feeding racist politicians and businessmen with justification to promote racist policies. So that, because they believe that black people are intellectually inferior, there should be no affirmative action!
The Bell Curve is an attempt to influence public policy in bolstering racist behavior and prejudices by providing (false) 'scientific' evidence. Most scholars know that this new construct is erroneously premised, criticize it for its partiality, and condemn it for its potential detriment to integration.
Integration, 53 years since the Topeka case, is still a slippery abstraction in the minds of many whites (and some blacks). White racist theorists and their cohorts feel that their special preserves will forever be lost. They were/are unable to appreciate the idea that non-discrimination and integration could reduce the process of economic inequalities. They also feared 'mixing of the blood' or miscegenation. This was also true for some black thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois who worried about possible cultural genocide of blacks. Many whites could not countenance the idea of blacks living with them as equals because of deep-rooted prejudices; and blacks wondered if they could ever forget the injustices, physical and emotional, meted out to them at the hands of whites.
Ralph Ellison5, a black Nobel Laureate for literature, in his book The Invisible Man, saw integration as a form of liberation when a person may maintain his or her individuality. He says, “Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive toward colorlessness? ... America is woven in many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain.”
But liberation of the mind and spirit needs to be supported by laws where one can redress the failure of their application. Thus, the Topeka Brown v. Board of Education ruling paved the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 all important milestones for human rights.
Still, legislation notwithstanding, discrimination and segregation exist in other patterns of behavior. “Whites fled the urban areas with greater and greater speed they took their tax base and middle-class children with them to the suburbs.” The result is that this new demographic shift perpetuated residential segregation, and hence segregation in schools and other places; and it has maintained the racial divide without breaking the law. Roger Wilkins in Modern Maturity states, “So the problem of the undigested black masses still confronts us. Not only is it destroying black lives, it is also destroying our cities, dividing our country, and warping our political priorities.”
The excesses of the prejudices have produced extremes of poor economic conditions, crime and ghettos, that have become self-perpetuating. Many white people feel that such situations are due to a lack of black leadership, now that the protective laws are on the books. Advocates like Charles Murray and his ilk on the right end of the ideological spectrum believe that such a state is predetermined, innate in the low I.Q. black people. They tend to marginalize those blacks, stating that it is in their genes and therefore any attempt at amelioration of the social conditions is a waste of valuable resources. Others see the problem as a lack of white leadership for not grasping the core of the problem, and not accepting and responding “to repair the deep and ugly racial damage ... [of] history.”
To resolve the scourge of the “oppressed” the conservative pedagogues want to build more prisons to house more prisoners at a cost close to $100,000 per prisoner per year, rather than spend similar or lesser sums in some positive aspects of development. Jessie Jackson has been advocating the latter for many years now. As Roger Wilkins6 puts it, “Both are very expensive. It's just that the family program works a whole lot better for the people who are targeted and for America's future as well.” What is needed is still to come the liberation of the mind.
The Guyana Scenario
... like a root
stopped by a stone you turn back questioning
the tree you feed.
But what the leaves hear is not what the root ask. Martin Carter
FIRST, it must be emphasized that Guyana has a race problem. Some people have attempted to explain the race problem in Guyana as a class problem; and they predict that as economic conditions of all the people improve to the level of freedom from want, there would be a smoothing of fractious divides, eventually leading to a diminution and elimination of racial tensions and prejudices. In other words, economic realization would become the great social equalizer. People will then “think with their bellies” as well as their brains, ultimately recognizing that the class struggle in society dictates the relationship of individuals or groups of individuals.
This kind of argument was developed in the 19th century in Western Europe where there was mostly racial homogeneity, and did not account for the various racial, tribal, ethnic and religious diversities found in places like the United States, Africa, India, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. In these latter cases, there exist the fear and insecurity of the “minority” group as well as the exploitative class intent upon realizing financial and social advantages.
In plural societies security based on race and ethnicity supersedes national imperatives. Conflicts in Algeria, Guyana, Bosnia, Rwanda and the former USSR seem to support this contention. In Guyana, for example, voting patterns in elections, by and large, occur along racial lines with respect to the two main political parties. The People's Progressive Party received its main support (55%) from East Indians and the People's National Congress (40%) from the Africans (December 1997 elections). However, non-traditional supporters voted for the PPP as observed from the percentage obtained relative to the demographics in the country. What is quite glaring and compelling to mention is the strict racial voting of Africans for the PNC. Any dispassionate observation and analysis of Guyana's political and economic past will reveal:
* That during its 28 years in office, the PNC left Guyana literally in a state of economic chaos and bankruptcy coupled with the denial of certain freedoms and human rights.
* That with the PPP victory in the free elections of 1992, Guyana has witnessed a tremendous economic turn-around massive infra-structural development, reparation of various social services and a restoration of democracy. Wages and salaries were increased. The Public Sector and the Police became the benefactors of a huge one-time payout in the latter part of 1997 and also in 2006. Once again, the Police especially were able to go about their duty with pride in new uniforms, in new vehicles, and were well equipped.
* The economic developments schools and colleges, health, roads, goods and other services did not benefit only the supporters of the PPP; most Guyanese tasted the fruits of good governance.
Why then did the Africans vote for the PNC (40%, reflective of the racial demography)? Also, why did the Police and the Army vote for the PNC (95%, reflective of the racial composition)? The fact is that Africans voted for the PNC despite the good record of the PPP government, and with full knowledge of the atrocious record of the PNC!
To explain this, one must acknowledge that the racial antipathy exists at a deeper level. The PPP boasts that it made inroads in many traditional strongholds of the PNC, e.g., Region 1, Region 7 and Region 10, to name a few. Elections results show the strong ethnic affinities and alliances which must be deep-rooted, as a consequence of fear, distrust and insecurity, fueled undoubtedly by ethnic mobilizers, political aspirants and party extremists. (Incidentally, it would be interesting to find out empirically how the 'mixed' race voted, and why.)
Contrary to popular beliefs that race became an issue in Guyana only during the 1960s, racial animosity began shortly after Emancipation of the African Slaves (1834) and the beginning of Indian Indentureship (1838). The free Africans (Creoles) enjoyed a certain degree of bargaining power for their labor for better wages, price of foods, and conditions of service. According to most historians7, “Africans opposed Indian (Coolies) indentured immigration in defense of their own self-interests.” But with successive Indian immigration, the plantocracy was able to effectively contain the demands of the Africans. To add insult to injury, the Africans and others were taxed and this taxation money was used in part to offset some of the immigration expenses, i.e., they “were subsidizing their own retrenchment.” Clem Seecharan8 pointed out that the Creoles looked upon the Coolies as scabs, claiming: 'de collie tek way de bread out ah we mout'.
Free Africans moved out of the logie and “nigger yard”, bought land and set up villages. Indians remained on the Estates in the logies and “bound yard”. This residential separation continued to exist to some degree till this day; and it has helped in the continuation of separate development in language, food, music, religious practices and other aspects of culture. There was very little cross acculturation in either direction in terms of dress, food, music and religion. Noted Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney9, recognized that “The Creole-Indian immigrant antithesis at times took the form of an African racial confrontation. Differences in culture constituted obstacles in the way of working class unity across racial lines.” And the divisive variables were skillfully exploited by the planters to their advantage.
Over time there was a nurturing of negative stereotyping10 of the African and Indian the Indian 'sammy' and the African 'quashie', or the Indian 'coolie wata rice' and African 'blackman sala'. Eventually, Indians underwent some degree of 'creolization' which some believed ran counter to many of the Indian cultural mores brought from India.
The process of indigenization is ongoing for all. However, Indians tended to be more refractory to the pressures. The Indians could resist and refuse certain demands because the indentureship agreement guaranteed explicit 'rights'. Indians were never slaves, things or chattels. Thus, they were able to maintain a reasonable degree of cultural independence. This was sustained by the fact that indentureship spanned a period of seventy years, with each wave of immigrants bringing refreshing breaths of cultural and spiritual uplift from their homeland. This continuous link enabled Indians to inculcate a kind of pride and engender a proud self-image that resonated with their ability to deal with issues relating to their work and their economic and cultural development. Africans, on the other hand, had inescapably severed their umbilical connection with their homeland many, many years before because of their long enslavement. Later, there was a resurgence of African pride with the appearance of Frederick Douglas and Marcus Garvey in the United States. Also, Indian sense of worth and pride became enhanced with the freedom and independence struggle in India. They were imbued with a sense of connectedness. For example, Indians in Guyana at this time wore the traditional Indian clothing like the Nehru cap, kourta, dhoti and orhni, sang Indian patriotic songs and anthem, and celebrated India's independence with marches and religious functions in their mandirs. This affinity with India gave the Guyana Indians a nuanced distinction of dignity, pride and accomplishment; and certainly created some stir of animosity in the African community.
When Kwame Nkruma won independence for Ghana, there was a similar show of pride among the Africans in Guyana. Unfortunately, by then they had lost most of their cultural appurtenances. There were speeches and ostentatious display of African attire. Thenceforth, many African men and women would don traditional clothing and adopt African names like Eusi, Lumumba, Kwese with pride and dignity. Some started to learn Swahili. A back-to-Africa movement was proposed but never got off the ground. African self-esteem reverberated and began its steady climb, albeit slowly.
From the early part of the last century, the Coolie was demanding rights to own land and set up their “settlements” after the “bound” period was over. Initially, the planters created land settlement schemes and gave them parcels of land in lieu of return passages to India, thereby absolving themselves from repatriation expenses. Later they sold land to willing and able ex-indentured Indians. By the same token, Africans saw themselves possessing greater rights, owing to their prior longer presence and their history of being exploited. Herein lies another bone of contention and cause for racial animosity.
After indentureship ended, Indians remained on their land as (mostly) small farmers or business people. They were not encouraged into the professions (e.g. teaching, police, civil service), partly because they were less educated and partly because they felt that they would lose their cultural heritage within the indigenizing and Christianizing milieu. In fact, Indian boys were illegally kept away from school to assist in the family business or rice farming; young girls were similarly kept home, thus lacking the rudiments of schooling, and prepared for marriage at a tender age. Rooted in the culture of child marriage, this practice continued, even where there was no financial household need, to the detriment of the Indian community.
The Africans got a head start in the Village System. They were schooled and thus the genesis of their unparalleled surge in the civil service, police department, teaching, the professions and quasi-professions, where the majority of the workers are still Africans. The less educated worked as stevedores, miners and laborers in lumbering business. Indians worked as laborers in the sugar estates or became predominantly peasant rice farmers, landowners and business people.
DESPITE the growing antagonism between Indians and Africans, it was recognized that “the state in the capitalist society [Guyana] was never an impartial agent mediating the conflicts that arose between contending classes [or races]. It is, in open or devious ways, always an instrument of the existing ruling group.”11 Peter Ruhomon observed the Indian perspicacity of the situation as related by an Indian immigrant, Bechu, and concluded that “No trick of sophistry or twist of logic can ever avail to defend the system of semi-slavery paraded under the guise of indentured immigration, under which Indians were brought to the Colony to labour on the sugar plantations, in the interest of a powerful and privileged body of capitalists.”
Some educated Africans (mainly teachers and civil servants) left the shores of Guyana to pursue studies in Britain and the United States, in the fields of law, medicine and business. Upon their return, they set up very successful practices. Indians followed suit after indentureship ended in 1917, and they too enjoyed success. These visible achievements were a matter of pride to both groups. Self-esteem and self-respect were noticeable despite the simultaneous growth of conceit, arrogance and condescension among the new upper class. Undeniably, “cultural imperialism” had its impact on these professionals who assumed airs not unlike the English gentry, tarnishing them as 'Afro-Saxon' and 'Indo-Saxon'.
“And wherever accumulation occurred, social stratification would emerge.” African professionals and businessmen formed the League of Coloured People (LCP) and subsequently, as a counterbalance, Indian professionals and businessmen established the British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA). It was not uncommon to see these individuals dressed in woolen pin stripe suits, top hats and canes. They maintained exclusive club memberships and tended to ape the local Europeans supposedly rubbing shoulders with the Europeans guaranteed elevated social status!
Neither of the two racial groups fostered any cross-cultural exchanges. The Africans (and some Indians) tried in vain to be like the Europeans, with no concern for the evolving negritude. Some Indians attempted to promote aspects of Indian culture, but this was restrictive.... Where the LCP and the BGEI found common ground was in the formation of the local upper class and their newfound allegiance to big business and the established power structure. The LCP did not fight for African laborers, such as stevedores, or those who belonged to “nigger yards”. Likewise, the BGEI did not identify with the cause of poor Indian rice farmers or the plight of the laboring sugar workers.
The Indian masses especially, who were largely illiterate or semiliterate and based in the countryside, experienced intolerable problems in the mainstream society. They received measured assistance from expatriates such as James Crosby (of the Immigration Office), Dr. James Cropper, Rev. Fisher and other Christian missionaries who aided in their education, but who had another motive of Christianizing them.12
It is quite clear that at this time neither the Africans nor the Indians could be described as “monolithic groups”. Relationship in the society at large took on a class footing. At the same time, however, obtaining a job or getting promotion usually depended on family connection, religious affiliation and the color of one's skin, all other things being equal the lighter skin color decidedly assured certain positions and promotions in the public service and business white being the lightest and black the darkest! The white and light skin people distanced themselves from the others African or Indian with a posturing of noli me tangere.
Most would agree that during the early part of the last century, there was no overt racial conflict between Africans and Indians. Although residential segregation remained intact, mutual respect was observed. Economic and social conditions of all the workers were deplorable, especially in the sugar estates. Here, the workers (mostly Indians) continued to live in logies. They depended on water for cooking and washing from the trenches over which were latrines, and suffered from hookworm, pinworm and ascaris infestation, in addition to protein energy malnutrition and other food deficiencies. The tenement yards were no better. In those days, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Ayube Edun fought against tremendous odds to obtain better conditions for the African and Indian workers, respectively.
IN 1943, a young Indian professional, Cheddi Jagan, returned to Guyana after completing his studies in the United States. He was accompanied by his American-born wife, Janet Jagan. Cheddi Jagan's observation of and experience among the American poor in Chicago, Washington DC and New York City, especially the blacks, catapulted him into a situation where his only alternative was to agitate for the workers' rights in Guyana via the trade union movement and in the political arena. Dr. Cheddi Jagan dedicated his entire life thereafter (till his death in 1997) in the struggle for the working people. Recognizing that the bigger battle must be approached from a political angle, he, together with Janet Jagan, Joycelyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase, initiated a political structure that blossomed into the People's Progressive Party in 1950. Prior to this time, there was no adult suffrage government was formed primarily by nomination and selection by the British Governor, the resident 'benevolent' dictator if you like.
In 1953, election was held for the first time under adult suffrage. The PPP, led by Cheddi Jagan, participated in the election and won an overwhelming majority. After only 133 days, the British suspended the Constitution, jailed many members of the PPP (including both Jagans) and installed their handpicked Interim Government.
Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, a black professional, just graduated as a lawyer in England, was encouraged to join the PPP. He was made second in command. He was not jailed!
During the formation of the PPP and up to the time of the 1953 election, there was a nucleus of a true working class unity for the first time in Guyana's history. However, this unity was short-lived. Forbes Burnham, encouraged by local racists and opportunists, and by external forces, grappled for the leadership of the PPP. In spite of attempts in appeasement and to maintain solidarity and unity, the PPP was split. The PPP, which had hitherto enjoyed the support of the masses across racial lines, saw working class unity fading, and faced an emergence of a racial bogey. Burnham formed his own political party, the People's National Congress.
A resurgence of racial solidarity (and identity) surfaced in blind allegiance. Indians had always supported the PPP and now became more resolved to do so. Africans supported the PNC because of race.13 The demographics of Guyana and the results of the various elections clearly supported this pattern of racial polarity, although both parties would claim otherwise. Composition within the Party hierarchies did in fact support their claims. Dr. Jagan especially, a true Marxist, would expostulate that the “social contradictions” and the “dialectics” gave credence to his view. Orthodoxy among many intellectuals within the PPP also dictated their reasoning; and while there was theoretical sympathy for the argument, there was also an apparent denial that there was a serious problem of apan jaat. The racial divide was fomented by demagogues, racists and opportunists, and it continued to widen.
Demagogues play up false issues rather than true issues. The early 1960's saw a political engineering to remove Jagan from office, using scapegoats of communism, the Kaldor Budget, the Labour Relations Bill, and fear. 1962 and 1964 witnessed political rivalries develop to an extremely high pitch where racial intolerance peaked. Hooliganism, illegal and seditious behavior were directed by political henchmen. Lootings, arson, beatings, rape and murder were commonplace and resulted in displacement of Africans and Indians from their homes. There was mass exodus of people to other areas (formation of new “squatting' schemes) for racial security. Those were inglorious days of mayhem and doom!
The events of these ignominious periods led to Forbes Burnham becoming Prime Minister, through the unholy alliance with Peter D'Aguiar, a rich businessman turned politician, leader of the United Force. It is well documented that the political machinations in Guyana culminating with the removal of Dr. Cheddi Jagan from office was cunningly and covertly aided and abetted by the CIA of the United States and MI5 of Britain, as well as the anti-Communist Crusade and AFL-CIO in the US.
FORBES BURNHAM has been described as a shrewd and cunning politician a Machiavellian. Peter D'Aguiar, who felt that he was protecting private enterprise and big business, and saving Guyana from Jagan's communism, was manipulated by Burnham. During the “independence conference” (1963) in England, Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for the Colonies, imposed a system of Proportional Representation to replace the first-past-the-post constituent system. This was a deliberate plan to prevent the PPP from obtaining an outright majority of votes. Some analysts believe that Cheddi Jagan was too soft in the London negotiation, and naive enough to sacrifice his own political demise. Jagan however conceded, not out of weakness, but because of his strength as a true nationalist and anti-colonialist independence for Guyana was paramount in his focus.
True to form, the British succeeded in the undoing of Jagan and the PPP. As a result of the connivance and political maneuvering, Forbes Burnham triumphed in being the first Prime Minister of independent Guyana. Many PPP supporters (mainly Indians) felt cheated and bitter. Thenceforth, Burnham ensured no further compromise with D'Aguiar and he set about establishing mechanisms that did not require D'Aguiar's partnership for a parliamentary majority.
Guyana saw only a semblance of democracy and fair play. Burnham (and the PNC) rigged successive elections to ensure a majority and thus safeguarded his position as Head of Government. The riggings are well documented by Guyanese and reputable overseas media.14 For decades, true representative government was denied. Burnham's aggressive riggings installed him as a perpetual Head of State, akin to hereditary government.
Thomas Paine* applied Archimedes' statement on mechanical powers “Had we a place to stand upon, we might raise the world” to the question of reason and liberty. Unfortunately, there was no place in Guyana (or only a shaky foundation) to stand upon. Martin Luther King Jr. also said, “Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry about our basic rights...” This basic right was denied the Guyanese people for 28 years during the reign of Forbes Burnham and his successor, Desmond Hoyte. (Incidentally, where were our erstwhile friends from the CARICOM region and other demagogues?)
Guyana experienced decline in all aspects of life, vying for first or second place as the poorest nation in the western world. Supporters of the PPP became disillusioned. They were robbed of the freedom to choose a government of their choice; their earning power dwindled; their spiritual being was depressed. (Some compromised their souls and shared beds with the PNC.) And a suppressed animosity developed against the PNC whose supporters were Africans. With the extreme decline of the economy, Africans could not sustain their denial. They too felt the pinch. They too suffered and migrated in droves because of the economic and moral subjugation. Thomas Paine noted15, “But the offensive part... is that this exclusion from the right of voting implies a stigma on the moral character of the persons excluded, and this is what no part of the community has a right to pronounce upon another part. No external circumstance can justify it; wealth is no proof of moral character, nor poverty of the want of it.”
Although Indians felt cheated and thus had a reason to reinforce their animosity, this statement is true for all Guyanese. Voting by Guyanese was a farce because the elections results were predetermined in the process of rigging. Thus, that very private, patriotic and reverent act of voting was reduced to nothing, even for those PNC supporters who thought they 'voted'. It was like a sacrilege. There was total contempt for the voters. Adults were made fools of and were toyed as though they were morons that “stigma on the moral character”.
IN 1992, President Jimmy Carter was instrumental in the first fair and free election since Cheddi Jagan was ousted from office. Despite the many years of PNC dictatorship and the economic impoverishment of the people, the PNC obtained 42% of the votes, suggesting once again that race was still a most important fact of political life in Guyana. Of course, political demagoguery instilled fear in the African people, asking the rhetorical question, “You want de Indians 'pon top' we?” and later to answer their own rhetorical question, “Neva!” The PPP won the first free and fair elections.
Under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Guyana's democratic, economic and spiritual revival took an unprecedented leap forward. Within the five-year period, 1992 to 1997, Guyana was becoming the envy of and model for Third World development strategies. The people were at peace with themselves and had begun to enjoy the fruits of hard work and good governance.
At the due date of December 15, 1997, fair and free elections were held. Again, the PNC obtained 40% of the votes (the PPP 55%). The excellent record of the PPP/Civic government was apparently overshadowed by the overpowering concerns of racial security. African people were bombarded with misinformation and were duped into believing serious consequences of Indian supremacy in government. The PNC election slogan “enough is enough” sent a subliminal message to the Africans, which resounded in cynicism, fear, distrust and hate of the PPP and its supporters. Such systematic psychological manipulation undermined the clarity of any objectivity, and was reinforced by the regularity and constancy of an indoctrination process vis-à-vis the cult of the personality, to wit the resonance of the tune of Desi. They swallowed the bitter pill and voted according to race, regardless of their social status, level of education and position in society.
What can be deduced is that the misinformation and manipulative methods were carefully planned and executed for political mileage. The PNC leaders were/are quite capable of indoctrinating their followers and the masses are quite gullible to the mis-information which tend to reinforce the hidden fears and lingering distrust. One may conclude that any appearance of togetherness, at the present time, is questionable and superficial. At the behest of the PNC leadership and mouthpieces, some supporters (many paid) of the PNC walked the streets of Georgetown (during the post December 15 1997 election). “Peaceful” marchers became unruly mobs who attacked innocent people, injuring many. Robbery and looting, beating, burning, and rape ensued during the few weeks of so-called “peaceful” protests. Here again was the surfacing of racism. The target of the violent masquerades was Indians with only one exception, i.e., the “white woman” Janet Jagan. Most of the protesters were young men and women who were spoon-fed and brainwashed at Congress Place, the PNC headquarters, or at the Square of the Revolution, prior to their marches. Such was the pattern during the elections frenzy.
Frederick Douglas once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand... It never did and it never will.” The PNC leadership have tasted power in the past. Many of them still do not want to concede to the forces of democracy. Unfortunately, by advancing the poison of racism, they are not helping the cause of Guyana. But then, the history of the PNC showed callous disregard for the welfare of the people and even the seemingly moderate Desmond Hoyte was determined to make the government of Guyana “ungovernable” at all costs.