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The Elusive Hope Of The Guyanese People
By Gokarran Sukhdeo
Guyana Journal, April 2006

In the late seventies, during the heyday of the People’s National Congress (PNC) reign of terror, an era when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was effectively banished into a political wilderness with no hope on the horizon of regaining the government, it was Professor Walter Rodney who boldly and almost single-handedly carried the torch for freedom of the Guyanese people from the yoke of PNC oppression.

The PPP, its supporters (like so many others) impoverished, demoralized and almost dehumanized and exhausted from running behind Burnham’s horse at Hope Estate, or from being jailed for treason or running contraband flour, was content to lend only passive support to Rodney, fervently believing that the dialectics of historical materialism would inevitably (and miraculously) inaugurate the utopia and free the Guyanese people from Burnham’s bondage, and perhaps clandestinely envious of the meteoric rise of the revolutionary historian and his charismatic and geometrically increasing influence on all races of the population at both the grass-root and academic levels.

Rodney’s presence at that time was the only good thing that offered any real hope for the Guyanese people in their post colonial search for a common and grounded identity that would enable them to return to the racial symbiosis they once enjoyed, prior to the PPP split. It was Rodney who unambiguously rekindled the desire for racial harmony as a necessary prerequisite for honest economic and cultural development, a praxis neither of the two political behemoths was able to achieve.

Unfortunately, unlike the UF which was diminished to (only) a nuisance by the PNC long before the death of its founder leader, when Rodney was killed, the WPA died too. The PNC was greatly relieved. So presumably were many in the PPP camp. But with Rodney’s death, a lot more died or was defeated. The Guyanese spirit, hope and dream suffered or faded – the dreams of racial cooperation, the Socratic/Hegelian spirit of dialectical reasoning, the proud spirit of honest rural artisanship and honest employment, and the fervency of nationalism. Thenceforth, a new polity and a new underground economy were born, the latter parented by the bastardization and dishonoring of labor’s true value by the PNC, and their banning of basic foodstuffs.

When the PPP was returned to office in 1992, the hope and nationalism of the late seventies were reawakened and the Guyanese spirit revived. But these were short lived only under Dr Jagan’s charismatic, uncorrupted and astute leadership. For, like Rodney and the WPA, when Dr Jagan died, so did the PPP, and the ideals the party once stood for, gradually evaporated.

Immediately following the death of Dr. Jagan, most of the old stalwarts of the party, at home and abroad, who struck rigidly to the party’s uncorrupted principles, were gradually marginalized and eventually booted from the party. A new cadre of sycophants, opportunists and people with shady practices replaced them. Those of the old school who remained were subdued into silence. In New York people like Mel Carpen, Chuck Mohan, Dolly Hassan and Pandit Ramlall, Joe Kanhai, and dozens of others who toiled for the party for decades were/are side-lined; now in the front seat are some king-makers, neophytes and band-waggoners. And in Guyana today, it is claimed by detractors that the PPP is in bed with corruptors.

Fifty years ago the cry of being ‘in office but not in power’ was legitimate, but today that they are in office but still not in power is an poor excuse for complacency, ineptitude, arrogance and, yes, corruption. Remove President Jagdeo, Roger Luncheon and perhaps one or two others and the party stinks like a white-washed sepulcher broken into, and the putrefying stench and crawling maggots publicly exposed. Some claim that the PPP has become as corrupt as the PNC. That they have not run the country to a halt like he PNC did is due to three main factors: the writing-off of a great deal of foreign debt (single-handedly through the instrumentality of Bharrat Jagdeo), the massive repatriation of dollars by overseas Guyanese, and thirdly, by extensive laundering of drug money in Guyana.

Many Guyanese at home or abroad know someone who stole huge sums and got away with it, many to foreign shores. Why is that some people are exposed and sometimes charged for stealing public funds but never tried or jailed? Why is corruption so rampant, or perceived to be? Is it because “monkey see, monkey do”. There is a story going around in New York about a long standing PPP activist who, as the head of a state enterprise, allegedly stole some money and was charged and fired from the job. He went underground and surfaced in New York. After a few years he returned to Guyana and was given back his old job. He again stole from the company and again escaped to the US where he boasts about his exploits and continues to be a strong party activist. There is also a story about this activist’s son (a drug user) being allegedly implicated in the kidnapping and murder of a young taxi driver from Enterprise whose skeletal remains were found in a cane field aback of Bareroot. Following the incident, the son, like father, quickly disappeared from Guyana, and like father, resurfaced in New York. Are these idle rumors, or are there truths in the allegations? It seems like some robbers in Guyana not only enjoy prosecutorial immunity, but also diplomatic privileges. And those who cannot get immunity by political means seize it through the nozzle of an AK-47 and then creating for themselves enclaves of immunity in the country.

Speaking about AK-47s, Mr. Jagdeo said if the government changes people who steal guns today will get them free tomorrow. Somebody should tell him the PPP is in office! Yet there is an arsenal distributing freely out there. This is not the first time an arsenal has been stolen from the army during the PPP watch. This last heist was so large it must have required a truck and well organized conspiracy involving senior military or political ranks. The government is clueless, thanks to the ineptitude and complacency and apparent conspiracy of the security people around the Commander in Chief.

And the Army is not the only security force that shafts the government.

Almost every report made to the police has to be followed up with a letter to the media, and then only a haphazard, futile investigation is done – if any at all. Police seldom show up, are often hours late at crime scenes, or hardly ever arrive in time to make arrests during the process of crimes even though they are notified in time, and the crimes occur close to police stations.

I once visited Guyana at a time when one of the most serious attacks on commuters and vehicles occurred on the Buxton public road, no more than a hundred yards from the Vigilance Police Station. The attack went on for hours. The police at Vigilance characteristically opted for self-preservation. By the time the army arrived the bandits had already retired. This is the same army that was previously sent into Buxton to arrest criminals, but ended up playing soccer with them.

A few weeks ago in February my brother-in-law, a Bakewell salesman, was beaten and robbed in Plaisance. A passer-by reported to the police at Sparendam that she knew the two robbers. They were always by the market with guns displayed openly and were constantly robbing people with apparent immunity from the police. It turned out that the police taking the report was (reportedly) living with one of the bandit’s sister. It is not difficult to imagine what became of the matter.

It appears that this is such a don’t-care-a-damn government that if a problem occurs in any department the President, himself, has to attend to it. If there is flooding the President has to don his Wellingtons, even on his birth anniversary, and go investigate it, or distribute food hampers. If there is a bad road the people know it will not be fixed unless they report it to the President (or the press).

Thanks to the ineptitude and complacency of (the rest of) PPP that private drug dealers, now elevated to drug lords, have taken over the economy and the nation’s security from the security forces, and, as in drug economies, may soon publicly take over the government. Thanks to the PPP, the population of Indo-Guyanese has been diminishing, and (backtrack) migration has not eased up.

Given all that is said above, what would the PPP do about it? My guess is – absolutely nothing. Historically, corrupted politicians do not usually have a sudden change of heart, and corruption is such a gratifying thing that control is not easily surrendered. It is indeed sad that such an atmosphere of corruption can be allowed to remain under this PPP watch. What is preventing them and why are they not responding effectively to bring closures to charges?

For now, and maybe the next twenty years until demographic changes dictate otherwise, they will remain in power unless power is wrested from them by an overwhelming will of the people. Unfortunately, among the two or three dozen contenders who would like to influence the will of the people, no one possesses the charisma to wrest the electorate from (the memories of) Dr. Jagan, Mr. Burnham and Mr. Hoyte, and only a few possess genuine political honesty. Besides, there is no unanimity of ideology or purpose among them. And if that is not enough, there is still the issue of “apna jhan” to confront.

The dream, hope and aspiration of the Guyanese people remain as elusive as they were half a century ago.

The writer is an economist. He holds an MA (Soc Psy). He is the author of the novel The Silver Lining which won the Guyana Prize for Literature in1998.

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