Racial division as great a threat to Guyana as Venezuelan aggression – CSIS Senior Associate

Evan Ellis

“Perhaps the greatest danger for Guyana is that the present domestic political turmoil escalates to decimate what remains of goodwill between ethnic groups, and their faith in whatever government emerges from the present crisis, to fairly and effectively use the new oil wealth to advance national development.” – Evan Ellis

By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell

Could a major crisis be upon Guyana soon?
Citizens are eagerly awaiting word on whether General and Regional Elections may be held in less than three months; there is deep political divide; the country is unprepared for oil production in 2020 and Venezuela is flexing its muscles from time to time as it continues to claim a huge portion of Guyana’s territory.             

He covered the challenges being faced by the government, the Opposition and the impact of this to a country that is gearing for an “oil bonanza”.These are all major issues. However, Evan Ellis believes that the monster that may bring most harm to Guyana is its own racial division.

Evan Ellis is a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. He is a Latin America research professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.

Ellis recently zeroed in on the state of Guyana following Charrandass Persaud’s vote in the National Assembly.

In his piece published on CSIS website tilted, “Guyana at Risk: Ethnic Politics, Oil, Venezuelan Opportunism and Why It Should Matter to Washington”, Ellis spoke extensively about the documented series of events following the no-confidence vote.

Ellis said that on December 22, which is one day after the no-confidence vote, the Venezuelan Navy approached and threatened to board a Bahamian-flagged Norwegian seismographic ship, the Ramform Tethys, operating in support of Exxon-led petroleum operations within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This forced the company to temporarily suspend its technical measurement activities in the area.

Ellis said that the “violation of Guyanese sovereignty, which was quickly condemned by the Caribbean Community ( CARICOM ), Great Britain, and the United States, is a reminder of Venezuela’s continuing claims to the Essequibo region (two-thirds of Guyana’s territory), even as thousands of Venezuelan refugees enter the area , driven by the economic collapse of their own country.”

Nevertheless, Ellis’ suggests that, “Perhaps the greatest danger for Guyana is that the present domestic political turmoil escalates to decimate what remains of goodwill between ethnic groups, and their faith in whatever government emerges from the present crisis, to fairly and effectively use the new oil wealth to advance national development.”

Earlier in his article, Ellis noted that even before Guyana’s independence in 1966, Guyanese politics was shaped by the rivalry between citizens of Indian and African descent.

Ellis said that founding father Cheddi Jagan sought to build a pan-national movement, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), including Forbes Burnham and other key figures of Afro-Guyanese descent. The Professor said that a series of political disputes ultimately led Burnham to leave the PPP and found the People’s National Congress (PNC), with mostly Afro-Guyanese membership, with the remainder of the PPP coming to be seen as principally an Indo-Guyanese party.

Mr Ellis said: “Afro-Guyanese may be convinced that the government of their champion, (David) Granger, was brought down through Indo-Guyanese treachery, and convinced that the democratic system will not protect their interests. The result would likely be an escalation of inter-group violence, government paralysis, and expanded criminality and corruption.”

Ellis said that leveraging the greater size of the Indo-Guyanese population relative to the Afro-Guyanese supporters of the PNC, (40 percent Indo-Guyanese versus 29 percent Afro-Guyanese according to the 2012 census), the PPP, under Bharat Jagdeo, held onto power without interruption from 1992 through 2015.

“During this time, the Indo-Guyanese came to have a particularly strong presence in the Guyanese bureaucracy, complementing their longstanding dominance of the business community, while the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and police have been dominated by Afro-Guyanese since their inception,” said Ellis.

He continued, “As with ethnically polarized politics elsewhere, political control in Guyana, in the context of high levels of perceived corruption, has come to be associated by many in the country with the distribution of the national wealth. There are continuous perceptions of ethnic favoritism in decisions regarding government jobs and investment, social programs, and government contracts in the country.”

That was the prefix to Ellis’ conclusion later on in his article to the effect that the greatest danger facing Guyana is its own racism.

The Professor said that it is “Too easy to imagine a scenario in which the Indo-Guyanese majority returns a PPP government to power, leaving the Afro-Guyanese minority recalling prior corruption and perceived favoritism under the PPP.”

The International Observer said that for the United States, such a course for Guyana would contribute to the “security concerns along the southern shores of the Caribbean basin, as drug production explodes to Guyana’s west in Colombia, Venezuela hosts Russian military deployments and basing agreements, and while criminal and terrorist groups operate with impunity on Venezuela’s territory.

Meanwhile, to Guyana’s East, in Suriname, President Desi Bouterse’ s son languishes in a U.S. prison, having accepted money in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation, thinking he was helping the terrorist group Hezbollah move drugs and set up training camps on the nation’s territory.”

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  • dhanpaul narine  On 01/15/2019 at 11:36 am

    He is rehashing old fears and insecurities. Tell us how we can work together and what we should do to get rid of racism. That is more useful.

    • walter  On 01/15/2019 at 12:51 pm

      Totally agree. Put a period on it. Are people that stupid, still? racial politics only made politicians richer, hint hint, no sugar jobs for workers, big mansions for politicians. Time to start demanding immediate changes, if the “Oil money” pours in. Guyanese tried racial politics, only a few gained, try another direction, please, allow Guyana to take it’s true place as a leader in the Caribbean, and South America.The time is NOW!

      • Linda  On 01/16/2019 at 9:33 am

        Walter…….from your lips to God’s ears!!!!

  • Trevor  On 01/17/2019 at 11:03 am

    America and Canada to the rescue!/ sarc alert:

    Population of Guyana 2019: 800,000
    Population of Guyana after America & Canada spreads democracy to Venezuela: 10,000,000+

    • Trevor  On 01/17/2019 at 11:04 am

      Latvian Traditionalist
      5 minutes ago
      US wants to ‘save’ Venezuela just like they ‘saved’ Libya, Syrias, Iraq, Vietnam Korea, Ukraine, Kurdsistan, Yemen, Palestine and Georgia.

    • Trevor  On 01/17/2019 at 11:06 am

      Keith Durant
      3 hours ago (edited)
      Here is the game plan. The UK says it is going to open a base in Guyana beside Venezuela. It is reported the US is training terrorists at Eglin Air Force Base for deployment to South America (probably Colombia). Brazil’s military has ties to the IDF. The US is negotiating to re-open it’s naval base at Trinidad-Tobago 5 miles off Venezuela’s shore. Looks identical to a repeat of Syria to me. Surround the country and pump in terrorists from all sides.

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