Guyana Politics: Portuguese Arrival Day: What would have happened…?

Yesterday, the government celebrated Portuguese Arrival Day. The observance is a plus for the government and shows that it is far more responsive than the PPP to the sensitivities of minority ethnic groups.

The PPPC prior to 2001 saw things through the prism of class. It was a socialist party which saw the class struggle as being primary and the elements of the superstructure as being secondary. The matriarch of the PPP, Janet Jagan, believed, quite naively, that once the economic situation of the working class was improved, the racial divisions within this class would disappear.

Dr. Walter Rodney did not discount the importance of race, but he misread it. He failed to appreciate how ethnic insecurity could undermine class unity. And he paid for that with his life, when the State apparatus turned against him and working class could not prevent his assassination.       

The PPPC has always been guided by class considerations. Its preoccupation was with uniting the working class, particularly the Indian and African elements of the working class. It paid little attention to the minority classes, particularly the Chinese, Portuguese and the almost non-existent European-Guyanese.

This has not been the case with APNU+AFC. The designation of separate arrival days for the Portuguese and Chinese shows greater sensitivity by the present government to the minority ethnic groups. It is to the government’s credit that it celebrated Portuguese Arrival Day yesterday. President Granger’s background as a historian would have played no small part in that approach.

The vast majority of Portuguese had left Guyana by the time the PNC combined with the United Force to oust the PPP in the 1964 general and regional elections. But the rate of emigration increased during the period 1966 to 1980 when the Portuguese emigration hit full throttle.

The fear within the Portuguese community in the 1950s and the 1960s was Jagan’s communism. The Portuguese were afraid that Jagan would nationalize private property.

The British and the Americans added fuel to the fire, and launched covert action against the Jagan government in a bid to destabilize and eventually topple it. The Portuguese business class saw an opportunity to protect their assets and Burnham saw a chance to seize power.

A predominantly Portuguese and Amerindian party, the United Force, joined with the PNC to form a coalition government after the 1964 elections. But this alliance quickly turned sour and by 1970, the real fear was cooperative socialism and party paramountcy. The Portuguese saw the writing on the wall and decided to migrate even quicker than they had done before. They had run from Jagan’s frying pan straight into Burnham’s fire.

A lot of persons wisely got out then. A lot got out later. And people are still leaving.

No one has asked the question, what would have happened had the nucleus of the Portuguese business class stayed rather than migrate and take with them all of their assets. The answer to that question cannot be left solely to speculation.

The Portuguese made a rational choice. They left because they knew what was coming. They knew that under Burnham’s cooperative socialism, their businesses would have suffered. They foresaw the impoverishment that would grip the society. Had they stayed in a country in which private enterprise was being miniaturized, they would have been pauperized.

Barbados gained Independence six months after Guyana. That country has had undercurrents of racial differences, but it never went the way of Guyana, mainly because the rival racial group in Barbados was extremely small.

Barbados has grave economic problems at the moment, but for the greater part of its Independence, it enjoyed far healthier race relations and economic development than Guyana. And the reason was that unlike Guyana, which under Burnham drove out its domestic capitalist class, Barbados kept theirs, thereby allowing for less emigration and capital outflows. The wealth of Barbados stayed in Barbados. The wealth of Guyana went to Canada and the United States. It is still going there.

When the Portuguese left Guyana, following the split between Burnham and D’Aguiar, the entrepreneurial class, in which the Portuguese were well represented, was severely weakened. Guyana will never recover from this weakness.

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On May 4, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    An interesting historical perspective that requires serious consideration. The Portuguese – we shouldn’t forget represented the Roman Catholic population – also feared the communist government takeover of their church-run schools, which, ironically, came to fruition under the PNC government.

  • Trevor  On May 4, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Peeping Tom is already outed as a right wing AmeriKKKanist who is against the trade unionists and the working class Afro and minority race population.

    Peeping Tom is anti-union, and he writes like a corporate shill for AmeriKKKa. What next for Peeping Tom? Praises that the New Zealand Mosque shooter Brenton Arrant was a “great guy” (like Trump said of a mass murdering white supremacy supporter).

    Europeans have been our oppressors.

  • michael hawkins  On May 5, 2019 at 4:16 am

    Each to his or Her own. One can not blame religion for the slow and sometimes dangrous road that some took when the British left. Did anyone think that the USA would let a left wing goverement rule in Guyana. Think again

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