Guyana’s political tragedy – By D. Alissa Trotz and Arif Bulkan – Commentary

Guyana is in a most profound crisis. This crisis has been

in the making for over 50 years – ever since the declaration of independence that came on the heels of the collapse of a multiracial anticolonial movement, the intervention of the joined imperialist forces of the UK and US and the convulsive coastal racial disturbances of the 1960s that delivered almost unshakeable constituencies of African and Indian Guyanese to the two major political parties in Guyana.

This has persisted through 24 years of rigged elections. It has persisted in spite of the return to elections that were free and fair in 1992 (but, if we are to be honest, never really free from fear of the racial other where these two groups are concerned). It has persisted across 23 years of PPP rule, five years of coalition government and it has now erupted in plain sight four months after the March 2nd election that has as yet failed to deliver a result.             

As Guyanese, we have not ever found a way to comprehensively reckon with the legacy of the 1960s. It is the Achilles heel that will continue to destroy Guyana, and that has paved the way for the latest form of resource extractivism, with untold environmental consequences that will be felt across generations. The destruction of the seabed – otherwise known as deep sea drilling for oil – has drastically raised the stakes for this miserable election. It has also put Guyana firmly in the sights of Western powers, a community intent on making an example of Venezuela and for whom Guyana is of immense geopolitical strategic importance, a community that has never acted in the interest of the region’s sovereignty (cases in point, Guyana’s 1953 elections; the combined efforts of Canada, the United States and France to remove democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand-Aristide on the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence; the meeting that took place in Jamaica this past January between the US Secretary of State and several Caribbean leaders that clearly sidelined CARICOM). International business headlines discuss investor confidence in this small South American country on the brink of political disaster. But for Guyanese, the fundamental issue is how vulnerable our ongoing polarisation makes us to this latest chapter of multinational resource extraction and exploitation, to those who once again stand to profit from our intractable division.

In a recent statement in which she stood by the report of the CARICOM observer team which concluded that “the recount results are acceptable and should constitute the basis of the declaration of the results of the March 2, 2020 elections,” Barbados Prime Minister and CARICOM Chair Mia Mottley noted that following the declaration of the winner, “[t]here must be room for all regardless of who wins and who loses.” This is precisely the crux of the problem, the ongoing legacy of Westminster winner-takes-all politics in a fractured society like Guyana. To be sure, in the heat of election campaigns and when seeking votes, these political leaders promise a new dispensation but once a winner is declared, shared governance is baptised ‘Coalition’ or ‘CIVIC’ and draped in party colours of green and yellow or red. And that is the end of the story. Until the next election.

The opportunity to reach for something different when the PPP was handed a minority government in 2011 was squandered. In the 2015 elections, a government of national unity was prominently featured in the APNU-AFC political manifesto, until it won. The PPP promised a new dispensation in 1992, but cannot explain to the Guyanese people why the most authoritarian elements of the same constitution they keep calling the Burnham constitution were never addressed during their 23 years in office. Nor was anything done in the five years since the coalition came to power even though constitutional reform was also an explicit manifesto promise.

As it turned out, the problem is not with the so-called Burnham constitution, but with the fact that politicians only have a problem with it when they are not in power. Rory Fraser noted, in a letter to the Stabroek News of June 29, 2020 in which he “fully expect[s] the inevitable result will be based on the GECOM verified recount and sanctioned by CARICOM…[that] in retrospect, I realized Guyanese were unfortunately left to choose between the very bad and the least worst of two parties ordained by a constitutional and electoral framework they (PPP and PNC) contrived.”

At the end of the day, the coalition blatantly refuses to even acknowledge that they are feared and distrusted by significant numbers of Indian-Guyanese supporters of the PPP, just as the PPP blatantly refuses to even acknowledge that they are feared and distrusted by significant numbers of African-Guyanese supporters of the coalition. In this they are equally delusional.
This coastal story that we seem doomed to repeat has sucked the oxygen out of other stories, including and especially those relating to our hinterland communities and peoples. This is the rock of Sisyphus and the awful harder place. And it feeds into the racial hate that is circulating on social media from supporters of both political parties, rhetoric that should make us all ashamed to be Guyanese. There is little to no space for questioning. And if you do, you stand to be targeted in the most vicious ways by either side of the choir. What will be left when the dust settles? The racist, classist, misogynist and homophobic attacks are unending, and some of the most public recent targets have been women – GECOM Chairperson Claudette Singh, CARICOM Chair and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Eslyn David, in whose name the recent challenge to the Court of Appeal has been filed. Each side chooses its own victims, invests in its own innocence and is largely silent or defensive when the attacks come from ‘one of theirs’. This has a history and it is high time we learn it if we are to deal with and move beyond it. If for example we look at what political leaders, former President Cheddi Jagan and current president David Granger have written about 1964, in publications that should be made available to all Guyanese, we will see how deep these separate narratives run.

According to the late social activist Andaiye in an unpublished keynote lecture given in 2010 at Spelman College, Atlanta, Walter Rodney had indicated that he would not return to Guyana until he had seen a way past the zero-sum racial divide and two party model, until “he could see a way of organizing with Indo- and Afro-Guyanese working people together.” In fact, Rodney returned to a country where – and likely in large part because – some of that work had already started, including bottom house community conversations on race organised by the Indian Political Revolutionary Associates and the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa, and the mobilisations to secure land for working class Guyanese across race divides. We have moved so far away from that promise of unity. We would do well to heed Rodney’s warning that “[t]hose who manipulated in the 1960s, on both sides, were not the sufferers. They were not the losers. The losers were those who participated, who shared blows and who got blows. And they are the losers today.” With the election stakes so much higher given the promise of ‘Oil Dorado,’ who will be the losers?

We need an audit of who has benefited from this polarised status quo, and those of us who are academics must begin to dispassionately collect this information to demonstrate the wealth and racial and gender inequalities that this has produced. And we must make this audit public, so that we can clearly see the few who have reaped the benefits at the expense of a divided population in post-independence Guyana. 

So now what? And what comes next? Both sides are dug in. On the one side, there is APNU-AFC’s insistence on the GECOM CEO’s report and the coalition’s refusal to concede in the face of the recount, the CARICOM observer report, and an overwhelming international consensus that it should step aside. On the other side, there is the PPP’s insistence on the results of the CARICOM observer report on the recount and categorical rejection of the GECOM CEO report. And while we await the judgment from the Caribbean Court of Justice and hope that there is a swift declaration and conclusion to this sorry state of affairs, neither the courts nor a declared winner will guarantee that we do not end up here again in five years, with a ridiculously bloated voters’ list, a winner take all system, a politicised Elections Commission and limited if any constitutional reform.

In his Stabroek News column of June 24, Henry Jeffrey pointedly remarked that “[w]hat our political structure and culture have produced are essentially counterfeit democrats who are unable to negotiate political differences and thus resort to an adversarial court system that is not geared to political healing.” Moreover, in this tense environment, the language currently being used by leaders of the two main parties of ‘the triumph of good over evil’ and ‘we will never concede’ variety only takes us closer to the precipice of political disaster while revealing that they believe themselves to be the anointed and sole deliverers of and for all things Guyanese. If we are prepared to listen, past the fraudulent triumphalism, past the yelling and the noise, past the racist stereotypes that Indians are scheming and want to grab power and keep it for themselves, or that Blacks lie and steal elections and have a monopoly on violence, perhaps in our quieter moments we will understand that this is the mandate that the Guyanese electorate has handed down, in 2011, in 2015 and now in the March 2nd election. Neither of the two political behemoths is to be fully trusted with a mandate to govern. Neither.

In a column on March 25th, Henry Jeffrey concluded that “…neither the misplaced self-interestedness of the PPP nor the duplicity of the PNC [is] sufficient for me to in any way help and restore the winner-take-all system. When the current crisis ends it ends but it will do so without my intervention unless the proposed changes are for the better.” We agree with Jeffrey that we should “all unite to create, what is rarely possible in this kind of context; a win-win situation for all,” but unlike him we would not begin by calling for these same parties to “sit around the table and with the help of our international partners, who must be quite weary of our generations-long ethnic quarrel, build a more cohesive society out of one of the worlds’ most protracted problems.”
The political parties have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to challenge a system that they have played such a fundamental role in creating and maintaining. We take our point of departure instead from Andaiye, who commented (in a video that can be found on the website dedicated to her life’s work, andaiye1942-2019.com), that “too many Guyanese these days have a narrow view of politics, because politics has become so overcentralized in Guyana that everything is supposed to be about political parties and government so that we don’t even have what we call politics at the local level or in the sector or in the community or wherever that you live.” She goes on to say that we must work to “change the political and electoral system because they…are not flawed, they are destructive in the way that they are organized… so that’s the work to be done after the election.” Will Guyanese, as Andaiye wryly concluded, do “as so many groups in Guyana often do, and that is when elections are over, you take a rest until the next election?” Or will we finally recognize that the majority of Guyanese will continue to be the sufferers, will continue to get a piece of use, will continue to take blows until this rotten system is dismantled?

What is urgently called for is a truly national dialogue of all social forces, a conversation that does not exclude anyone, an engagement that finds a way to invite everyone to take part in reckoning with our painful legacy so that we can finally find ways of living with, through and beyond it. A space where we can begin to reach for and see each other, across our differences. In short, instead of the platitudinous rhetoric that it currently is, Article 13’s objective of an inclusionary democracy with ‘increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State’ should truly be the foundational pillar of our multiracial society. We know that this will be difficult and that it will require much commitment, but it is doable, as impossible as it appears now. When our electoral crisis is no longer in the headlines, when those friends who believe that this story is just about the winning have disappeared (perhaps to reappear in five years if nothing has changed), this will be the long, hard but necessary work to be done.

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Comments

  • caribvoice  On July 1, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Can one assume that the authors of this missive will take the lead in organizing that national dialogue? Is this yet one more in the mountainous range of solutions proffered with expectations that hazy others will them to fruition?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On July 2, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    I hope Drs Alissa Trotz and Arif Bulkan are taking note of Yvonne-K On July 2, 2020 at 9:36 am, writing about me and Indo-Guyanese on GuyaneseOnline entry “Guyana: Electoral corruption by PPP must end – Pres. David Granger”

    “You and the rest of the curry gallery running their mouths on this blog better pray for peace because it’s your people that will end up being the sacrificial lambs”.

    Then when “Ramesh” confronts her she says “I love curry.”

    VNM

    • Carament  On July 5, 2020 at 10:03 am

      In similar vein, I hope you are taking note of all the other crass descriptions of African Guyanese, spread over social media, by those purporting to support an opposing party. You consistently seek out and publish seemingly fault-lines from one side of the divide: What about those fault-lines on your side, Veda? IMHO, I do not see your response to the above article as meaningful or appropriate. Be well.

      • Emanuel  On July 5, 2020 at 12:51 pm

        His solution to Guyana’s political crisis is partition- like his patriarchal homeland India where the Muslims became Pakistan. In other words, he wants to build a wall to separate Blacks from Indians. But he doesn’t say which side the Amerindians and mixed blood will be.

        Emanuel

  • dhanpaul narine  On July 4, 2020 at 12:07 am

    We must have an inclusive national conversation that would lead to action, and not the usual paper tiger. The objective should be that at the end of the day, the runners-up should have a place in the government, so that ultimately we are all winners!

    • Doris Johnson  On July 4, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      It is interesting to read your comments veda.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On July 5, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Carament:

    I DO NOT go on Social media. Not yet anyway.
    My complaint about the “curry gallery” relates to THIS BLOG.

    If I recall you are upset with me using the term “Black”.

    “Black” is by everyone else but you pick on me, a soft Indian target.

    BTW, I pointed to you handle “CARAMENT” having colour connotation.

    You said it was an acronym for a compamy

    I requested you give us the full name of the Co.

    Stil waiting.

    VNM

    Ps. I promised myself to go on Social Media over a year ago (as much as I hate to deal with weak minds) to publicize my current book – A MAULING OF INDIANS – Prof. Clem Seecharan’s Noxious “Revisionist” Falsehoods of Indo-Guyanese History – because of his despicable attacks on India, Indians, my indentured people, Indo Guyanese and Hinduism appearing on this blog in 2014 (search: “El Dorado Complex, Seecharan”).

    His scalding of Indians is designed to suit people like you, and UWI – which quickly gave him an honorary D.Litt, as they similarly made Dr. Kean Gibson a professor, even though I laid bare her similar anti-scholarly and uneducated attacks on Hindus/Indians, thus naming that book UNDER ATTACK! THE CARIBBEAN INDIAN.

    These two ‘professors’ to a large extent give academic/ideological legitimacy to what is taking place in Guyana today by portraying Indians as oppressive and as personae non gratae whereas AfroGuyanese as undeserving victims. The evidence (provided in my books) show differently.
    Academics like these thus give Black racists like the late Ronald Waddell who ran for the PNC as a candidate to proclaim that after the then planned AfroGuyanese coup against the PPP, Indians would be stripped of citizenship (see Eusi Kwayana’s The Morning After)

    Perhaps I will go on social media after all to raise awareness of the dangerous Guyana scene.
    V.

    • Bernard  On July 5, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      As I have stated on this blog several times, it shouldn’t matter which party rules the country as long as they manage our finances and natural resources responsibly and transparently. The future is ours to shape.

      In our tumultuous short history since independence, we are yet to see such responsible governance of the country. It is high time we started seeing it.

      One of the first and most important steps towards responsible governance is the unquestioned respect of the democratic process. Currently, that solemn process is in question as our friends in Caricom overwhelmingly conclude.

      Let the electoral process be fair and free. It can’t be any other way. Most importantly, let the will of the Guyanese people stand, no matter what their choice is.

      Bernard.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On July 8, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    In the needed dialogue for reconciliation and the call for a legitimate system of electoral reform, here is a blockage that will inevitably be encountered as set out by Freddie Kissoon in KN, today (July 8/20).

    (While on the topic of Kissoon’s article, it is noteworthy that his views stopped getting play on this blog, now that he is not mauling Indians, Hindus and the PPP, but has turned his attention to the depravity surrounding the declaration of the Mar 2/20 Elections)

    “The more David Hinds write, the more he exposes a one-dimensional psyche in which the obsession with Guyanese of African ethnicity becomes almost psychotic. David seems mentally incapable of writing a sociological or political analysis without mentioning that he is African, that Guyanese Africans emerged from slavery, that African Guyanese need to have their due share. And it goes on and on.
    In his letter yesterday on me, it is the expected banal repetition – race, slavery, African Guyanese, etc. It has become sad and tragic that an analyst can see only one dimension of Guyana‘s sociology. Of course you cannot win once you are non-African because the fall back position is inevitable. It is saturated in people like David Hinds. Here it is – we, non-African Guyanese will never understand how African Guyanese feel, because we don’t have the background of slavery. Unfortunately that cannot explain all the modern dilemmas of Guyana. And the reason is simple – others will contend that they came too and demand their share and want respect.”

    VNM

    • guyaneseonline  On July 8, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      VEDA:

      You do not tell me what to have on my blog… Also basically accuse me of racism and bias because I do not include Kissoon’s articles.
      I do not include his articles because I believe that he is a very frustrated and bitter man … The PPP kicked him out of UG and his wife lost her Government job at GOinvest. The APNU-AFC wins in 2015 and have basically ignored him although he supported them……. I think they should have felt the hurt he felt and awarded him in some way.
      I am not sure where he is going now with the anti APNU-AFC line … but that may help him keep his job at Kaieteur News.

      If you are so concerned about having your Hindu and Indian ideas being heard then start your own blog where you can also advertise your book.
      I hope that you have sold lots of copies.

      STOP complaining about the content on this blog… It is getting personal now…
      Regards,
      Cyril Bryan Publisher/Editor

      • Emanuel  On July 8, 2020 at 7:16 pm

        I’m glad you have finally put this man to his place, Cyril – long overdue.

        Emanuel.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On July 8, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    CYRIL:

    Of course it is YOUR blog. But don’t be a poseur of objectivity/neutrality.
    I am accusing you of using YOUR blog to paint Indians/Hindus in a negative light.
    If I had the time, I would dredge up numerous instances of negative articles about India, Indians, Modi, Hindus, skin-bleaching Indians (when it is epidemic among Africans/Blacks on all continent, but never gets mentioned except by Ms Sam in one article) etc.

    Similarly, you have Black racist and Anti-Hindu posters here who swarm-in like carrion-crows to rip apart the victims. They are allowed to say anything because after all it is YOUR blog and YOU decide what/who to tolerate.

    Last Summer, for over three weeks I defended Mr Modi, India and Hindus from these hateful carrions, while you sat back and enjoyed the crucifixion. (Anyone interested can search “Ray Chickrie RSS” for the long, long debate).

    Here is the most recent (just less than a month June 13 ago) Hindu-hater post on the Chickrie article but as usual, no censure because it is YOUR blog.

    His maligning pseudonym is: BATTYMANMODIisazionistsubservient. He wrote:

    “Listen to the bullshit hindoo professing the ‘hind-jew connection’.. Hindoos are not ‘jews’, and as to your worthless diatribe, IT IS NOT WORTHY OF A BOWEL MOVEMENT.. SHITHOLE INDIA IS A JOKE..”
    “…. If it weren’t for the Islamic influence… Muslims (as Indentured servants)…, on the plantations …hindoos would have had been genocided further by the European powers”

    (In fact, I think I know who the poster is – no, NOT you Cyril, you won‘t stoop so low, even though we disagree).

    About my book, don’t worry about sales (even though I haven’t yet put it online. People who need to know buy it directly from me. Only last year, Hamilton Green called a friend of mine in Canada inquiring where he can get my earlier one (He said he overheard university students discussing it) – “UNDER ATTACK! THE CARIBBEAN INDIAN – Rebutting & Educating UWI’s Dr. Kean Gibson for Vilifying Hindus”. This one was at Austin’s Bookstore in GT.

    I don’t write to feed myself, otherwise I won’t be wasting time on this blog. I write to inform.
    VEDA.

    PS. Your biased articles and the thinking on YOUR blog is a good indicator of why Guyana has a difficult future. And, here is another, long standing reason as well:

    Anglican Rev. Moor noted in his Mission report for 1887-88 “the futility to educate the two races” together.
    “… a mixed school, i.e., for Creoles and Indians will be a mistake. An Indian will not send his child to a Creole school. He is afraid of injustice being done to his child (sic) from the Creole teacher, and of ill-usage from the Creole pupils. THE CREOLE, AS A RULE, LOOKS DOWN ON THE INDIAN: HE IS A SEMI-CIVILISED, HE SPEAKS A BARBAROUS LANGUAGE, AND HIS MANNERS ARE BARBAROUS.”
    (Source: “Beyond the Legacy of the Missionaries and East Indians: The Impact of the Presbyterian Church in the Caribbean” Jerome Teelucksingh)
    VNM.

    • Emanuel  On July 8, 2020 at 11:36 pm

      We don’t care to hear about your obsession with Modi, India or Hinduism. If you want to vent and educate, like Cyril says, feel free to start up your own blog.

      No one is stopping you, just like no one is stopping you from getting into social media.

      You are not a source of camaraderie or togetherness or unity. Rather, you’re a source of division and discordance, always stoking racial differences. Hell, you even want to build a wall to keep Indians separated from Blacks.

      Cyril, why are you still putting up with this fella?

      Emanuel

    • Curtis  On July 8, 2020 at 11:37 pm

      Bitter and pompous!!! I see you’re still on the cross. When I read your rants I feel your insecurities so I understand your need to lash out at persons who don’t agree with what you write. Your use of the race card has become tiring. You lash out but don’t expect to get lashed back. I can only imagine what you would be like if you had a position of REAL power.

      • Emanuel  On July 9, 2020 at 12:42 am

        Veda admonishes Cyril not to be a “poseur”.

        Webster’s defines poseur as “a person who pretends to be what he or she is not.” Whoh!

        That is pretty harsh.

        Emanuel

  • ndtewarie  On July 13, 2020 at 10:52 am

    I have to quote this gentleman who asked, “How do we mould a country?” Imagination, intelligence and integrity, sometimes simple decency, it works as well. Talking about gossip he remarked, “We can’t afford it; we’re a little nation. We need to think and act outside of our skins. Every day must be about excellence without let-up, until we drop; where every person feels like a leader because every person is a leader.” He said that even a man who has a family is a leader, but stops being a leader when he beats his wife. “Then he becomes a word; coward, a coward. You can’t build a nation from cowardice, you can’t do it; you destroy it like that. Our country can be a very, very special place, but we need to take practical steps to make it real.”

    WE STILL
    HAVE A

    CHANCE

    Lets get to the very real story
    And review our sorry history
    Firstly our leaders vied for Independence
    Its our right its to get rid of our hindrance
    Promising progress with very lofty idealism
    Then the Big Two accused us of Communism
    Got instead a lukewarm brand of Socialism
    Those were the hot days of Cold Wars’ ism
    We ended up with a big dose of corruption
    Racialism, bloodshed and sheer destruction

    The people run away from their beloved Guyana
    To England and to the cold harsh North America
    Causing a huge brain drain leaving Guyana rudderless
    Various parties struggling they too come up clueless
    The good ol’ days when rigged ballots rained
    And at the same time coffers were drained
    As the other parties jump and take over
    So did the people as some run for cover
    But a simple Guyanese people we are
    Don’t want to relive another Wismar
    After 53 years we still have a chance
    We’ve to stop this bias racial dance
    Sadly politicians would never change
    Its like telling a dog it has bad mange
    The two races have to come together
    Live again like sister and like brother
    We have to be Guyanese again not a black man
    Think like a Guyanese and not like a coolie man
    Be accepted as real down earth Guyanese
    You be Chinese, Amer-Indian or Portuguese
    Maybe our last chance to make it
    Or hate will drive us out of our wit
    And politicians on both sides please pard!
    Stop hiding behind the stupid race card
    There are some things we have to eradicate
    Stop fighting one another and stop the hate
    Talk to one another stop deny we’re steeped in racialism
    Stop lying, face the fact, we have far too much nepotism
    Govern for everyone bring back equality
    Or drop the darn “e” and focus on quality
    Pray to the one Above
    For all we need is Love
    Listen people take heed
    For Love is all you need.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On July 14, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Freddie Kissoon in KN has an article today about the author of this article.

    Couple excerpts for FWIW

    “Dr. Alissa Trotz and Dr. Arif Bulkan are two Guyanese scholars who are recognized for their scholarly output in women studies and law, respectively. I am uncertain of the magnitude of their experience and research in Guyana’s political sociology, but in their writing in the June 30 edition of “In the Diaspora” in Stabroek News, some worrying scholarly mistakes were included or some disturbing omissions were incandescent. Could it have been random subjectivity? Bulkan, I believe had some sympathies for the AFC. Nothing wrong with that. I spoke at 35, yes 35, public meetings during the 2015 election campaign for the AFC. Trotz is an emotional embracer of the WPA.

    “They both left out the ugly, nasty, degenerate, destructive role of the AFC and WPA after 2015 and continue to see the continued “bad boy” role of the PPP and PNC as the major dilemma when one studies the race problematic of Guyana. In their analysis, both Trotz and Bulkan offered a one-dimension explanation of politics in Guyana after 2015. ………….

    VNM

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