To understand this we will have to go back a few centuries to establish the mores of the Guyanese East Indian and the Guyanese African and the learned behavior that shreds the homogeneity constantly challenged in the country’s motto, One People One Nation and One Destiny.
So, those who prefer to be informed by bullet points or lightly tossed, baseless, banter could check out now.
This is serious stuff.
It was the Plantocracy’s letter to the Moyne Commission during its fact finding assignment, January 27th to February 20th 1939, to British Guiana, to inquire in to labor unrest and general disgruntlement, that gave us their impression of the African Laborer: “the black man, ‘essentially gay, light hearted, emotional person, fatalistic in attitude of life, and as a rule, taking no thought for the morrow…his main requirements are food, shelter bright attractive clothing, a little spare money for rum and gambling and an easy opportunity for love making.”
It was Governor Collet, during the influenza epidemic of 1918 -1919 who argued that the “Indian labourer ‘deliberately underfed [himself] to save money …. when he receives higher wages, he wants to save them and grudges spending more on food than he used to”; implying that his weakened state from deliberately placing saving money ahead of buying food made him prone to the disease.
Reverend HPV Bronkhurst, in book The Colony of British Guyana and Its Labouring Population: offers “the Coolies of British Guiana are avaricious of dollars and cents…They, like the ancient Cretians, are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies….”.
Rev. William Arthur’s Mission to the Mysore …said of the East Indian “….[ this] may be properly and strictly applied to the Immigrants in British Guyana…. they will not go out of the way to torture or murder human beings like unto themselves but if revenge or the hope of gain stimulates them they will do so to the utmost pitch, unmoved as if they were cutting sticks….their revenge once roused is unsparing, unchangeable…coolly and yet furiously they will do this dreadful deed in silence, unknown to anyone else if possible…and they will spend their last cent at law, rather than fail to ruin their victims…”
As early as 1889, The Daily Argosy noted: ‘…. it is a rare thing to find any resident blacks on an estate: from the driver downwards these people have either flocked into the towns or into some slum or village’.
And, it was Alfred Athiel Thorne, the Black statesman of the 1930’s and 1940’s, who argued that the ‘meager wages and returns from rice on which the East Indian exists would kill out the Negro population rapidly’.
The common thinking amongst the colonial masters back then, too, was that “ (freed) Blacks associated labor in the cane fields with slavery; it carried a stubborn social stigma; it was ‘coolie work’, to be avoided, if possible.”
Not to be overlooked is the fact that the Plantocracy made these cultural differences into wedge issues, housing laborers by race (hence the Nigger Yard) which only communized animosity as acquired behaviors. Cultural orientation and the comparative acquiescence of the East Indian drew a definitive distinction between the two groups of laborers.
In this, Plantation owners found safety and by policy and practice, kept it that way.
J. E Tinne, before the West Indian Commission of 1897, lead by Sir Henry Norman, gave us this sum total of the social manipulation and the resulting acclimation by the two ethnicities to circumstances:
…Africans and South Asians “do not intermix and that, of course, is one of our great safeties in the colony when there has been any rioting. “If our Negroes were troublesome, every coolie on the estate would stand by one. If the coolie attacked me, I could, with confidence, trust my Negro friends for keeping me from injury” (Latin American Bureau 1984: 17).
And to further entrench the cleavage, each group was encouraged to share the Master’s stereotype of the other.
So, this relationship, mangled by manipulation, darkened by deception, was the inheritance of these two ethnicities which used the scars of their socialization to establish their ideologies to effect governance in a Post Plantocracy Guyana.
While no one should be surprised that race informs so much of the political discourse in a country in which these two peoples pre-dominate, they should be angry that the laws of the country could be monopolized, usurped to continue ethnic division, subverted to deny equal opportunity to land ownership by Afro Guyanese and so brazenly flauted to execute a mandate that dates back to the British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA), its revered leader Dr Jung Bahadur Singh and it’s doctrine of East Indian Ascendance, as captured in ‘Guyana Junction: Globalisation, localisation, and the production of East Indianness …By Johannes Gerrit de Kruijf’:
‘…the Association BGEIA even mused on the future foundation of ‘Fantastic New India’, a promised land built on the vestiges of what was still the Colony The Shores between the Orinocco and Corentyne Basin were no longer regarded as Alien Property. Instead, the land was promulgated as rightfully theirs. Guiana was claimed for Indian progress. African interests did not seem to be a matter of contemplation. In fact BGEIA’s whole enterprise of Indian enhancement had proceeded as though Afro Guianese were expected to simply disappear from the landscape (Despres 1967:168)’
It’s difficult to deny that private landownership leads to vast concentrations of wealth and when that is machinated by government and steered to a specific ethnicity, it becomes a government-engineered social construction to disenfranchise, deny, every other ethnic resident from their constitutionally guaranteed right to land ownership by lease or purchase.
For reasons that extend beyond the academic scope of this piece, it would be prudent to let those who are accomplished in this area of historic recall remind the nation that Afro Guyanese were brought to the country as slave labor because they were considered to be ‘more physically resistant’ to the anguish of slavery; that the two renowned slave uprisings in 1763 (Berbice) and 1823 (Demerara) confirm that they were in Guyana, at least, one hundred years before the arrival of Indian indentured laborers in 1838; that coast land dwelling, dyking and draining of mudflats was begun by the Dutch using African slaves; that the clearing and reclaiming of lands from forest and sea was done using African slave labor; that it was the unpaid labor of African slaves that cleared and prepared plantations, their drainage canals, villages, cities.
And this is not about reparations.
This is more about establishing the fact that Afro Guyanese, through slave labor, laid the foundation for the country ‘s coast land…at the very least; about spotlighting the fact that Afro Guyanese, unlike every other race, are unable to delineate their original tribe/caste and religion because they were uprooted from their country of origin and disallowed from practicing culture; about revisiting the fact that protection of land rights seem to consider Afro ownership as notional and preclude consideration of said rights as a matter of course….
So, back to this list of fortunate Guyanese who were the recipients of acres of national land from a Government that flagrantly violated the issuance of the 99 year lease and did so, curiously, to a specific ethnic group and largely, to people who are their known supporters.
This spreadsheet represents the instrumentalization of law by partisan governance….
It is a jarring visual of ethno -nationalist politics and its control over the judicial sector.
Well here’s why and how, not necessarily in that order.
Guyana is guided by a Constitution which determines laws which dictate Government’s action.
Land Laws currently issue twenty five -fifty year leases as a norm. These leases are revenue earners – meaning, a fee is paid at prescribed intervals to lease the lands.
The ninety nine year lease, on the other hand, is not only unusual but it is free, mainly because it is issued to businesses for activities like mining which generate revenues and other forms of compensation outside of lease fees. And, since the nature of these operations require significant initial investment, land leased for this duration can be sold or transferred after five years so that the investor could stem any bleeding, if any.
But the list of the ninety nine year leases shown above is not a list of business owners, not even people who are doing something productive on these lands. These are lands that have been given to people in a brazen land give away to extend an ethno dynasty; distributed for the sole purpose of aggregating power.
The Land Registry and every other agency involved in, what amounts to, racketeering by legal conscript, bears blame for the reallocation of lands owned by the state into the hands of resident imperialists. That it involves this level of insidiousness, this steering of wealth with obvious intent, it should be cited as treason and the lands given away under ‘theft by government enabling’ should be taken away in very short order and restored to the people.
The complaints of those who were not favored to receive this gifting of land by the previous government – mainly Afro Guyanese – tell a story of an administrative obstacle course, which demanded ‘paper work’ that was either nonexistent or impossible to even conjure up; sometimes the denial of applications for wrong spelling. There are tearful recounts of having to deal with ‘the fireball lady’ – Philomena Sahoy-Shury, all the way up to the dismissed Juliet Sattaur and the stripping of dignity of many Afro – applicants who were forced to engage in the charade of bureaucratic record hunting, only to be whipped by filing fees and scripted rejection in the end…
And there was really no recourse…no Agency to which one could complain… for there was government influence over the judiciary which interpreted the laws, government influence over Ministries which allocated the land, all of which constricted normative guarantees for fairness and inherent rights under the Constitution.
The ejection of the People’s Progressive Party in May 2015 was an embrace of the promises of the Coalition Government – some of which detailed the righting of the thievery of lands by taking them back from those with whom acres have been parked to geneticize landed wealth by ethnicity and party affiliation. Hopefully, a follow-up to this exposé will be a spreadsheet showing how many of these PPP government-enabled transfers of land, have been reclaimed and restored to the people….but expedience remains their nemesis…
With the half-way point already met by the Coalition Administration, there is due anxiety that government execution continues to be marred by a combination of unforced errors and arrested attempts. Many, whose eyes once held that glimmer of hope, now struggle to refocus, impaired by that mote of despair, watching this Coalition constantly re-orient its political compass to directions not leading to Manifesto accomplishments.
And the Opposition is already in prep mode. It’s no secret that their campaign has already begun, its Leader having visited the US several times already for 2017; peddling a political message that piques the interest of those who long to be part of nation building; resonating with those who think that this may well be their last chance to be a part of restoring the country to the bread basket it was not so long ago.
They get it. They understand that the Diaspora weighs in heavily on the opinions of relatives and friends who actually cast votes – as the promised Diaspora Engagement remains on the Coalition’s to- do list…so they’re coming, not only for financial contributions but for expatriates to remind their friends and family that loyalty lies in voting ethnicity.
But even in despair, let’s keep a keen ear.
We, as a nation, are well past the social and intellectual capacity that riveted differences by race.
That was done by conditioning for the express benefit of those who conditioned us.
We’re past that.
As a nation, we’re past the politics that says land entitlement, our natural resources, the oil gush, is only for one race.
History defies that, in Sir Walter Raleigh’s recount of having to rely on native Amerindians in 1595; refutes that in its recount of the forced transportation of Africans to be enslaved, before 1700, to build the occupied territory; discredits that when it narrates the origin of commerce by the Indentured Portuguese, who arrived in 1835 and subsequently by the Chinese who arrived in 1853; confutes that when it relates the arrival of the East Indians in 1838 and their agricultural contributions. History tells us, too, of the enterprise of the freed Afro Guyanese, who bought their villages, who did subsistence farming, who found a way to still commune, establish values, in spite of them being the only group that was forced by decree to abandon its heritage.
We are a land of Six Peoples. History proves this. The politics of ethnic entitlement should offend every patriotic Guyanese.
But let me stick with the issue at hand.
Thousands of people are now holders of hundreds of acres through a felonious allotment scheme that is as racist as it is criminal.
The expeditious reclamation of these acres that were awarded, based on ethnicity and partisan alliance, should be a national priority to which enough personnel are assigned and a date -certain specified for the government to ensure the return of every square inch to the national register by stated deadline…
Which brings this discussion to our politics and how we select our political representatives.
Voting has become an auction – with the primary parties that feign improvement with the added consonants ‘R’ and ‘C’, bidding to make life better for Guyanese. The country remains stratified, if not calcified, by race but that is promulgated by an impotent Constitution that is in dire need of reform to stipulate, without Parliamentary majority, specific causes for referenda and prorogation, specific term limits for election and service of the elected President, the true independence of the Judiciary from politics. In short de-weaponize the Constitution. Make it a true instrument of people’s rights.
The country now faces a fundamental choice.
In the next two years, there could be a loop of what constitutes governing as we know it – the rape of its national resources, a repeat of the give away of forestry and mines to foreigners, with a concomitant local give away of what others have to buy – or at least, pay leasing fees for, on one hand …
….a lackadaisical approach to governance, girded by an inefficient, easily corrupted crew which remains artful only in deflecting, back peddling and promising, with patented insincerity, to follow the prescripts of public service, all while flaunting their wheelhouse of government, on the other.
They all the same …says the electorate.
Maybe, but it’s not about political righteousness or civic virtue.
By now, we should have grown past the politics of race, past the campaigns that look like ethnic conventions, past the entertaining one liners and the promises that are repeated every election cycle. By now, we should know what type of political agenda forces us apart, erodes our commitment to the national pledge and keeps us in the lower percentile of every development index.
So, its about us, we the people, who reserve the right, are obliged by civic duty, to demand that politicians reflect what we think our country means, what we want to teach our children about moral leadership, what we want Guyana to represent to the world, and the integrity level of candidates we demand in upcoming elections – at both local and general levels.
Its up to us to disrupt what has become the norm – that revolving door of friends, family, party rewardees, who ascend into government like its a dynasty, an inheritance. Disruption means pulling out our Constitution, examining its parts and using it to measure those who would be rulers. As flawed as it is, it remains our weapon against the piracy that has become governance.
It’s up to us, the people, to raise the limbo bar that we allow politicians to slither under and call them our representatives.
Conceding that all politicians lie is tacit consent to political malpractice!
We have to be civic minded enough to respect our Constitution and its Presidential Oath of Office and expect nothing less from them when they raise their right hands and swear that they ‘Solemnly declare that..they bear true faith and allegiance to the people of Guyana and will truly execute the office without fear and favor, affection or ill will, and that the execution of the functions of the office will uphold and honor the Constitution of Guyana’.
Its up to us to derail the practice of politicians to pursue victory, above all else, for their party, for their ethnic constituency —to treat politics as war—which runs counter to basic democratic values and gives them that sense of demagogic importance.
The stakes now are the highest they have ever been.
We are entitled to share in our country’s wealth and to do this we have to ensure that crafty re-runs of the same campaign enticement don’t lure us into that dark alley for violation to our political person.
I will now extend thanks to the whistle blower who furnished this piece of evidence, which represents only 294 people who have been gifted the people’s property, by the PPP government. My understanding is that this number runs into the thousands. I have published the entire spreadsheet sent to me, which shows details like lease number, acreage, property address, date of issue and lessor, that can be checked for veracity. I will, also, invite others with similar information to email it to me. It’s important for the people to know of any separatist plot, or any plot at all, to reassign ownership of their patrimony by diabolical execution of felony disenfranchisement.
Who is Who in British Guiana – 1945-148 Erwin Brewester
Dimensions of Creole Continuum, John R. Rickford
The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature: edited by Michael A. Bucknor, Alison Donnell
The Colony of British Guyana and Its Labouring Population: by H. V. P. Bronkhurst