Historic Perspective, in this case ,takes us back to 1750 when rice was first introduced as a crop, from South Carolina, during the occupation of the Dutch, in 1782 with another crop from Louisiana, during the occupation of the French, and was grown by African slaves who were already at labour on the sugar plantations and every other menial task. History , also, records relatively successful production in 1848 by Timini Africans through and in 1853 when a crop was grown from seed brought from Georgia USA.
Indeed, the rice crop flourished more after Indentured Indian labour was imported and this was attributed to their familiarity with growing the crop which was a virtual staple in Asia. During the First World War, rice production rose because it was difficult for shipments to come from Burma to the Caribbean. Guiana exported eight tons to Trinidad in 1917. Phenomenal, at the time. Export volume increased even more after World War II with the commissioning of the Mahaicony Abary Developmental Scheme.
In 1946 the Rice Producers Association (RPA) was formed to represent the economic interests of rice farmers- securing subsidies which provided low cost, seed, fertilizer and gasoline an interest group, since then.
By 1965, the population was pretty well divided along racial lines and the two primary political parties were as well, with the PPP being predominantly Indian and the PNC being predominantly African.
Rice farming had become the domain of Indians and so did the RPA which stood with the PPP which made it very easy for the RPA to secure public resources which made it easy for the PPP to promote its political agenda to this large swath of people who just happened to be Indian….follow the link.
It was this stranglehold on this key industry by a percentage of the population that caused the Burnham government to implement two strategies to regain some control.
The first strategy was to remove the link between the RPA and the PPP.
In 1970, an apolitical Hindu Indian organization, the Maha Sabha, was embroiled in internal strife because it was felt their president was becoming too close to the PNC. Many of its members were part of the RPA and by extension the PPP. The president, to allay the strife, then arranged an election of officers at which only his delegates were allowed to participate. Other members were barred from the meeting with the help of the police.
Not surprisingly, this president of the Maha Sabha was reelected by his handpicked delegates while the police helped to keep protestors away from the election site.
The PNC then moved to have him elected speaker of the House in the Legislative Assembly. His name was Sase Naraine and this man who lead a large faction of the RPA, who were members of the PPP, became Speaker of the House in 1971.
The next strategy was the creation of the Guyana Rice Corporation which was done with the help of the members of the RPA / PPP in a manner that was seen as subversive…but then again, it’s all about perspective.
The main intent behind this new body was to ensure that it was not the exclusive domain of Indo Guyanese; that Afro Guyanese, who were the pioneers in rice production in the country, were not shut out of an industry that was started on their backs.
To make it work, the Burnham government diverted the subsidies from the RPA to the newly formed Guyana Rice Corporation, thereby subordinating the RPA to the Corporation. By controlling these subsidies, the financial link and platform of favors the PPP used to woo the primarily Indian RPA, the Burnham government asserted itself in such a way that removed the economic stranglehold the RPA/ PPP held on the country since its subsidies were now controlled by the PNC government.
Then leadership changed hands and the history of the Afro Guyanese contribution to the rice industry was blotted out by the PPP; whose agenda never shifted from that of using the economy to promote party ideology and ethnopolitics; never shifted from outsourcing its ideology support agency and in so doing spilling the Party platform in such a way that it could not be ignored.
More recently the PPP inked a deal with Petro Caribe to barter rice for oil. By this time the country had been brought to its economic knees by a system of bad governance and agencies like the RPA were reinstated as political tools which were awarded favors for political support.
Then, in 2009 then President Jagdeo, economist by profession, agreed to an oil for rice barter with Venezuela, latent enemy, that had greater political outcome for him and Hugo Chavez than it did for Guyana.
By the terms of the deal, Guyana would get oil with no payment to Venezuela, sell the oil to Guyanese, place the revenues in Account Petro Caribe, use the revenue from sales to pay the rice farmers and millers- that RPA agency which supports the PPP which subsidizes this agency by giving it money for seeds and petrol and fertilizer from the Account Petro Caribe then subtracting this amount from the balance owed to Venezuela.
Complicated, but who’s paying attention?
Hugo got to look like the oil fairy, Jagdeo got to play the part of economic strategist and the money got to be placed in a convoluted conflation of systems that Jagdeo later said was the Central Bank…
…Which means that President Granger’s response to the protests by the Rice Producers Association (RPA)
“As far as this protest is concerned, it is misplaced. The paddy farmers should be protesting against the people who owe them money. We don’t owe them any money,” he said. Granger charged that there were “elements instigating protests” to falsely portray that the government was at fault….
was wrong only to the extent that it was clumsy and lacked political sensitivity.
It would have been more politically astute for the President to say that the Petro Caribe deal was executed without political foresight, ignoring the fact that there was an ongoing controversy between the two countries and was executed without committing to document, a pull out clause, effective enough for Maduro to recognize.
He could have said that his new Administration is looking to improve the way the rice industry is subsidized and how it’s lobbyist, the RPA, could work more as an assistant than an agitator for the industry and for the greater good of the country.
He could have said that the exportation of rice is a proud inheritance which dates back centuries and which has roots in all those who were brought to the country to provide labor for our colonizers.
He could have said that the system of accounting that Jagdeo implemented was knotty to a fault and that his team of accountants would attempt to decipher it, to see if there was any money there to fulfill obligations, but in the interim he would free up money to make sure that the industry does not suffer because of accounting that was unnecessarily complex and rather, quite suspect.
He could have said that the arrangement under Jagdeo and Robert Persaud and all the other executive players, netted USD 16 million to a middleman which means that there were usurious charges to the very people that supported the PPP and the Jagdeo presidency.
He could have used this crisis to inform those holding placards.
These would have been expected responses
But he didn’t say these things.
Instead, he came across as unnecessarily belligerent, sounding helpless; frustrated because the previous administration had mucked up the path to the money; accusatory of a lobby that it would make more political sense to embrace than enrage; possibly losing an opportunity to start the process of depoliticizing the Rice Industry.
He did say,though, that he is looking for markets for rice and this is how he should continue to approach this RPA, this sector, which has been conditioned to approach business from the position of entrenchment and exclusion, from the stance of ethno dominance; at the expense of country and economy, to make a political statement.
The objective has to be that of maintaining composure, showing command, taking charge, with the ultimate goal of winning converts.
We are not suggesting that the answer lies in any Maha Sabha –like organization, neither are we excluding that as a strategy, which has a historical record of positive results.
We are simply saying that this normally eloquent President, known for his poise, his decorum and stratagems, cannot present as ruffled in the face of what is understandably frustrating because it is molded in skullduggery and deception. He has to present as a leader who knows that the preceding systems were designed to deceive; as one who understands that the interest groups of the ejected government will attempt to discredit his administration and that he is prepared to educate them in the areas where they were deliberately misled.
These things are best understood in perspective…and should be the priority of his PR team.