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Reach out to Guyana

Once again, our sister Caribbean nation of Guyana finds itself in the throes of extreme racial strife!

The specific incident that has caused the general condition of tension between the Indian and African communities of Guyana to plunge to dangerous levels of racial antagonism is the July 18, 2012 killing of three African-Guyanese men by armed officers of the Guyana Police Force.

The three men — Shemroy Bouyea, Ron Somerset and Allan Lewis — were part of a group of black civilian demonstrators who had occupied the Wismar-Mckenzie Bridge in order to protest against the Government’s imposition of a 400 per cent increase in electricity rates on the people who reside in the “bauxite town” of Linden.

Needless-to-say, the population of Linden (a town named after the late Linden Forbes Burnham) is almost exclusively black or African, while the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic government of Guyana is considered to be a predominantly “Indian” administration.

These facts alone would tend to spell trouble in Guyana’s ever present climate of racial suspicion, but matters are further compounded by the fact that, historically, Linden was the scene of the two most infamous incidents of racial violence in Guyana — the 1964 Indian bombing of the African populated “Sun Chapman” launch on the Demerara river, and the ugly and brutal retaliatory violence that members of the “African” population of Linden inflicted on their “Indian” fellow residents.

And so, it was not surprising that the police killings were immediately interpreted in terms of race! Furthermore, over the past several years, literally scores of young male Afro-Guyanese have been murdered by death squads associated with largely Indian underworld figures and drug syndicates. Thus, this seeming emergence of a willingness on the part of the Guyana police to shoot at and kill black civilian protestors was bound to significantly intensify racial fears in the African population.

But all of us in the Caribbean know only too well about the condition of racial fear and animosity in Guyana. It is a condition that has its genesis in the British colonial authorities’ policy of importing indentured labourers from India in order to supplant the labour of the newly emancipated African working-class, and also in the nefarious manner in which the British and American establishments set out to subvert and destroy the initially bi-racial and socialist Peoples Progressive Party by fomenting racial divisions and suspicions.

All of this is well known and documented, but the million dollar question is: “Why haven’t we, the Caribbean people and governments, made a serious effort to assist our Guyanese brothers and sisters to come to terms with and resolve their racial dilemma?”

Sometimes people become so tightly enmeshed in a state of affairs that they find it extremely difficult to view the situation objectively and to discern possible solutions: and this is where the intervention of a relative “outsider” can be helpful!

The People Empowerment Party of Barbados believes that the recent Guyana incident of violent repression of civilian protestors, as well as the associated racial crisis in Guyana, demand a response from CARICOM and its member governments, but even more importantly, from organised Caribbean civil society!

The PEP is therefore specifically calling upon the leaders of our Caribbean civil society to bestir themselves and to put together a broad based and diverse Pan-Caribbean investigatory team to visit Guyana for the purpose of engaging with the Guyanese people on the issue of the African/Indian racial dilemma.

Of course, we are not suggesting any attempt at an unwelcome outside imposition on the people of Guyana. Needless-to-say, contact should first be made with the relevant civil society organisations of Guyana, and the entire initiative should be a collaborative one.

Surely, it is long past time for us to do something concrete and positive about these racial issues that are holding back not only Guyana, but, by extension, the entire region.

As difficult as they may seem to be, racial problems are not insoluble! Indeed, there are several precedents that we could examine for mechanisms to resolve and transcend racial antagonisms, inclusive of the relatively successful examples of Malaysia and Singapore.

* David Comissiong is President of the Peoples Empowerment Party.

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