Rickford Burke, well known Guyanese anti-PPP political activist in New York, has finally landed a political gold mine. Burke’s long and unrelenting campaign alleging racism against the PPP and its governments occupied the fringes of the political discourse in the New York diaspora for many years. Burke’s distance from some past PNC leaderships had relegated him to a sideshow in Guyana’s opposition politics in New York. Burke, now in favour, has creatively linked the vote of the African Guyanese diaspora in Brooklyn, New York, with African American politicians in New York who rely on those votes for re-election. Burke can no longer be considered a fringe or marginalized political activist. How far his campaign, marked by dedicated persistence, will go cannot be predicted although its influence on Guyana’s political direction will remain limited to being a vocal irritant.
Hakeem Jeffries and Letitia James have no independent evidence of racism in Guyana. But neither has the US Government. The US Government nevertheless ‘invited’ the President and a team of high officials to Washington during which ‘inclusive growth,’ ‘inclusive democracy’ and ‘security for all Guyanese’ were emphasized. These words carry a specific connotation in Guyana and their use by the US Secretary of State and the US Vice President could not have been accidental. Their use was clearly intended to send the message that the US Government has heard the voices of those who claim a lack of inclusivity and believes that those voices should be heard. The message of the US Government to the Guyana Government was clear but there is no evidence that the message has been heard.
Addressing Seventh Day Adventist members at a church in New York on Guyana Day some time ago, Jeffries, a Democratic Congressman from a New York’s 8th Congressional District with an African Guyanese diaspora, whose votes are valuable, said “…we are not going to tolerate racism down in Guyana either and we are going to continue to do everything necessary to get things moving in a fairer and more equitable direction.” Given the opportunity to “get things moving” by making representations to President Ali, who invited him to meet last September when he was in New York, Congressman Jeffries, a likely Speaker in a Democratic Party controlled House, did not respond. Neither did he make representations to any Guyanese official. Clearly, Congressman Jeffries cares more about the votes of the African Guyanese diaspora in New York than about African Guyanese rights in Guyana.
New York Attorney General Letitia James last Sunday spoke for eight minutes at a meeting of Guyanese Diaspora Organisations organized by Burke’s outfit, Guyana Caribbean Institute for Democracy (GCID) at which Paul Slowe, former Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ganesh Mahipaul, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament and Nigel Hinds, accountant, also spoke. Ms. James said: “There are, we are obviously concerned about any destabilizing force in Guyana and clearly all of the allegations that have been made this evening suggests that there are problems and that they need to be looked at, they need to be examined and that we cannot ignore it.” Ms. James pledged that she will “along with [her] Democratic Attorney Generals across the country will be calling upon the Department of Justice as well as the Biden administration to look at the allegations that have been put forward…”
Ms. James’s interest in African Guyanese will last no longer than her re-election campaign. She appears not to know that there is a large number of Indian Guyanese in New York who are mostly supporters of the Democratic Party. Ms. James might not have considered that taking one side of the ethno-political divide in Guyana runs the risk of alienating the other side. Indian Guyanese might argue that Ms. James and the Democratic Party have forfeited their support by colluding with GCID and its friends to promote PNC interests.
These allegations in New York, however contrived and politically inspired, when combined with assertions that Guyana is an ‘emerging apartheid’ state, suggest that allegations of racism against the Guyana Government in Guyana and in the US will not go away. The Government of Guyana may ignore them or condemn them, but they will continue unless a political solution to Guyana’s ethno-political division is found. In the meantime, the Government would be justified in retaining the services of high-level representation in the US to counter the politically driven allegations of racism against it.
Is there anything that the Government can do in Guyana to contend with the perceptions of racism? There is a great deal that it can do and many ideas, outside of a political solution, have been proposed over time and are on the table. Before this can happen, the Government and the PPP need to accept that allegations of racism are tied in with the issue of ethno-political dominance and both have to be confronted in a creative way by independent agencies. One thing is certain. No defences, ‘setting the record straight,’ rebuttals, politicking in areas where African Guyanese live, ‘development’ in African Guyanese communities, or rapid economic development now made possible by oil, will change the political reality within Guyana or in the diaspora.