TUNNEL VISION


I am not a practitioner of ethnic politics and will not be ensnared into that dead end. Lincoln Lewis or anyone else is free to promote and defend ethnic rights and engage in ethnic politics. But I believe that the solution to Guyana’s ethno-political problems requires a policy that supersedes ethnic fundamentalism. While an active member of two political parties, my personal flagship issue was shared governance, to which I was converted in 1977. It offers a political solution to the enduring problem in Guyana of ethno-political dominance. A political solution in Guyana is the only foundation on which ethnic rights and interests can be successfully addressed.

Between the period of 1968 and 1985 the PNC deprived the Indian community of its right to vote and to participate in the election of a government, destroyed the rice and sugar industries on it they relied and, except for a small minority, excluded it from the security forces and bureaucratic administration. By 1977 the PPP concluded that ethno-political dominance had become the main obstacle to democratic governance and ethnic security and proposed a political solution in 1977 – the national patriotic front. The PPP also advocated an agreed programme of social and economic policies that would address the interests of all Guyanese, not merely a specific ethnic group.

As soon as the 1992 elections were over the PNC uncannily turned the tables on the PPP, accusing it of ethnic cleansing and rigging elections. Since these policies could not yet have been implemented in 1992, the raw, anti-Indian post-election violence must have related to fears of Indian ethnic dominance. All elections since 1992 have been declared to be free and fair by international observers, including those of 1997 and 2020 which, like those of 2001, were subject to intense anti-Indian post-election violence. The elections of 1997 and 2020 were subject to extensive Caricom scrutiny.

Mr. Lincoln Lewis played a prominent and courageous role as a trade unionist in the struggle against PNC authoritarian rule and for free and fair elections up to 1992. But shortly after 1992 he joined those, including the PNCR, who claimed discrimination and marginalization against African Guyanese and demanded African rights, including rights to ancestral land, which rights are unknown in Guyana law. Mr. Lewis’s choice of African rights for advocacy is a matter for him but he cannot build his case on doublespeak and deception. 

The longer version of Mr. Lewis’s letter to SN of September 11, “Better to use one’s voice to promote peace and harmony and heal our fractured society,” is contained in an article entitled “A Response to Ralph Ramkarran” in Village Voice (September 11). Apart from hinting that I approbated the killings of Isiah and Joel Henry in 2020, Orin Boston in 2021 and Quindon Bacchus recently by the police, the gravamen of Mr. Lewis’s complaint is as follows: “The cries of African Guyanese against discrimination being meted out to them by the PPP, and where Ralph has taken the decision to smother these by listing a litany of what he considers mistreatment of Africans meted out by the Peoples’ National Congress (PNC) and a Partnership of National Unity (APNU), goes against human decency….The attempt to justify Africans current discomfort by claiming that it happened, whether real or perceived, by the government they supported should not be coming from the lips or pen of Ralph.”

I agree with Mr. Lewis that neither I nor anyone else should “smother” unlawful killings of Africans, or Indian victims of crime at Lusignan and elsewhere, the latter not being within the purview of Mr. Lewis, or of discrimination and marginalization of Africans under the PPP, or discrimination and marginalization of Indians under the PNC or APNU/AFC, if these did in fact take place. But this cannot be deduced from what I said in my article (SN 2022-09-04 – ‘Has the PNCR/APNU now transitioned to a fully-fledged ethnic party?’): I wrote: “The PNCR/APNU has never responded to the requests of its critics to point to the policies it implemented between 1964 and 1992 to enhance the economic power of African Guyanese….The same questions were raised in relation to the 2015 – 2020 period….But in reality, there was a dearth of Government sponsored policies for specific opportunities for African Guyanese in the 2015 – 2020 period as was from 1964 to 1992. In the latter period the size of the privately-owned economy, where opportunities are found for entrepreneurship, shrunk from 100 percent to less than 20 percent. The PNC Government in this period saw African Guyanese development not in terms of the private sector, but in the state bureaucracy.”

I don’t see in the above passage an attempt to ‘smother’ African cries of discrimination by listing a ‘litany’ of ‘mistreatment’ or an ‘attempt to justify African current discomfort,’ as seen by Mr. Lewis. But then, Mr. Lewis’s sight has long become notoriously blinkered by tunnel vision.    

As Lincoln attests, our fathers’ friendship go back a long way. The fondness of my father for Lincoln was based not only on his relations with Stephen Lewis, Lincoln’s father, but on Lincoln’s militancy for trade union solidarity, political unity and democratic rule prior to 1992, factors in our own good relations over the decades. I’m sure that one day ‘Stephen boy’ will return to our once shared ideals.

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