Oct 25, 2017
In one of my columns after the PPP lost the 2015 elections I predicted that it will be a torrid and meticulous opposition. The PPP has always been good at the politics of protest. It has been a party that has been locked in political battles since its birth. It lost power after the 1953 removal from power. It lost power in 1964. It came back to power almost three decades later during which time it wrote the global handbook on what opposition politics should be like.
Someone as erudite as Walter Rodney found the PPP style of and commitment to the politics of protest admirable and developed a very close relationship with the PPP and its trade union arm, GAWU.
So good was the PPP at rallying minds and bodies to its causes that in the mid-seventies, the PPP was able to wrest support from the world’s most admired freedom fighters, respected scholars and many governments in the international community.
I knew the PPP players very well before and after I entered UG in 1974. When I became active with the WPA at its birth in 1976, I got to know its main actors even closer. Their politics was always helpful to the downtrodden. You have to be dishonest not to admit that. The PPP in the long years in the wilderness never forsook a plea for righting a wrong, irrespective of the class origins of the victim.
This was where the PPP was at its best as an opposition party. You could be a washroom cleaner, a taxi driver, a dockworker, the PPP would listen and try to help. I found this nuance of opposition politics sadly missing in the PNC since 1992 and to a great extent, the AFC when it came on the scene in October 2005 (will do a column on the 12th birth anniversary of the AFC later this week and I can assure you; it will not be a positive assessment).
Nigel Hughes stands out as an exception. Hughes did not flinch from assisting poor people who came for legal assistance. He recently declared at a public forum that he is a retired politician. This has to be a devastating loss for the AFC. But maybe Hughes saw the writing on the wall about the AFC before many of us did.
From 1992 onwards in Guyana, the Caribbean saw aspects of semi-fascism in the exercise of state power that exceeded the authoritarian tentacles of Burnham in Guyana and Gairy in Grenada. The nexus between drug traffickers and power-holders during the hegemony of President reduced the state in Guyana to a criminalized entity.
It is illuminatingly clear in my mind that Burnham would not even for a second, give space to deadly traffickers. I could well have imagined what Burnham would have done to his friend who manhandled NIS inspectors when they went to visit the friend’s work site.
In the long years of PPP’s domination from 1992 onwards, opposition indefatigability was almost non-existent. Let me issue a caveat before years from now this particular column here ends up distorting the historical record. It is not that the PNC and AFC did not sympathize with the poor and powerless but they only exercise unlimited energy on situations where the victims were of such status that their intervention helped their own profile and political capital.
A hypothetical example should suffice. A Sophia resident would not have received High Court assistance. But if a well known businessman was the victim, all opposition parties would have sought front page coverage for their embrace of his cause.
Quite honestly the PPP never operated in such narrow avenues from 1964 to 1992. I’ll give three brief examples. When we started our 24-hour vigil outside Parliament in 2012 on High Street, named the People’s Parliament, the police came a night and removed all the parasols that shaded us from the sun. I asked several lawyers, some of whom were attached to the PNC and they all said they were busy.
The PPP between 1964 and 1992 would have acted in the opposite way.
When the Region Three officials brutalized some Parika vendors and burnt their merchandise, we couldn’t get lawyers to take the court case pro bono. Christopher Ram was approached. He agreed then shortly after said he cannot continue because it was a losing case. We took Cheddi Jagan’s nephew, Neil Parsram, and he won it for us.
Finally, all the opposition parties refused to join me, Mark Benschop and Lincoln Lewis in rallying support for the three treason accused. The PPP is now all over the place trying to help rights violation victims.