I refer to a letter published in Kaieteur News May 29, edition, captioned “People are likely to feel oppressed and disenfranchised if the Govt. is not of their choosing.” I normally avoid responding to letters written by writers whose convictions do not allow them to pen their names to their letters. I make an exception in this case, taking the view that ideas are more important than the messenger is. While I can take issue with much of what was written, I am also in agreement with many of the writer’s observations. This response is to contest the writer’s blanket statement that those who voted/supported the PNC and Burnham were silent on the machinations of the government from 1966 to 1992. If there was an editorial note correcting this erroneous claim, I would have been spared the burden of having to pen this response.
The letter writer stated, “During this period from1966 to 1992, the supporters of this regime did not have any issues with their government. There was no outcry about a lack of Freedom, Rights, basic foodstuff like flour, cooking oil, toilet paper, garlic and onions, split peas and canned goods, just to name a few. All the while, their supporters were revelling in the power their Government wielded and their destiny was held in the palm of their hands.” The writer continues, “No one cared for free and fair Elections, there was no call for power sharing and none of the supporters cared to see the inequity and unfair treatment meted out to the rest of the population.”
Reading the letter, one can’t miss that the writer is intelligent and well informed on the matters related to the country. Therefore, he/she cannot at the same time be devoid of the knowledge that sections and individuals in the African community opposed Burnham and the PNC during the period 1966 to 1992. What is questionable is the writer’s purpose, objectivity and sincerity. It is painful in these circumstances to have to cite African resistance to the Burnham regime. Notwithstanding here are a few examples that will suffice in making my point:
(1) The split between the ASCRIA and the PNC and the organisation’s condemnation of the rigged 1973 elections; (2) land to the landless campaign on the lower East Coast Demerara (led by ASCRIA and Eusi Kwayana) which resulted in massive multi-racial squatting on lands owned by Bookers and the State; (3) massive public meetings renouncing the ban of Walter Rodney from employment at UG; (4) the infamous 1980 Referendum which was boycotted by 90% of the voting population; (5) the struggle to free Arnold Rampersaud supported by the African urban population; (6) the period of the civil rebellion led by the WPA that resulted in the government forces killing Ohene Koama, Edward Dublin, Father Darke and the assassination of Walter Rodney; (7) Rodney’s multi-racial funeral; (8) Post Rodney struggles when the WPA on two occasions initiated the closing down of the country to protest food shortages; (9) the PCD struggle for free and fair elections which led to the return of democracy with the defeat of the PNC in 1992 elections; (10) the Guard movement which the former PPP/C’s long-standing Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, was associated with. These are but a few of the notable instances that manifested significant African opposition to the then regime. Your letter writer and editorial staff must have been aware of some of these public events but chose silence instead of a corrective footnote. Why?
Your letter writer consciously or unconsciously points to a universal truth: “…it is my humble opinion that you will always feel oppressed and disenfranchised as long as the Government in place is not one of your choosing.” Restricting this observation to Guyana applies to both Africans and Indians. As I said the observations are universal, it posed a major challenge to the evolution of democracy worldwide and of course, in Guyana. Hence, the imperative of political power sharing thus ending the winner take all form of government. This is necessary to deal with the human condition cited by your letter writer.
In closing, I wish to suggest the need for the establishment of a civil group committed to the promotion of “truth” in public discourse on national issues, calling out public officials, columnists, reporters and letter writers who disseminate information that is incorrect and false. Perhaps something like what happens in US Presidential elections where the utterances of the candidates are subjected to tests for accuracy. This will enhance the quality of public discourse and contribute in a major way to building a better Guyana.