Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta, and Why Not?
Karl Marx in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte alluded to the words from Aesop’s Fable the Swaggerer ‘Hic Rhodus, hic salta’ which means ‘here is the rose, here dance’. In this instance, Marx compared the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th century with proletarian revolutions of the 19th century. He asserted that the bourgeois revolutions were short-lived because they failed to learn from their own weaknesses, resulting in a failure to reenergize their own revolutions with corrective actions. Marx noted that the proletarian revolutions of the 19th century engaged in regular self-criticisms, so much so that even when they seemed to have gotten it right, they continued to expose weaknesses until they reached a point where the social and economic conditions ensured the progress of all.
This giant leap in transforming societal conditions is really a proletarian revolution, where Marx noted that these progressive “…conditions themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here is the rose, here dance.” It represents a time for rejoicing among the people and give thanks to themselves for having attained the goal (the proletarian revolution) which symbolically is the rose; and, therefore, an occasion to dance, to celebrate societal progress.
And with increasing transformation of the Guyana society, the occasion to celebrate is now, to acknowledge societal growth, to feel that attaining the rose is nigh. While the society’s development is a work in progress, people will tell you that they are better off today than five years ago, and, indeed, in a comparatively better position than they were 19 years ago; just look at the reduction of poverty from 86% in pre-1992 to circa 35% today.
And, therefore, only those politicians living off politics, mouthing their ambition and general political self-interests, would contend that economic and social conditions are the same or worse today as they were in pre-1992 Guyana. What Guyana is witnessing is the making of a modern proletarian revolution against all odds; especially, if you consider the baseline data of this economy circa 1992, followed by non-financial and non-economic viability for the first 10 years from 1992, as a result of a depleted Consolidated Fund as well as general economic devastation in 1992.
To get a grip on the status of the economy, the World Bank report of 1994 puts it, thus: “Economic performance worsened significantly during the 1980s. Demand management policies were expansionary, the real exchange rate appreciated, the country lost competitiveness, the balance of payments came under pressure, and the government relied increasingly on price controls and quantitative restrictions on trade. This further reduced overall economic activity while spawning a parallel market for foreign exchange that fed inflation. The country’s infrastructure became dilapidated, real incomes dropped sharply, and the government became increasingly unable to provide basic social services”.
Therefore, with practically zero funds in 1992 and a country with few physical and social infrastructures intact, it was obvious that the debt crisis worsened this situation.
And to address the debt crisis in those non-financial and non-economic viability years, and subsequent years, the Government of Guyana effectively mobilized considerable debt relief. At the Cochabamba Summit in 2006, President Bharrat Jagdeo obtained the South American Community of Nations’ endorsement of a resolution requesting 100 percent debt relief of Guyana’s stock of debt with December 2004 as the cut-off point, with effect from January 2007, and secured debt relief write-off to the tune of US$467 million. At July 1, 2006, the World Bank cancelled the International Development Association debt of Guyana of US$133M and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) debt of Guyana of US$189M; approval of the G8 debt relief initiative; the IMF cancelled 100 percent from January 2006 of US$65 million acquired before January 1, 2005; OPEC Fund for International Development; in 2003, obtained US$585M under the Enhanced HIPC Initiative.
As the development pace was proceeding amid an inherited debt crisis, entered the regular external economic shocks; then the great floods of 2005 and 2006. Nonetheless, real output was expected to decline in 2005 by as much as 5.4 percent, but the GDP fell by a mere 3 percent, a product of prudent economic management.
And notwithstanding that other odds, too, imperiled Government’s performance, its thrust remained focused on furthering working-class people’s interests. Globalization also presented some difficulties for Guyana, bringing the following: increasing pressures to liberalize multilateral trade; the economic stranglehold that the World Trade Organization has on poor, small, and vulnerable economies; constant migration of skilled professionals; and the liberalization of the European sugar regime with drastic sugar price cuts, effectively general erosion of long-standing trade preferences of the European Union (EU); the EU’s Reform of the Sugar Protocol now cuts the export price of sugar by 36 percent over four years which started from 2007. This drastic price reduction generates an annual loss equivalent to 5.1% of GDP and 5.4 % of merchandize exports. And to this I could add the rise in global food and fuel prices in 2008 that devastated consumers the world over. The Guyana Government responded with a strong cushioning package for its people; as far as I know, there was nothing from Caricom governments to match the Guyana response.
As this is a mere letter, I do not want to emblazon it with a trail of statistics on the progressive outcomes on macroeconomic fundamentals, education, health, housing, among other areas. Nevertheless, please crave my indulgence, as I want just to stimulate your appetite with a measly few. The economy experienced a 6% growth rate, inflation at 3%, prime lending rate at 14.54%, a relatively stable exchange rate at $204.25, increased gross international reserves, and a balance of payments surplus at half year 2011. These are damn good economic indicators! Nevertheless, there are those who may argue that the economy grew at a slow and low rate over the last five or more years and they may be partially correct. But they should also be aware that the global economy recorded an average growth rate of 3.2% from 2000 through 20007 (economywatch.com). Anyway, Guyana’s growth rate is 6% for this year so far and it was 3% last year, and the economic prognosis looks good for the rest of this year. Should we not feel good about this and see the people and government are on track to reach the ‘rose’?
The education sector has a $24.3 billion allocation for 2011; 491 teachers graduated from Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), with a current intake that is twice what it was for 2008. In 2010, the CXC success rate for Grades 1-4 was 86% compared to 79% in 2005, and 48% in 1992. While circa 33% of students were exposed to general secondary education, today about 70% experience this exposure. In health, infant mortality is 14 per 1,000 live births; the under-5 mortality rate is 17.3 per 1,000; skilled health staff attend to about 96% births; and there is a 95% immunization rate against Mumps, Measles, and Rubella (MMR). Housing really is a stunning success story, with the distribution of well over 100,000 house lots, regularization of over 100 squatting areas, and the availability of a 4.95% interest rate for low income homes. Increases in tax threshold, minimum wage, and the zero-rated VAT and exempted VAT items are for the poor and vulnerable. Then there are the the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and hydropower projects with enormous capacity for intensifying development. I have not done justice to these sectors in outlining their progressive outcomes.
Nevertheless, there are people in the new opposition who constantly harp that Guyana remains the worst country in this hemisphere, which is clearly not the case. And this opposition also cites Guyana as a dictatorship. Dictatorships do not allow their detractors to flourish; nonetheless, many people of this ilk in Guyana constantly bombard the air waves and print media with numerous anti-government statements; and yet this government, which detractors refer to as a dictatorship, gives them a free rein to express themselves. Dictatorships generally have zero tolerance for opposition elements. For these reasons and others, Guyana is not a dictatorship. In fact, the international-based Freedom House has deemed Guyana ‘free’ with regard to political rights and civil liberties since 1993. Guyana is free. Guyana is a democracy.
Now what is the chance of Guyana’s democracy backsliding? Goldstone and others (2007) found that the chance is greater after 2 years in office, and the chance of backsliding remains until a democracy attains age 15; and would rarely backslide after age 15. There were only seven relapses in democracies aged over 15 that happened through 1955-2003: Brazil in 1964, Peru 1968, Philippines 1972, Chile 1973, Uruguay 1973, Fiji 1987, and Gambia 1994. Guyana’s democracy is now 19 years old. Any backsliding in Guyana may be an unlikely event. Guyana’s developmental achievements, indeed, is on track to attain the ‘rose’, to strike a better life for the working class; indeed, that calls for a dance, a celebration, for the people of this country to take pride and rejoice for their labors in making democracy and development the in-thing. Anyway, while the rose is at hand with enormous evidence of development to show for it, people can assume ‘hic Rhodus, hic salta’.