I refer to a recent editorial entitled ‘Bajans distain for Guyanese’ (Kaieteur News, 30 July 2008).
Kaieteur News must be commended for expressing concern for Guyanese nationals abroad. The editorial made some good points.
But the sometimes confusing opinion piece had a number of errors which, if gone unchecked, could make things worse when discussing the sensitive subject matter.
First error: Relatives of a dead Guyanese man and wounded Guyanese woman in recent robbery at a bar in Barbados claim it is hate crime against Guyanese. It must therefore be true and in fact can be generalised to the whole situation in the island.
Reality: We sympathise with the relatives. We understand their anguish. We respect their feeling that Guyanese were specially targeted.
Consul Faria’s description (in another section of the Guyana press) of the original report in Kaieteur News as ‘speculative nonsense’ was not directed at the grieving relatives, but at the paper’s overall sensationalist and poorly researched thrust, which tried to paint the horrific incident as a hate crime against Guyanese.
Evidence and facts, including from Barbados Police and other intelligence (information) sources, reaching the Guyana Consulate do not support a hate crime scenario.
The entertainment establishment on Bay Street is in an area where several other businesses, the majority owned and operated by Bajans, have been hit over the years by armed robbers.
Second error: “It is a fact that anti-Guyanese sentiments are on the rise in Barbados …They are rampant”.
Reality: There is an increase, relative to, say, the 1980s, of a general public discussion on Guyanese presence in Barbados. Among the reasons for this: One, there has been an increase of Guyanese in the island (to fill jobs mainly in construction and agricultural sectors).
Two, the discussion reflects a concomitant rise of phone-in radio programmes (“talk radio”) and the need for moderators, in competing among themselves, to search for sensationalist emotional topics, such as the Guyanese presence.
This media discussion also includes views on the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). Three, regrettably individual opportunistic opinion-makers, including politicians, have publicly pandered to anti-CSME sentiment ( though we must stress that senior government spokespersons, including Prime Minister David Thompson and Foreign Affairs Minister Chris Sinckler and others from the two main political parties in Barbados have spoken favourably of the Guyanese presence).
In all of this, one may perceive an “anti-foreigner”, including Guyanese, sentiment. The Consulate, from day one, has spoken out against hateful, inflammatory rhetoric on the airwaves and in the print media.
Its intervention, including to the Barbadian Police to uphold the laws of Barbados against racial and other forms of incitement, have borne fruit.
One cannot, however, equate, as the Kaieteur News’ sometimes confusing editorial does, this public discussion, albeit at times distasteful and repugnant, with a generalised rise in anti-Guyanese feelings against Guyanese by the Barbadian people.
The Consulate’s view is that, in the main, the majority of Barbadians still welcome Guyanese and are embarrassed by the handful of xenophobes who used to (they are now mainly censored out after the Consulate’s intervention) phone-in the talk radio.
They also write to certain hateful, racist and lawless Internet blogs which need to be monitored and controlled.
We must build on unity and friendship among peoples, rather than generalising from particular incidents, which nevertheless need monitoring.
Third error: The film “On the Map”, made by Barbadian film maker Annalee Davis, is another proof that anti-Guyanese sentiments are rampant in Barbados.
Reality: Dr. Randy Persaud correctly notes that many of the interviewees and references to migrant workers in the movie are Guyanese.
The film did not however generally point in the main to any anti-Guyanese bashing in Barbados. It rightfully addressed the socio-economic difficulties and challenges facing migrant labour in several CARICOM countries.
Fourth error: The most “glaring” backlash against increasing Guyanese presence in recent times in Barbados was reflected in the treatment meted out by Barbadian Immigration officers to Guyanese.
Reality: The Guyana Government, including the Consulate, is deeply concerned at reports of Guyanese who experience difficulties, including being denied entry at Barbados’s airport after spending hard earned money on tickets. No one can justify insulting remarks against Guyanese as contained in the reports.
To equate the actions of immigration officers against certain (the majority are permitted into Barbados) unfortunate arrivals with a generalised anti-Guyanese sentiment nevertheless doesn’t make sense.
In Trinidad, an equal number or even more, in relative terms, of Guyanese are being denied entry. But because of the sensationalistic preoccupation of sections of the Guyana media on Barbados, the difficulties of Guyanese there and in other Caribbean countries (not to mention New York where there are periodic shooting deaths and robberies of Guyanese) appear not to be worthy of attention.
Fifth error: The Guyana Government, through its Consulate in Barbados, is not representing the interests of Guyanese there.
Reality: While the Guyana Government and myself as Honorary Consul are deeply grieved at reports about discriminatory and other offences against Guyanese, there are proper ways to do things, including being guided by protocol considerations.
The overall aim is to maintain and build up the otherwise good and friendly relations between the governments and people of Guyana and those in Barbados.
The interests of people everywhere, especially working people, are the same. People are not inherently hateful to those from other lands. Guyanese and Barbadians have traditional family and friendship ties.
The Consulate has worked over the years to build on this friendship and love, through for example the sponsoring of a Guyanese delegation of workers in the BWU May Day Parade and the donations of Guyana hardwood benches to Barbadian senior citizens’ homes and district hospitals.
Protocol dictates the Consulate cannot publicly criticise Barbadian authorities such as the Police and Immigration. It, like the Guyana Government, works assiduously in the background when necessary with letters and meetings in the interests of Guyanese.
We work closely with and recognise the commendable contributions of Barbadian institutions such as the trade unions, NGOs, community groups and churches in building unity and friendship. I earnestly do believe this is the way to go.
We nevertheless must act when there are real or perceived injustices against our people, especially when anti-foreigner pandering becomes an intrinsic plank of mainstream politics, as has happened with right wing parties in Europe.
And the media, both in Guyana and Barbados, have a role to play. Rather than the routine, poorly researched and sensationalistic “us against them” approach, there must be a sober, well thought out outreach which can overcome any tensions and difficulties.
Only then can Guyanese, Barbadians and all of us continue to move ahead in friendship and love and make the societies an even better place for all of us.
Norman R. Faria
(Guyana’s Honorary Consul in Barbados)
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