Nov 17, 2008 Letters
I would like to continue my dialogue on the reasons why and how Berbice should secede. In my previous letters to the Kaieteur News and SN, I stated some fundamental reasons, based mainly on neglect, marginalisation and mal-distributive justice, as reasons why Berbice should become an independent nation state.
In this letter, I would like to make a moral justification for Berbice secession based primarily on political philosophical thought or theory.
The meaning of secession varies as widely as the numbers of ongoing secession movements in the world.
Nevertheless, secession, according to political thought, is the formal withdrawal from an association, in this case Berbice from the centralized, defunct administration of Guyana, by a group or territory discontented or unhappy with current status and treatment from that nation-state.
The ultimate aim of the seceding territory or the secessionists is to end artificial centralization and integration, become a master of their destiny, pull their own political strings, and dictate their own economic and social future course with the hope to achieve sovereignty.
Put differently, secession seeks to break hegemonic, compulsory bonds between the secessionists and a government which they no longer accept.
Actually, a better definition of secession is what it is not. Secession does not seek to overthrow or change the state, but seeks to limit the state’s control over the seceding territory. It is not a civil war, nor does it represent a revolution.
Secession does not seek to engage in a sustained battle with the state, but seeks to free itself from the unjust stranglehold of the state.
Secession is not an act of punishment, for those who seek secession are simply expressing their desire to govern themselves.
Furthermore, secession does not seek to transform the political and social order of the state, although secession may inadvertently lead to some changes.
For instance, should Berbice become an independent state, the PPP will lose its power base of support, and ultimately lose power. Or both political parties, the PPP and PNCR, may dissolve.
These views, however, are conjectural. What is more certain is that nearly all secession movements conceive that their territory – Berbice is no different — and people are exploited by others.
Equally certain is that secession would leave the nation-state (Guyana) in a reduced form.
This is not a bad thing, since states sometimes are too large to control and manage efficiently and effectively.
Actually, this is precisely what leads to discontent among ethnic groups and regions.
Look at China and India, for example. Conversely, no territory is too small to secede. Berbice is as large in land mass and population as many independent nation-states in the Caribbean.
Secession can proceed under two conditions or grounds. The first is unilateral secession, which occurs without the consent of the state and without constitutional sanctions.
The second is consensual secession, which occurs with negotiations with the state, like what has happened between Canada and Quebec and between St. Kitts and Nevis.
Berbice favours consensual session. In many respects, this movement is protected and promoted by law, because the right to secede is enshrined in states’ constitutions.
However, only a few countries allow or recognise this constitutional right. Guyana is not one of them. Realistically speaking, a majority of secessions, then, occur according to the unilateral theory, which is argued on the principles of morality and rights.
The theories on the right to secede are divided into two broad types. The first is called the Remedial Right Only (sometimes called Just Cause Theories or Choice Theories), that is, if a group or territory has enough evidence to prove violation of rights such as human rights, persistent violations of agreements and promises, etc, as well as failed attempts to resolve grievances, historical and contemporary, then unilateral secession is seen as a moral justification.
Again, this has happened in recent history, such as the secession of Baltic States from the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
The second theory of the right to secede is called the Primary Right, that is, a group or territory has a right to secede unilaterally even if it is not subjected to any forms of discrimination and injustice.
This is rather interesting, for it challenges the fundamental security of the state and a state may be confused as to why certain groups or territory may want to secede when the state believes that it has practiced distributive justice.
The Primary Right theory is a little more complicated, because it is sub-divided into two other theories: ascriptivist and plebiscitary.
In layman terms, the former speaks to the rights of “distinct people,” like Native Americans who experience a status somewhat similar to sovereignty, while the latter embraces the moral right to secede if the majority in the state chooses to do so, regardless of common characteristics like language, culture, religion, etc.
From all indications, most constitutions in the modern nation-state world system — Guyana included — follow a sort of western form of jurisprudence dating back to the French and American Revolutions.
This was extended to the so-called Third World, or colonies, through European colonialism. When the main thrust of colonialism was dismantled in the Third World in the 1960s, many independent-minded leaders opted for this same constitution with some modifications.
Other newly independent nations flirted with Marxist-Leninist views of governance and justice, modelled mainly on socialist ideology.
The main principles of the modern nation-state can be found in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), whereby citizens are in a social contract with the government, and that membership means following the rules and regulations of government.
There is an implied agreement that the people give up some rights to the government in order to receive or preserve social order. The state is mono-national and does not tolerate any challenge to the constitution.
The line of reasoning for this position is that without cooperation there can be no long-term peace, stability, protection, growth and stability.
The likelihood to acknowledge the right to secede is highly problematic, because the state sees that as a violation of the social contract.
By contrast, Johannes Althusius and others have argued against the state control over the governed, and that the governed should have the democratic right to self-determination. From this perspective, there is a fundamental flaw with regard to rights in the modern democratic state.
The constitutional principals are not only archaic and static, but the governed are placed in a quagmire. If the governed consented to be ruled democratically by a particular administration, don’t they have the equal right to self-determination, or the fundamental right to terminate their social contract with the state when their trust is violated?
Within this context, I argue that Berbice should have the right to self-determination because, paradoxically, contractualism favours the right to secede in Berbice in order to decrease disproportionate burdens and to dictate their own future. Let me stop here, and I shall continue on international law and the right to secede.
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