In the midst of the publicity about the arrival of East Indians, the media and the scholarly community forgot that the Portuguese came to Guyana in May too, two days before the Indians came. It was an article by Portuguese historian, Catholic nun, Sister Mary Noel Menezes that reminded this writer.
Unfortunately the majority of Guyanese Portuguese citizens have migrated. The outflow started after the PPP came to power in the early fifties and slowed down after the British suspended the Government.
The Portuguese began to leave again after Jagan won the 1957 elections. But the climax came after the politics of Peter D’Aguiar came to an end. From 1968 onwards, the Portuguese took frenetic flight out of Guyana. The exodus virtually re-shaped the demographic landscape of Guyana.
Not much academic attention has been paid to the politics of the Portuguese community in Guyana but just days before the date of their arrival anniversary, The Guyana Review carried a lengthy judgement of their party, the United Force.
The story of the United Force cries out for revisionist interpretation.
The Guyana Review article eschews the revisionist path and ended up offering an analysis that conforms with the traditional approach, that it United Force was a conservative party that catered only for the business class.
There can be no question that the United Force and its leadership were the instruments of capitalist advocacy but how far can the conservative label be applied to them is open to debate. Conservatism as an ideology and conservatism in practice vary from country to country.
Was the United Force a conservative party in the sixties? It depends on your perspective. Peter D’Aguiar, it was true to say, was not interested in forming a broad-based working class party. His motive was to cater for the business constituencies.
Here is where class loyalty and class betrayal should be given some consideration. While D’Aguiar showed no interest in reaching out to the working class, he also didn’t attempt to use them for narrow political purposes.
In this sense, the United Force was a more principled organization that the other two big groups, the PPP and PNC.
Both the PPP and the PNC were large working class movements. But how loyal were the leadership of these two Leviathans to the bulk of their supporters after they came to power? The United Force could have competed on a large scale with the PPP and the PNC.
In the fifties and sixties the mercantile class controlled commerce in Guyana and the numbers of their employees were large indeed taking in thousands of working class Africans and Indians. If the United Force wanted to use them as a wedge between the PPP and PNC, the UF leaders could have either by coercion or persuasion brought them into the fold of the party.
Leaving out the possibility of compulsion, it is quite possible that large numbers of commercial employee would have joined the UF because in those days though the Portuguese were shamelessly elitist they treated their workers well.
One of the unfair things the historian has done to the United Force and its leader, Peter D’Aguiar is that these scholars tend to be sympathetic to Jagan arguing that his communism was logical and understandable in the strong anti-colonial zeitgeist of the fifties and sixties.
But quite dishonestly, they do not apply that same empathy to the United Force. Just as how we are urged to put one’s self in Jagan’s mind, we ought to do that for the leaders of the United Force.
Guyana at that time was a thriving free market economy and an integral part of the Westernized Anglo-phone Caribbean. Communism was seen in those days as an obscurantist, cultist dogma that was antithetical with freedom and religion.
Jagan appeared in the eyes of the business community to be a wildly indoctrinated man who knew nothing about politics and the Caribbean but was helplessly under the hypnotic influence of the Cubans and Soviets. In a sea of tranquility that the Caribbean was why was D’Aguiar unreasonable in wanting to prevent the rise of communism?
My point is that if we must situate Jagan’s fanatical communism in the context of what was taking place then, then we have to do the same for D’Aguiar fanatical anti- communism.
In many ways, D’Aguiar and the mercantile class knew about the leopard’s spots of the PPP that the average Guyanese could see. They knew about the true nature of Janet Jagan.
When we did realize it after 1992, it was too late.
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