By Ralph Seeram
The letters has been going back and forth in the letter columns debating which ethnic groups suffered during the food shortages in the 70s and 80s during the PNC reign. Some are arguing that the Indo Guyanese were mainly targeted in the ban of imported food items.
My question is why are we arguing over food shortages of some 30 years ago? Why are we taking the debate backwards? It was over 30 years ago and the PNC has been out of power for 19 years now. With elections due, shortly, the debate should focus what the future holds for the Guyanese people. I really don’t think they care much about that period of Guyanese history.
Of interest to note, the debate is coming mainly from those of us sitting comfortably in the Diaspora who “cut and run” when the going got tough in the 70s and 80s, yours truly included.
I sometimes wonder why we in the Diaspora feel the need to tell those in Guyana our version of history as it relates to that period. It is clear that some of the opinions are not objective, but geared to influence voters in the coming elections.
The basic argument was that the ban on certain food items targeted the Indo Guyanese. In other words, it was race based. I don’t buy that argument. Further, that type of argument is not healthy in today’s environment, in terms of bridging the racial divide. We do not need arguments that exacerbate racial animosity.
Those who propound this view about the Indo Guyanese most affected probably never worked or owned a grocery store. If they did they would know that the ban affected ALL GUYANESE, well there might be a little exception, if you were well connected or lived in Berbice.
Earlier in my working years I worked as a “carrier boy”. For the young, that was someone who rode a carrier bike delivering groceries to the homes of customers of that particular grocery store.
That experience was later parlayed into a family owned grocery. My parents owned that grocery store until they migrated. Where am I going with this, and what this has to do with the topic at hand?
Well the point I want to make is I knew the buying habits of Guyanese of all races. I knew their shopping list. The typical list of customers of all races, starts like this– flour, sugar, cooking oil, salt, evaporated or condensed milk, kerosene, split peas, baking powder, curry powder, then the list moves on to canned items like sardines etc. That’s how it is for ALL races. A noticeable difference would be that Afro Guyanese would purchase salted beef and pork, mainly pig tails, which Indo Guyanese will not purchase due mainly to religious reasons.
The point is the ban on food item affected EVERYONE, all races; there were no distinction and if you think only Indo Guyanese purchased yellow split peas and flour you probably were born and grew up in Port Mourant (where incidentally I lived for three years).
As I recall it, when I looked at the long lines at the government-owned stores and outlet, waiting hours for a pint of cooking oil, the people were not exclusively Indo Guyanese in those lines. There were Guyanese irrespective of race. To be honest those banned items were readily available on the “black market”.
Now at this point I can only speak from a Berbice perspective. If you lived in Berbice during that period you could have purchased EVERYTHING, for a price of course, and some risk.
The contraband business was booming (as it still is today) and quite a few people in Crabwood Creek became rich overnight. In order to move the large quantities of contraband good, consisting mainly of flour, split peas, sardines, potatoes and onions, there were big players in the game, from senior police officers, elements in the army and well known businessmen.
They moved the goods from the Corentyne to Georgetown, and other parts of the country. True, a few people were arrested for possession of banned stuff, but these were mainly the small sellers, not the “big boys”. Even Adam and I had a close encounter.
Let me share a little story here. A vendor was charged for possession of a quantity of sardines, maybe over a hundred cans. He appeared at Springlands Magistrate court before Magistrate Arthur Roberts, now deceased. The court exhibits (the sardines) which were in custody of the police, had to be brought to court every time the matter came up.
On each court appearances the evidence (sardines) shrank, the quantities became less and less. The defence lawyer the late Rupert Trim (one day I will write an article on Rupert alone, a most colour full character} in open court requested that he get his share of the sardines immediately, as there will be none left when the case goes to trial.
This was the situation in many other cases, the evidence keeps disappearing before the trial.
So enough of this nonsensical “food fight” move the debate to the present and the future, pose some serious questions to presidential candidates for the coming elections, and please don’t ask them which race suffered most when food items were banned.
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: [email protected]
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