As Guyana prepares for the coming Oil and Gas dispensation, there is not unexpectedly, a lot of debate over what direction the government should take. We have heard from experts, at least one political party, the private sector organizations, political commentators and every now and then, a word or two from government spokespersons. What is glaringly absent is a clear and coherent vision from the government or for that matter from any other quarter. We have had quarrels over the signing bonus, the contract, environmental protection and most recently engagement with our sister-CARICOM country, Trinidad and Tobago.
The mutterings, which could get louder and louder in the coming months, over the pact with Trinidad disappoints me. I have always argued to my Caribbean colleagues and friends that Guyana is perhaps the least insular Caribbean country. After all, we flock to other CARICOM countries, often to for economic reasons. But more than that, there is something about the Guyanese outlook that more readily accommodates the Caribbean spirit than others. Perhaps it’s because we are not physically an island—some observers have opined that there is a level of insularity that comes with islandness. Or perhaps because our internal ethnic problems are so acute, we tend to look more outward than inward.
Whatever it is, I think there is consensus that Guyanese are generally less insular than our sisters and brothers in the wider Caribbean. Remember that there was no problem hosting the CARICOM secretariat here or hosting the first CARIFESTA. Remember, there was no fight here whether we should join the CCJ or champion the CSME. This is not to say that we have been spotless when it came to regional integration. The Jagan-led PPP took us out of the 1958-62 Federation and the later post-1992 PPP flirted with an Indian-led Trinidad-Guyana-Surname sub-regionalism perhaps as a substitute for CARICOM. In some instances, we have been unkind to others who come here such as the Haitians.
But I insist, we have been less insular even when others, such as the Barbadians and some Eastern Caribbean countries, have treated us terribly –almost scornfully. I have seen the famous bench at the Grantley Adams airport. I have heard our sister and brother Caribbeans speak disdainfully about “them Guyanese.” But through it all I have not witnessed a similar response from Guyanese. Yes, I have heard some worry about the Cubans and Brazilians and now the Venezuelans. You see, our Caribbean sisters know that economically they have been better-off than us. The sense of economic advantage brings with it an accompanying sense of insularity, superiority and protectionism.
But now oil and gas are coming to Guyana. It is beginning to sink in, at least among the elites in Guyana. Expectedly, the struggle for control of the pie begins in earnest. Even before Dr. Keith Rowley came, the private sector begins to complain. Letters began to appear in the papers reminding us of all the ills Trinidad has perpetrated against us. If this narrative is allowed to continue unchallenged, it would inevitably take root among the wider population.
The table seems to be turning economically. Barbados has gone to the IMF. Trinidad is in better shape, but there is some economic stress there too. But oil wealth is coming to Guyana. So, what the Trinis and Bajans and Antiguans did to us, we would be tempted to now do to them. This is my reading of the ant-Trinidad missives in the press. Historical memory is often liberating for victims, but it can also be used as a platform for revenge.
I make room for some insularity which I view as part of the logic of the nation-state. That logic drove Jamaica to break-up the Federation and instilled in Barbadians a false sense of exceptionalism. In both instances the myth of economic development was a motivating factor. Trinidad also had its moments of hyper-insularity. Only a few years ago, Prime Minister Kamla Bissessar remarked that Trinidad was not the ATM of the Caribbean. I say, “myth of economic development” because the Jamaica and Barbados examples and the first Trinidad oil-boom teach us that in these post-plantation, ex-colonial outposts, economic boom is transitory.
I am a Caribbeanist—unrepentantly so. For me, Guyana’s cultural soul is wrapped up in the Caribbean civilization. In that regard I ask Guyanese not to heed the creeping insularity being encouraged. This is not about turning the other cheek, it is about enlightenment. Do not allow oil and gas to turn us into agents of insularity. As The calypsonian-poet, David Rudder, reminds us in lyrics and song:
In these tiny theatres of conflict and confusion
Better known as the isles of the West Indies
We already know who brought us here
And who created this confusion
So, I’m begging, begging my people please
Rally round the West Indies
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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