“Perhaps the greatest danger for Guyana is that the present domestic political turmoil escalates to decimate what remains of goodwill between ethnic groups, and their faith in whatever government emerges from the present crisis, to fairly and effectively use the new oil wealth to advance national development.” – Evan Ellis
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Could a major crisis be upon Guyana soon?
Citizens are eagerly awaiting word on whether General and Regional Elections may be held in less than three months; there is deep political divide; the country is unprepared for oil production in 2020 and Venezuela is flexing its muscles from time to time as it continues to claim a huge portion of Guyana’s territory.
These are all major issues. However, Evan Ellis believes that the monster that may bring most harm to Guyana is its own racial division.
Evan Ellis is a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. He is a Latin America research professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.
Ellis recently zeroed in on the state of Guyana following Charrandass Persaud’s vote in the National Assembly.
In his piece published on CSIS website tilted, “Guyana at Risk: Ethnic Politics, Oil, Venezuelan Opportunism and Why It Should Matter to Washington”, Ellis spoke extensively about the documented series of events following the no-confidence vote.
He covered the challenges being faced by the government, the Opposition and the impact of this to a country that is gearing for an “oil bonanza”.
Ellis said that on December 22, which is one day after the no-confidence vote, the Venezuelan Navy approached and threatened to board a Bahamian-flagged Norwegian seismographic ship, the Ramform Tethys, operating in support of Exxon-led petroleum operations within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This forced the company to temporarily suspend its technical measurement activities in the area.
Ellis said that the “violation of Guyanese sovereignty, which was quickly condemned by the Caribbean Community ( CARICOM ), Great Britain, and the United States, is a reminder of Venezuela’s continuing claims to the Essequibo region (two-thirds of Guyana’s territory), even as thousands of Venezuelan refugees enter the area , driven by the economic collapse of their own country.”
Nevertheless, Ellis’ suggests that, “Perhaps the greatest danger for Guyana is that the present domestic political turmoil escalates to decimate what remains of goodwill between ethnic groups, and their faith in whatever government emerges from the present crisis, to fairly and effectively use the new oil wealth to advance national development.”
Earlier in his article, Ellis noted that even before Guyana’s independence in 1966, Guyanese politics was shaped by the rivalry between citizens of Indian and African descent.
Ellis said that founding father Cheddi Jagan sought to build a pan-national movement, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), including Forbes Burnham and other key figures of Afro-Guyanese descent. The Professor said that a series of political disputes ultimately led Burnham to leave the PPP and found the People’s National Congress (PNC), with mostly Afro-Guyanese membership, with the remainder of the PPP coming to be seen as principally an Indo-Guyanese party.
“Afro-Guyanese may be convinced that the government of their champion, (David) Granger, was brought down through Indo-Guyanese treachery, and convinced that the democratic system will not protect their interests. The result would likely be an escalation of inter-group violence, government paralysis, and expanded criminality and corruption.”
Ellis said that leveraging the greater size of the Indo-Guyanese population relative to the Afro-Guyanese supporters of the PNC, (40 percent Indo-Guyanese versus 29 percent Afro-Guyanese according to the 2012 census), the PPP, under Bharat Jagdeo, held onto power without interruption from 1992 through 2015.
“During this time, the Indo-Guyanese came to have a particularly strong presence in the Guyanese bureaucracy, complementing their longstanding dominance of the business community, while the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and police have been dominated by Afro-Guyanese since their inception,” said Ellis.
He continued, “As with ethnically polarized politics elsewhere, political control in Guyana, in the context of high levels of perceived corruption, has come to be associated by many in the country with the distribution of the national wealth. There are continuous perceptions of ethnic favoritism in decisions regarding government jobs and investment, social programs, and government contracts in the country.”
That was the prefix to Ellis’ conclusion later on in his article to the effect that the greatest danger facing Guyana is its own racism.
The Professor said that it is “Too easy to imagine a scenario in which the Indo-Guyanese majority returns a PPP government to power, leaving the Afro-Guyanese minority recalling prior corruption and perceived favoritism under the PPP.”
Ellis said that, “Afro-Guyanese may be convinced that the government of their champion, (David) Granger, was brought down through Indo-Guyanese treachery, and convinced that the democratic system will not protect their interests. The result would likely be an escalation of inter-group violence, government paralysis, and expanded criminality and corruption.”
The International Observer said that for the United States, such a course for Guyana would contribute to the “security concerns along the southern shores of the Caribbean basin, as drug production explodes to Guyana’s west in Colombia, Venezuela hosts Russian military deployments and basing agreements, and while criminal and terrorist groups operate with impunity on Venezuela’s territory. Meanwhile, to Guyana’s East, in Suriname, President Desi Bouterse’ s son languishes in a U.S. prison, having accepted money in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation, thinking he was helping the terrorist group Hezbollah move drugs and set up training camps on the nation’s territory.”
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