Oct 19, 2020 Letters
The diaspora has a huge reservoir of talent and financial and technical resources including in oil and gas, which are sorely lacking in Guyana. The government should tap into the diaspora. This should be done through a formal institutionalized approach with linkage via a diaspora center with diverse Guyanese diaspora spread out in several countries. There could be a formal diaspora department out of the office of the President or Ministry of Foreign Affairs or a separate ministry to engage the diaspora that is much larger than the population of Guyana itself. Many countries have such formal linkages (center or department). I worked with groups that helped to establish such formal linkages for India with her large diaspora of 32 millions. And I helped with the establishment of diaspora centers in several countries. The resources and wealth of the diaspora, just in America alone, is significantly higher than the annual budget of Guyana and can contribute enormous capital and technology for the rapid development of Guyana whether in housing, infrastructure, telecom, power generation, gas and oil industries, etc.
The terms Guyanese diaspora and Indian diaspora were introduced in the 1980s by a few of us (like Ravi Dev, Baytoram, Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, among others) in New York who were deeply involved in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana. We worked closely with groups from India to open political doors in Washington that put pressure on the Burnham/Hoyte dictatorship to restore democratic governance in Guyana. It would be ungrateful not to recognize the significant contributions of Indian nationals in making it possible for Guyanese freedom fighters, including Dr. Jagan, to meet officials of the Reagan/Bush administrations, Members of Congress, the Carter Center, academics and influential figures like Arthur Schlesinger, in that long struggle for the restoration of democracy in the homeland. In NY, a small group of us planned and implemented conferences pertaining to Guyanese in America and on Guyana and on overseas Indians and in so doing birthed the terms Guyanese and Indian diasporas that would become institutionalized in India and Guyana and among overseas individuals who trace their ancestry to those countries.
The group of us also proposed establishment of Guyanese diaspora centers in countries like the US, Canada, UK, Suriname, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Antigua, St, Martin, etc. where there were/are large numbers of Guyanese because of the enormous amount of resources that would redound from the formal linkage between the diaspora and the homeland. But these calls were largely ignored except for a half-hearted attempt in 2012 by the Ramotar administration with no follow up. It is hoped that the President Irfaan Ali led administration would see the importance (like enormous flow of human and capital resources for development) of Diaspora centers. There should, at a minimum, be a government funded Diaspora Center in Guyana if not also branches in the major Guyanese population centers abroad for formal connectivity and engagement. Separately, there should also be a funded (but independent from government control) Center for Diaspora Studies in Guyana as a group of us proposed after the restoration of democracy in October 1992. There have been no takers by successive governments in Guyana. I am currently working with two Professors in preparing a proposal, now in final stages, for a Diaspora Center (that would also address issues pertaining to Guyanese) at the Benaras Hindu University in Varanasi. It would be up and running within weeks. Separately, I worked with peers to establish diaspora centers in Delhi and in Lucknow (capital of Uttar Pradesh state), India.
Since the 1990s, a few Guyanese, including myself, were connected with the establishment of Indian diaspora centers and organizations in several countries including Fiji, Mauritius, India, New York, Australia, and Trinidad. We organized diaspora conferences in all of them (last one in Fiji a year ago and several on zoom since the COVID outbreak) addressing issues relating to the diaspora, the ancestral homeland, and countries of residence.
In November 1992, at a meeting in Jamaica, Queens, hosted by Ray Sundar (at the time President of Indo-Caribbean Federation of Associations of North America) of Port Mourant at his real estate office, I floated the idea of a Guyanese diaspora center. I proposed the idea of an office or center to coordinate international aid for Guyana with Coordinator located in Guyana or NY. Sundar supported it and in fact collected a lot of material assistance for Guyana that was sent to schools and religious institutions for distribution. I approached Dr. Jagan with the idea. Although he endorsed it, he said the country could not afford to pay anyone or for an office. He suggested instead that I teach at UG and volunteer my time to head the international aid effort for Guyana. I politely declined his counter offer.
Since around 2004, Ashok Ramsaran of Whim, Deo Gosine of Trinidad, and myself have closely engaged the Indian government on diaspora affairs especially relating to Guyana and the Caribbean. Ramsaran and I communicated with and exchanged ideas almost daily on diaspora matters (of India, Guyana and Trinidad). We issued several reports on the diaspora to the Indian government that appreciated our efforts. The Indian government implemented several of our ideas. In fact, Ramsaran and I were invited to India for formal discussions with government people. A lot of resources poured into India as a result of our engagements and also to Guyana and the Caribbean as a result of our requests to government of India to increase aid. Ramsaran was subsequently approached by groups in El Salvador to assist in that country’s engagement with the Salvador diaspora in America.
A formal diaspora center (linkage) would bring Guyanese together to better relate with one another, celebrate festivals, promote culture, address common concerns, coordinate diaspora public activities, and provide support services. It would be the eye, ear and voice of the community and promote Guyana to tourists and investors. It would be the advocate for the homeland in Washington and other political capitals lobbying for our interests. It would seek assistance from abroad to protect and strengthen democracy. It would be an asset for the development of the homeland.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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