NOT unexpectedly, the PPP used the recent 25th anniversary of the 1992 return of free and open elections to Guyana to try to con the nation about what transpired during its long 23-year reign. As I have opined before, the PPP’s constant reinterpretation of our recent history is given extra currency, partly because of the weak or non-existent narrative of the coalition parties which all seem to be intoxicated by power.
They evidently believe that the magic of being in office is enough to see them through. Many of us know of the folly of that belief, but as they say, “that’s why you all are not in government.” As hard as it is for me to say, these parties could, in the final analysis, pay very dearly for this dereliction of duty.
But today, I want to deal with the PPP, which I continue to believe presided over the worst government in post-colonial Guyana and the Anglophone Caribbean. Some PPP leaders and commentators have, in the past, answered this charge by listing the many projects the party initiated while in government.
I am never swayed by that chat, whether it comes from the PPP or the PNC, because those projects often mask the real intent and outcomes of governance. Let’s not ever forget that Germany under Hitler, the USA in the era of slavery and segregation, South Africa under apartheid and Europe as colonial masters, all “developed” during those periods of human depravity.
The PPP likes to cite the PNC’s authoritarianism and electoral malpractice and to berate persons like myself whenever we fail to mention that fact. For them, there was nothing redemptive during that period of our country’s history. While I have absolutely no problem with acknowledging the negative impact of that period on our country’s profile—after all, I spent part of my youth actively opposing it—I will not allow the PPP to use it to cover their own equally and, in some respects, worse behaviour when they held office.
Here are some truths that the PPP would never acknowledge. When the PNC went on the rampage, a critical mass of African- Guyanese leaders and followers actively resisted the African-based PNC government. From Linden, to Georgetown, to Buxton and the East Coast Demerara villages to New Amsterdam to the West Coast Demerara villages, African-Guyanese at the urging of some African-Guyanese leaders and on their own, put their bodies, their livelihoods and their lives on the line to “manners” the government and ultimately bring it down.
NOT THE ONLY ONE
Walter Rodney was not the only African- Guyanese leader to confront and fight the PNC; many did so before he returned to Guyana in 1974, and after he was assassinated in 1980. Most of us are still alive to tell the story of that time.
When some misinformed non-PPP commentators repeat the nonsense that Rodney founded the WPA and that the WPA died when Rodney died, they do not realise that they are feeding the PPP’s narrative that it is the PPP and the PPP alone that fought for the defeat of the PNC’s authoritarianism and for the return of electoral democracy. That narrative has ethno-racial implications, for it writes the African-Guyanese masses out of that period of our history.
I am boldly arguing that when our country descended into the pits of the PNC’s dictatorship, it was the WPA from 1974-1992 that led the fight against the regime. If one were to judge by the bold and radical forms of struggle by that party and its ability to mobilise public resistance across ethnic and social-class lines and by the sheer extreme weight and intensity of the regime’s response, there can be no doubt about my argument and conclusion. It is not that the PPP didn’t contribute to the struggle of that time, but its resistance was muted and compromised by ideological and tactical considerations aimed at the party’s survival, rather than bringing down the government.
So, the PPP has no sole ownership of the 1992 moment, for that moment is also written in the blood and sacrifices of many non-PPP actors. It is fair to say that given the ethno-racial nature of elections in Guyana, the PPP became benefactors of the long struggle of others who bore the brunt of the PNC’s wrath. I even make bold to say that the PPP engineered a virtual coup in 1992 when, because of its electoral victory, which had little to do with its struggle against the dictatorship, it monopolised all the political power-space that the WPA and others fought to create.
And that very act has had serious implications for the PPP during its tenure. What the PPP did was to take the very institutions of the dictatorial regime and used them to further its twin objective of ethnic dominance and party hegemony. When the PPP came to power in 1992 it did not change a single pillar of the dictatorial regime it had replaced. It is for that reason that its claim of freeing Guyana from the clutches of dictatorship is not grounded in reality.
Here were politicians of the old school, like the Jagans, who were so preoccupied with settling scores with the PNC that they could not see how they were setting the stage for a reproduction of the same old regime that thy so hated. The Jagans never introduced into the PPP government any transformative element—they kept the same constitution, the same coercive apparatus and they practised the same politics of domination and exclusion of the other. In effect, they replaced PNC paramountcy with PPP and Indian-Guyanese hegemony.
By the time Dr. Jagan died and Mrs. Jagan handed the leadership of the party and government to a group of PPP leaders, led by Jagdeo, who had not struggled for anything, had no proper political upbringing and so had no ideological fidelity to transformative politics, the stage was set for the PPP to take the old dictatorial order to a new and dangerous level.
This group, who activated the politics of revenge and dominance, was aided and abetted by PPP stalwarts who were so smitten by the doctrine of PPP’s manifest destiny. The Jagdeo group pushed our country to places the PNC did not and could not go, because of the resistance it faced in its time.
The Jagdeo group carried political and physical blows to African-Guyanese that pushed elements in the latter to desperation. Some left, some surrendered, some accommodated the PPP and a small group picked up arms. The PPP then used the latter as the excuse to physically eliminate hundreds of African-Guyanese young men.
Whether these men were criminals, freedom fighters or hustlers is beside the point. What is important is that their murders by the State was politically driven—their demise was meant to quell dissent among African- Guyanese and send political messages to the leadership that the PPP meant business. Those 400 and more men were used in the same way the plantation owners used to display the bodies of rebels against slavery in public places as a warning to other rebels of what awaits them. For all Mr. Jagdeo’s protestations about his party’s innocence regarding the murder of those 400 men, he knows that they are the PPP’s trophies.
The Jagdeo group was intent on proving to its supporters that it could govern Guyana, without fear, in the heart of the PNC’s support base. They had accomplished what Jagan could not do in the period 1957-64, when he said the PPP was in office but not in power. The Jagdeo group could now boast that the PPP was both in office and in power. That’s why many Indian-Guyanese gave thanks to Jagdeo and the Phantom groups. And that’s why Jagdeo remains popular among the PPP’s base. The outcome was the wilful marginalisation, demoralisation and assault on the collective dignity of African-Guyanese. That is why they wailed and wept in public when the PPP lost power two years ago.
In the economic sphere, the PPP also merged the state with economic phantom groups which disproportionately benefited from the economic projects the PPP likes to boast about. Nobody doubts that they initiated economic initiatives, but who benefited? Certainly not the country at large! These economic initiatives were used to transfer state resources to PPP members and supporters who were mainly of the Indian-Guyanese elite. If the PNC made the party paramount to the State, the PPP went much further—it merged the State with economic criminality, party hegemony and ethnic domination. The outcome was the empowerment of a mainly Indian-Guyanese, mega-rich elite and the concomitant dispossession of the rest of the society, in particular, the political-ethnic outgroup.
And what is most dangerous, it did so under the guise of democracy. The PNC, through its declarations, such as the Sophia Declaration, made clear that it favoured authoritarian governance. The PPP practised dictatorship while maintaining that it was democratic. So, Mr. Ramotar, the only glorious thing about PPP rule (1992-2015) is that it gloriously “screwed” Guyana. When I say I don’t want to see the PPP anywhere near to power on its own, it’s not because I hate that party—I just hate what it did to Guyana.
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.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org