Opposition says Guyana’s Indo-led government is starkly racist

President of Guyana Dr. Irfaan Ali.
President of Guyana Dr. Irfaan Ali.
Government of Guyana

Guyana’s opposition People’s National Congress (PNC) said it started a campaign to brief the international community on what it described as a deliberate and targeted campaign of racial discrimination against Guyanese of African descent at the hands of the incumbent but Indo-led administration of President Irfaan Ali.

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton recently returned home from briefing Bahamian Prime Minister and CARICOM Chairman Phillip Davis on a range of issues relating to racially-charged governance in Guyana. He said there was a clear pattern of rank, racial discrimination against Guyanese of African descent so he wanted to bring the international community up to speed with what was happening in CARICOM’S largest and most resource-rich nation.

“I have started that work with the international community focusing on clear racial discrimination in Guyana, the fact that Blacks are getting little or no state contracts, the blatant use of unnecessary force against our people and the misuse of the anti terrorism law to shut down and terrorize people among other issues,” said Norton.

He returned to the country just hours after the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in a pre-dawn exercise on Saturday had demolished the PNC’s main branch office in the southwestern town of Lethem near the border with Brazil. Government said it wants to build a health facility on the very same spot where the PNC’s office is even though the Rupununi District is by far Guyana’s largest and most sparsely populated administrative region. It said the party does not have title to a piece of land it has occupied for nearly 50 years, unimpeded by even a previous PPP government.

The latest developments come as racial tension is rising in the country linked to a series of recent political events that opposition activists and rights groups say are targeted at Afro Guyanese. Race riots in the 1960s had killed more than 150 people, led to the fire destruction of large parts of the capital and the migration of thousands to England and North America. Blacks account for about 34 percent of the population with Indians 38 percent.

For example, in early January, the government used bulldozers to demolish homes at an Afro enclave just south of the city. Police fired teargas at protesting residents and badly roughed up protesting villagers. The bulldozers smashed homes, dug open pits where live cattle and pigs were buried alive, to the horror of onlookers. Homes in an area in the Linden mining town about 65 miles south of the city were also demolished. In both cases, government said they were in the way of development projects and had to be moved. Opposition parties say Indians are treated way better.

Begging to disagree, the opposition Working People’s Alliance (WPA), party in a public statement made little secret of its belief that there was a clear and structured racial campaign against Blacks in Guyana.

“These actions are in stark contrast to the issuing of land titles to ‘squatters’ in communities deemed to be supportive of the government. The government cannot not know that the perception and reality of unequal treatment undermine its own stated mantra of One Guyana,” the party said.

“Further, the option of forced removal of mainly people of African descent, whether it is in Linden, Mocha Arcadia or Georgetown where the stalls of vendors were recently demolished against their will, represents acts of brutality and terror that have no place in modern society. The events in Mocha Arcadia, therefore, open the government to charges of racial profiling and racial discrimination in the process of governance,” the party added.

Just recently, the government announced that just over 240 Indigenous Indian communities will get around $112 million in grant aid from money garnered from a carbon credits purchase by Hess Corporation (oil) worth around $750 million. In contrast, the administration last year cut off budget funding to the International Decade for People of African Descent grouping in Guyana saying it had poor accounting systems though the organization has repeatedly proven otherwise publicly.

The organization was established in response to the United Nations-designated decades for people of African descent. Norton pointed to the fact that very few Afro Guyanese are being given state contracts while the overwhelming majority are handed to Indo contractors and government supporters.

For its part, government says it is pursuing a One Guyana policy that covers all six race groups, denying stoutly that its policies are racist.“This government is going to work in every single community,” President Irfaan Ali said recently, contending that opposition activists have “used the propaganda of race and the propaganda of division so intensely in their political work that the sight of ministers of government working in every community and destroying that narrative is really hitting them hard.”