With general elections expected in months and with racial politics always at the top of life in Guyana, authorities moved with alacrity this week to defend the integrity of hundreds of Haitian nationals transiting the country to French Guiana and Brazil saying racist attacks against the Haitians from the opposition and other quarters are unwarranted.
The furor over planeloads of Haitians arriving in Guyana boiled over in the past week when the Guyana Times, a newspaper linked to the Indo-dominated opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), warned that the Haitians with their alleged high prevalence for tuberculosis and AIDS will bring serious health problems to Guyana by their mere presence. The PPP said it had also feared that the Haitians will be used to pad the voters list in elections expected by year end, charges officials vehemently deny.
Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix rushed to place the issue in context, contending that most of the nearly 8, 500 Haitians who have flown to fellow Caribbean Community nation, Guyana, this year are merely transiting the country to other destinations including French Guiana and Brazil rather than settling in the country. In doing so, they both arrive legally, are allowed as CARICOM nations to stay up to six months without any special immigration documents and are free to leave the country within that time.
He said there were no proven cases of organized human trafficking or plans to pad the voters list as the PPP alleges, noting that most leave for French Guyana, Brazil and other destinations, abandoning the return portion of the tickets in the process.
But the real center of issue has to do with race. The Indo-supported PPP fears that the Afro-led governing coalition is deliberately bringing large numbers of Black Haitians to rebalance the population even though it is widely known that most do not remain in the country. Indians are about 36 percent of the population, while Blacks are listed at about 33. Mixed raced Guyanese comprising of mixes mostly with Blacks, account for another 20 plus percent so numbers are important in local electoral politics where people vote mostly along racial lines.
Felix and other coalition officials say it is ironical that no one, the PPP in particular, is complaining about the fact that more than 40,000 mostly suitcase-trading, light-skinned Cubans have come to Guyana so far this year. The same is true for the 41,000 Americans as well as for the nearly 12,000 Trinidadians of all races who come to Guyana. They only have a problem with the Haitians. He said the reaction to them was xenophobic.
“They are just passing through and yet they are attracting all the negative thoughts and actions of people who are seeking power. Everyone is making noise about the Haitians who simply use Guyana as a point of transit to get to their diaspora in Columbia, Cayenne or Panama. This position resembles xenophobia and is even practiced by certain people seeking power,” he said.
For its part, Opposition Leader and former president Bharrat Jagdeo said his party “is primarily worried that these foreign nationals are being issued with Guyanese documents, which would allow them to be registered as eligible Guyanese voters in the ongoing registration. The plan afoot seems to be one that envisages the padding of the voters’ list with fictitious persons,” said this week.
Since Felix spoke to state media at the start of the week, some of the very vicious attacks against the Haitians have died down. Many Guyanese say they are yet to encounter Haitians on the streets as they do of Cubans, Venezuelans and Brazilians for example, all coming in increasing numbers in recent years.
Guyana is set to become an oil producer before the end of the year and foreign nationals are lining up to cash in on this new sector that is expected to make the country one of the richest in the hemisphere.