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Former Guyana president under pressure to disprove racism

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 1/31/2013, 1:01 p.m.

Interesting testimony is beginning to emerge from an ongoing libel suit trial brought against a former University of Guyana professor and newspaper columnist by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in which Jagdeo is being asked to disprove widespread allegations of systematic racism against Blacks during his 11 years as head of state of the Caribbean trade bloc nation.

Angry after being called an "ideological racist" by columnist Freddie Kissoon, Jagdeo, now 50, rushed to the courts confident that a libel suit would not only shut Kissoon up for a long period of time, but also the huge sum he would have to pay would wipe Kissoon out financially.

But from the evidence so far, Kissoon, who is incidentally a born but not practicing Hindu like Jagdeo and is of similar Indo-Caribbean descent, appears to be getting ready to unload tons of damning evidence that might prove his allegations of deep-seated racism against Afro-Guyanese by Jagdeo's governing People's Progressive Party (PPP).

On the witness stand before Justice Brassington Reynolds, Kissoon, 62, has systematically produced evidence showing clear cases where Blacks were bypassed for promotion over Indians or were dismissed unfairly; Indians involved in criminal activities like fraud and conspiracy were not charged; and, in one instance, 16 Black managers in the state sugar industry were either dismissed or forced out and replaced by Indo-Guyanese.

Jagdeo has said that he will not take the stand in his own defense, making it harder for him to explain to the nation, Afros especially, why he was the first and only head of state to withdraw annual funding from the historically Black Critchlow Labor College, forcing it almost to closure and destitution. His successor and close friend Donald Ramotar, another Hindu, has not reinstated the subvention to this day while other colleges get grant funding from the state.

Kissoon also pointed to the fact that the top 22 positions at the state-run Georgetown Hospital are all held by Indo-Guyanese, while pointing to Afros in senior positions of state who were never substantively appointed to positions and retired earning smaller monthly pension payments because of this.

He detailed research at most state departments, noting that "Indian dominance" is everywhere and that Blacks are left to fend for themselves despite being taxpayers like all other groups. Pointing to the local university council, which dismissed him a year ago, Kissoon said all state-appointed members are of Indian descent and made his case for a pattern of Indian preference in all spheres of life. Until recently, not a single Black Guyanese had served as an ambassador for Guyana overseas. A few were appointed after a national outcry.

Kissoon is scheduled to return to the witness stand on Monday. The libel suit has been ongoing since late 2011. The journalist is involved in several other libel cases brought against him by government officials, all designed to destroy him.

Race has been the bugbear of national life in Guyana for decades, but tension is rising at the moment with constant media reports of Indians involved in widespread corruption with impunity, given preference for contracts and all the high-paying jobs and overseas travel and support by the government and particular judges. Guyanese also vote strictly along racial lines.