When slavery was abolished back in the early 1830s, the British in Guyana replaced African slave labor with indentured servants from India, offering them conditions that were better than those for the Africans, including land to plant vegetable gardens and build small homesteads, and even help in returning to India if they so desired.

In an effort to also drive Blacks back to plantation lands to work for free, the British deliberately flooded many of the areas where freed slaves had bought and occupied land, while sparing the Indians such trauma and agony.

That early effort to divide and rule, rights activists say, easily set the stage for simmering racial tensions that persist to this day. Now, opposition lawmakers and activists, including the New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (GCID), point to a slew of recent, racially tinged political events in the Caribbean Community’s largest and most resource-rich nation that are once again laying the groundwork for clashes between the country’s two ethnic groups. 

The Indo-led government doesn’t seem to care, opposition lawmakers say. More than 150 people were killed in race riots in the 1960s, leading to the destruction by fire of large parts of commercial Georgetown and the migration of thousands to England and North America.

For example, tensions in the country flared last weekend when the government ordered the pre-dawn demolition of the office of the main opposition and Afro-supported People’s National Congress (PNC) in a southwestern region near the border with Brazil. 

PNC leaders say authorities even used illegal Venezuelan migrants to assist in the demolition of its office, just weeks after the government bulldozed homes belonging to mainly Afro Guyanese PNC supporters in an area just south of the capital, Georgetown. Then, police fired tear gas to disperse protesting residents and also used bulldozers to bury pigs and other commercial domestic animals alive in open pits. Homes of other Black people in Linden town, about 65 miles from the city, were also demolished.

So upset was the opposition Working People’s Alliance (WPA) that the party, in a public statement, made little secret of its belief that there is a 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, represent[s] 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.” 

Meanwhile, opposition leader Aubrey Norton said he has started a campaign to alert the international community about the situation in Guyana. He met and briefed Bahamian Prime Minister Phillip Davis in Nassau last weekend. Davis is also chair of the 15-nation Caricom bloc.

“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,” Norton said.

For its part, government said it is pursuing a One Guyana policy that covers all six racial groups, denying that its policies are racist.

“This government is going to work in every single community,” President Irfaan Ali said recently, repeating, as he did during an engagement in Mocha-Arcadia in September, that no political party controls any community. Ali said those obstructing the work of the government 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.”

Although Ali denies his government is racist, it surprisingly cut off budget funding last year to the International Decade for People of African Descent gathering in Guyana, saying it had poor accounting systems even though the organization has repeatedly proven otherwise publicly. The organization was set up in response to the United Nations-designated decades for people of African descent.

The Ali administration just announced plans to give grant aid payouts worth $112 million to 242 indigenous Indian communities from money given by the Hess Corporation (oil) for purchasing carbon credits to help the country maintain its stock of forest cover.

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  1. The US and the rest of the western world don’t give a darn about what’s happening to black people in Guyana. That includes the liberals in the US. The same ambassador under Trump who helped install the racist PPP government is still the ambassador. All you get is lip service from a few black liberals but nothing is being done. CARICOM which represents African-dominated nations is mum as usual and indicative of black disunity (mum on Haiti too which is a member state). Each of their leaders is probably waiting for some handouts from the PPP (ask Gonsalves and Mottley). As long as there is no disruption to the oil flow, black people in Guyana shouldn’t expect any international pressure on the government. They are on their own. I do have a bad feeling however that there will be a tipping point and everyone will suffer…Rwanda style.

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