JG - Guyana, regionalism and the Caribbean
Guyana, regionalism and the Caribbean
published: Sunday October 26, 2008
Robert Buddan, Contributor
October marks the 55th anniversary of the coup d'etat by the British Government against the People's Progressive Party (PPP) government of Guyana, just six months after it won Guyana's first election under Universal Adult Suffrage.
Britain proceeded to suspend the constitution, remove the elected government and legislature and deploy troops in the country. It was a time when Guyana was isolated from the rest of the Caribbean because of lies and violence against the socialist PPP.
Many people who lament and bemoan the insufficient unity of CARICOM's members underestimate the different stresses and strains, traditions and trajectories that these countries have faced and been directed towards. Guyana has had its own trajectory with a different vision of the Caribbean's mission and place in history. The EPA is more than simply about negotiating an economic agreement. It is about negotiating our way through a history shaped by others, so that, we can create a future shaped by ourselves.
President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana said about the EPA process that he did not trust the Europeans. There is reason for this distrust. Guyana's history over the past 55 years has been as much shaped by British lies and violence as anything else.
The PPP won elections overwhelmingly in April 1953. The British were surprised thinking that pro-British, elitist parties would have won. They did notice growing support for the PPP, however, and began preparing their security forces earlier that same month for possible intervention. The PPP was a socialist, multiracial, anti-colonial party, not the kind the British liked. The pro-British Guyanese parties spread rumours that the PPP was a communist party and was subversive of the Government.
Three kinds of evidence expose this lie. First, Cheddi Jagan was not communist as his opponents swore he was. In June 1953, before his government was overthrown, Chief Minister Jagan spoke in the House of Assembly in front of the colonial officials, and the nation, and for the Americans to hear, saying, "The House is fully conscious of the roles which private capital is playing and will play in the development of British Guiana. We will take such steps as will encourage and attract private capital for the development of the country, and above all, will guarantee that the Government will honour and fulfil all its obligations and undertakings". Furthermore, his government was hoping for World Bank financing based on a visit by that organisation to Guyana towards preparing a plan for development.
Second, Jagan's Indian heritage, Marxist sympathies and friendship with India were not evidence that Guyana would join an alliance with India and become a pro-Soviet satellite as was the imaginings of the paranoid in Cold War London and Washington. Non-Indians made up the majority of those elected to the National Assembly in 1953 and those who made up the governor's executive.
Jagan's leanings towards India were in part due to his heritage but also in support of India's anti-colonialism and its stance against apartheid South Africa. But, he also championed anti-racist movements in Africa in places like Kenya and elsewhere. Jagan's party was a multi-racial party with Indo and Afro Guyanese, as well as Chinese and Portuguese, who were among his candidates.
In fact, the British were the ones who thought of how they could exploit Guyana's racial pluralism for their own purposes. They noted that violence against Britain might more likely come from the Indians, who were close followers of Jagan, but that the majority of the police were Africans who could more easily be mobilised against Indians.
Third, there was no plan by the PPP to raise violence against anyone. The British had identified forces under its control such as the Guyana police, its main battalion in Jamaica, the place it thought most incendiary, and a unit in British Honduras for this eventuality.
However, when its troops invaded Guyana on October 9, they found that the country was more consumed with a cricket match in progress between Guyana and Trinidad and everybody not watching and was going about their business peacefully. There was no violence to control. The invasion was entirely under false pretences. It was ideological and designed to remove an elected government that it opposed, but got caught up in a lie and cynically believed, as it has done in Iraq, that its lie even if found out, is better than somebody else's truth.
We are feeling the repercussions around the Caribbean now and will continue to do so for some time. Just the year before, Jamaica's political parties, the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had come to an agreement that a federation of the West Indies was a good idea after all. The JLP had been won over and its able minister of finance, Donald Sangster, seemed to have been sold by the important role that Guyana could play as the breadbasket of the region.
Regionalism could suit Jamaica. Jamaica's new exporting industries could earn more revenues than that foregone in a duty-free zone. The country could emphasise manufacturing, mining and tourism and except for sugar and bananas, could depend on Guyana to provide some of what else was needed. The JLP also liked to fall in line with British thinking and the country's new and enlightened Governor, Hugh Foot, who saw more eye to eye with Norman Manley and the PNP, was able to bring the JLP over to federation which the British favoured for their own reasons.
When the federation was formed, an interim government of conservative elites, not representative of the people, had been in power in Guyana since the British intervention up to 1957. Guyana did not play a role in its formation. How important this was in causing the JLP to lose interest in the federation is hard to say, but the main rationale for its belief in the economics of regionalism had ceased to exist.
Today, we have a regionalism that cannot feed its people. Only Guyana and Jamaica still have a sugar industry and Jamaica's industry is being transformed mainly to feed machines (with ethanol), not people. Jamaica Producers Group is now shutting down its banana production saying its cannot withstand the now regular storm and hurricane related losses.
Guyana remains the CARICOM country with the best potential to feed the region. Because of its location it is less susceptible to storms and hurricanes. Guyana has rainforests, vast uncultivated land, massive rivers, and is almost giving away the land to anybody who wants to invest. President Jagdeo has developed an agricultural plan for CARICOM (the Jagdeo Initiative) to support the CARICOM Agricultural Policy.
Yet, CARICOM has rushed into an Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe that will undermine the plan and undermine CARICOM. It was in Guyana that the African, Caribbean and Pacific association was launched in 1975. Europe's new intervention, this time through the EPA, has once again undermined regionalism and left Guyana and its agricultural potential to the region underdeve-loped, and Jamaica (and the JLP) has once again played a part in this.
Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email: Robert.Buddan@uwimona.edu.jm or firstname.lastname@example.org.