After holding the reins of office for over two decades, some critics are of the view that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has left Guyana in a frightening ethnic trap.Specifically making this claim was Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds.In his recent writings, Dr. Hinds opined that the ethnic trap in which the PPP left Guyana will have an impact on governance and politics for a long time to come.On the one hand, the University Professor said that the PPP’s mode of governance, grounded as it was in complete political domination, which in Guyana translates into ethnic dominance, ensured that African Guyanese developed a very deep fear and hatred for that party.
On the other hand, he said that those who benefited from the transfer of state resources into private hands were almost exclusively Indian Guyanese. In addition, Dr. Hinds expressed that the PPP created a new class of mostly Indian Guyanese bureaucrats whose salaries, perks and power elevated them to elite status.
In other words, the political activist said that the PPP’s domination praxis was deeply ethnicized. He said that the consequence is that attempts to reform governance will be seen by most PPP supporters as ethnic revenge on the part of the current government.
“I think what the PPP did was deliberate. PPP leadership has always been more ethnically deliberate. Whereas the African Guyanese elites tend to have a simplistic attitude to race and ethnicity, their Indian Guyanese counterparts tend to be much more aggressive and calculated on these issues. Part of the explanation for this lies in the relationship of our political leaderships to their followers.”Dr. Hinds commented that PNC leaders and the African Guyanese elites tend to be mostly urban in outlook and are usually out of step with the cultural motions of their followers. He said that race and ethnicity for them tend to be political tools to be used to gain power.
“There are very little ethnic emotions in their relationship to African Guyanese. There seems to be little confidence in the ability of African Guyanese masses to overcome. Hence, there is no policy initiative aimed at empowering the group beyond the bare minimum.”Dr. Hinds said that African Guyanese power elites, except for a brief period under Burnham, tend to accept the failed but convenient model of “one tide lifts all.”He said that PPP leaders, on the other hand, have generally remained very close to the Indian masses.“Hence they are more sensitive to the ethnic reflexes of their followers. Many PPP leaders are rural people who even as they look out for themselves do not totally disconnect from the ethnic emotions of their followers. So, they are naturally less inclined to embrace the notion of “one tide lifts all” when it comes to ethnic empowerment. In that sense they are much more ethno-racially literate than their adversaries.
”Furthermore, Dr. Hinds explained that when the PNC left office in 1992, they left behind clusters of African Guyanese political enforcers and a class of government wage earning bureaucrats. He said that there was no new class of African Guyanese entrepreneurs or super-rich African Guyanese whose wealth came from the transfer of State resources. He said that this is not to say that African Guyanese were powerless in 1992. To the contrary, Dr. Hinds said that they controlled formal power in the military forces and the public service—political power.
“From the time the PPP took office, it set about dismantling those centers of African Guyanese power. It undermined the military and eventually co-opted its leadership. It further pauperized the Civil Service. It allowed bauxite to die a brutal death. They then encouraged a tiny cluster of African Guyanese hustlers by dangling before them individual wealth.
On the other hand, the WPA Executive Member said that sugar was hugely subsidized as an ethnic gesture to the mainly Indian Guyanese sugar workers. Dr. Hinds commented that state assets were transferred into the hands of both the old and new Indian Guyanese economic elites. He said that Indian Guyanese bureaucrats loyal to the PPP controlled the levers of political power. In all of this, Dr. Hinds said that there was always a few African Guyanese, but they were mere masks.“Indianists who sought to articulate an alternative Indian nationalism were bullied and eventually co-opted. By the time the PPP left office in 2015, practical control of all levers of formal power was firmly in the hands of the Indian Guyanese elites.”
“The PPP has left Guyana in an ethnic trap that would stymie any effort at correcting the PPP wrongs. What this has meant is that any turning back of the wrongs committed by the PPP has had ethno-racial consequences. Correcting the problems associated with sugar and to some extent rice means walking into an ethnic trap.”
Given the ethnic manner in which the PPP treated the sugar problem, Dr. Hinds said that any attempt to solve it is bound to have ethnic consequences.In this regard, he remarked, “I don’t see how the government will do right by sugar and not face the politically devastating charge of racism. The issue has been framed as an assault on Indian Guyanese rather than an attempt to free Guyana from the debilitating clutches of an unproductive industry.”
Furthermore, Dr. Hinds stated that the removal of PPP loyalists from mega-salaried government jobs has also landed the government in the same trap. He said thatmost of these political positions were staffed by Indian Guyanese.“Therefore, if one is going to clean the system, you invariably would have to go after those mostly Indian Guyanese political impositions. The same thing goes to for State Asset Recovery—who were mostly the recipients of State transfers? There cannot be an avoidance of the ethnic trap if there is going to be any serious State Asset recovery.”
On the other hand, the WPA Executive Member opined that African Guyanese were so battered under the PPP, it really would take some particular policy initiatives to correct that condition. Dr. Hinds stated that the ethnic imbalance in the commercial sector, for example, is so blatant, he does not see how that would be corrected without direct government intervention.“But the government dare not go there. In any case, I don’t think there are many people in the corridors of power who have the courage to confront that burning problem. We are expecting oil wealth, but that wealth would be arriving in the context of an ethnically imbalanced political economy. That is problem that few in and out of government are talking about.”
In conclusion, Dr. Hinds said that Guyana will be in for some “serious times”. He stressed that the new elite empowered by the PPP would not sit by and allow its newly appropriated wealth to be recovered by the government.“It would fight with ethnic fear, economic sabotage and even violence. That is what the push back against the State Asset Recovery Unit is mainly about. That is what the demonizing of the Special Organized Crime Unit is all about.”The political activist said that even as one might want to criticize the government for its sloth in moving to dismantle the criminalized State, one must be mindful of the ethnic trap it has to deal with.