Home Letters How Eric Phillips sabotages the African reparation cause
In Monday’s print media, ACDA President and Government Advisor Eric Phillips targeted the Guyana Times newspaper and several of its columnists, including myself. In another of his characteristic, petty public rants unbecoming of anyone purporting to be of academic stock, Phillips cited my name in the racial war declared against those he claims form part of the “Indian intellectual community”. Judging from its contents,
the letter seemingly intended to pursue a personal vendetta against one Vishnu Bisram, a move Phillips seems to believe will serve the African reparation cause. Nevertheless, I’m happy he mentioned my name as it allows me to once again highlight why he is an obstacle to nation-building, national unity and by extent, African reparation.
Guyanese identity politics is inherent to our colonial past and continuously falls prey to racism at the detriment of nation building. Those brandishing flags of divisiveness to defend causes blurred by racist lens have proven that identity politics can be hijacked to threaten the integrity of the Nation-State.
In his fight to gather support for African slave reparation, Phillips has launched a crusade against Indigenous land rights which are intrinsic to the survival of Indigenous cultures worldwide.
He has proven that if he cannot piggyback on Indigenous rights to promote African reparation, then he should seek to diminish the legitimacy of Indigenous peoples’ minority rights.
It’s because of lobbyists such as Phillips that Indigenous rights, in particular land rights, are now throttled by the Government, and that a Minister can stand without restraint in Parliament and unapologetically accuse Amerindians of being “avaricious”.
It’s because of such divisive discourses, that there are increasing ethnic tensions between Amerindians and Afro-Guyanese. As one senior Indigenous leader puts it, now “we’ve gone from a PS who used to curse Indigenous leaders, to Ministers who attack our most vulnerable population”.
Vulnerable, because of limited access to socio-economic rights; vulnerable to political bullyism; vulnerable to cultural erosion; vulnerable because of ethnic stigmatisation and stereotyping; vulnerable because of poverty and environmental challenges – a vulnerability which commenced with stolen lands. This vulnerability heightened when the Coalition pulled the plug on Indigenous land rights, an unprecedented act in independent Guyana.
To justify his contribution to the growing marginalisation of Amerindians, Phillips continues to make unfounded assertions, including his most recent statement before the Land CoI where he argued: “Africans installed (…) 2.58 million miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains; 3500 miles of dams, roads and footpaths; and 2176 miles of sea and river defence. No one else in Guyana has done that, yet they’ve gotten reparations”.
Here he contends that Amerindians are being given reparation for which they’re less deserving than Africans, subsequently repudiating the very legitimacy of Indigenous land rights. He pursues a path of ignorance, equating Indigenous land rights to African reparation although neither evolves within the same historical context.
In what appears to be a case of selective amnesia typically associated with historical revisionism, Phillips omits that Indigenous peoples were not just the first inhabitants of the lands that later became Guyana, but are also the natives of the Americas for as far back as can be anthropologically and scientifically proven.
He must be reminded that Indigenous lands were stolen by European settlers, that the First Nations of the Americas were forced from their homes, had 90 per cent of their population decimated, lost their cultures and languages, are still stigmatised and are still marginalised. No other peoples have suffered the same fate as the first known inhabitants of the Americas.
Yet, Indigenous peoples provide that bridge between humanity’s past and present, a quickly eroding fragment of our history, for which survival is bound to ancestral land.
Subsequently, the lands legally owned today by Guyana’s Amerindians are not “reparation” and the specificities of Amerindian land rights prescribed by the Amerindian Act 6–2006, the Independence Act Cap 14-S17, the Constitution of Guyana, and the UNDRIP cannot ,therefore, “set a precedence” for African reparation, as Phillips defends.
So as he continues to pit groups against each other while dangerously pretexting merit and by extent, hierarchical dominance, not only does he sacrifice what is left of his own credibility, but risks losing national support from Guyanese countrywide in the fight for African reparation.
His discourse imbibed with racial slurs seeks to inflict on Guyanese a sentiment of guilt for a horrendous passage of history for which they are not responsible, and contradicts the very principles of tolerance once ardently peddled by the APNU/AFC.
Alternatively, there’s a regional and global fight for slave reparation to which Phillips, should he abdicate his personal racist agenda, might be able to find relevance and valuably contribute to helping the Guyanese cause.