Guyana is once again being pushed down the path of societal disintegration because of the politics practised by the PNC. It set this centrifugal process in motion in 1955 when its founder, Forbes Burnham, split the nationalist movement represented by the PPP and exploited racial sentiments to mobilise African Guyanese under its banner. External forces used the fissure created to precipitate ethnic conflict that boiled over into murderous open warfare, leaving scars that still have not healed more than half a century later.
And it is this experience of internecine warfare between the major ethnic groups that distinguishes us from other similar plural societies, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. While there are the dynamics of ethnic competition in electoral politics, in which the processes of group comparison and group legitimacy are fundamentally similar, there is in those societies a Maginot Line against violence that has not been crossed. In our country, there was only a lull between 1964 and 1992, occasioned by the PNC’s rigging of elections to guarantee its hold on power.
There was hope that the privations brought down by the PNC upon the entire nation during those years would have impressed upon its supporters the folly of reflexively voting along ethnic lines. But in 1992, it received the same percentage of votes as in 1964, which had been widely regarded as an ethnic census because of the polarisation due to the ethnic conflict, even though there was an alternative non-PPP vehicle in the WPA. The 1992 voting results emphasised the strength of ethnic voting in Guyana.
After the PNC lost the 1997 elections, however, the violence unleashed in the 1960s Pandora Box returned with intensified force in a new form that further scarred the body politic. It started with PNC street protests that escalated into open violence, when roving mobs assaulted Indian Guyanese axiomatically dubbed as “PPP supporters”. A CARICOM intervention led to the PPP’s term of office being truncated by two years and a host of constitutional amendments enacted, which gave significant parliamentary powers to the Opposition, then the PNC.
The elections of 2001 were again won by the PPP, and this unleashed another round of arson, kidnappings and murders. Matters took an ominous turn for the country’s fortunes when a violent gang with a core of five hardened criminals entered the fray, overtly asserting they were “African Freedom Fighters”. They ensconced themselves in the village of Buxton, which was transformed virtually into “a state within the state”.
This would further widen the fissures in the country, as the killings were invariably ethnically directed; with the exception of Policemen, who were targeted for protecting the “PPP state”. The violence escalated exponentially when criminal gangs associated with the drug trade entered the fray and turned the country into a killing field reminiscent of the “garrison killings” of Jamaica. Between 1998 and 2008, when the last gangs were exterminated in a bloody shoot-out with the Police, hundreds of innocent “civilians” on both sides of the “divide” were killed.
It is against this background of violence unleashed in Guyana in the wake of PNC’s dissatisfaction with elections’ results that we have to evaluate AG Basil Williams’s utterances about the PPP at the AmCham-sponsored panel discussion on elections: “They are willing to go to the election with an anyhow list. They are ready for their properties and all these things to be subjected to those same post-election type of violence that we had in the past. I don’t want to say, ‘Well, y’all go, go to the election’, because the consequences would be dire”.
Back in May 2019, Williams had also warned about “unrest” that might follow in Guyana if the CCJ ruled against the Government in the three consolidated cases related to the challenge to the validity of the No-Confidence Motion passed on December 21, 2018.
Those utterances are nothing more than threats that would inevitably take our country further down the precipice of destruction.
Who will listen to the cry of our beloved country?