Home Letters Late philanthropist lamented internal wrangling in PPP
The passing of humanitarian icon Shri George Subraj, as related by mourners at his wake and funeral, has left a void within the Guyanese community in America. As evidenced by the fact that hundreds came out nightly for his wake and for his funeral service and cremation, George was indeed a very popular and respected cultural figure in the greater New York-based diaspora.
But he also held political views on Guyana and especially on internal wrangling in the PPP that cost it its majority in 2011 and its removal from office in May 2015 by the US Embassy with the blessings of the UK and Canada. Had PPP listened to George, it would not have lost power.
George was the President of Zara Realty, a multimillion-dollar enterprise, whose headquarters is in Queens, NY. George employed scores of workers, many of whom are Guyanese. He also provided affordable housing for middle-income and working-class families, many being Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals. He owned several apartment complexes.
However business success did not bring George popularity or recognition. Rather, it was his embrace of charitable causes that elevated him to superstar status within our community and beyond.
Around 1995, George was introduced by cultural leader Ramesh D Kalicharran to Dr Tara Singh, founder of the Guyana Watch Inc, (GWI) that was founded in 1992. Dr Tara persuaded George to join GWI. George became Vice President. Around the same time, Tony Yassin also joined GWI and became another Vice President.
The group performed some exceptional work in Guyana. They brought young Munilall of Canal No I Polder (West Bank Demerara) for heart surgery in the USA to repair a hole in his heart. A successful operation was performed at the Joe Di Maggio Children’s Hospital in Florida. That project was coordinated by Dr Vishnu Seodat and Dr Tara. That gave GWI enough inspiration to launch the GWI Advanced Medical Overseas Program (AMOP). Since 1995, some 30 patients have benefitted from this programme with overseas medical surgeries.
It was George’s experience with Guyana Watch, especially the Munilall surgery that gave him the impetus to explore other medical options for the needy. George would always take down medication for Munilall whenever he went to Guyana.
In 2008, George developed and implemented a brilliant idea: he pioneered kidney transplant surgery in Guyana. That operation was conducted at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corp (GPHC), and the first beneficiary was Munesh Mangal. After conducting similar operations for a few years at GPHC, the kidney transplant operations were switched to the Balwant Singh Hospital, Georgetown. As of 2016, 25 kidney transplant surgeries were performed. This, more than anything else, had brought George national and international recognition.
In addition, George had sponsored heart surgeries in 2010 when he collaborated with staff from North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center to perform heart surgery on eight children in Guyana.
Likewise, he sponsored a medical team that performed 30+ corneal transplants in Guyana. Apart from medical projects, George supported educational programmes including helping establish a lab for Guyana Police Force.
George’s direct contribution to educational causes could not be ignored, either. A young lady from Guyana testified at the funeral that she was encouraged by George to study and elevate herself, and she was also lucky to have been given a grant by George to study for her MA degree in Psychology.
Aside from culture and humanitarian work, George also took an ardent interest in Guyana’s politics. He was disrespected by the leadership of the PPP because of his strong views against the direction the party was taking. In conversations with me, he spoke of arrogance in the leadership and among a few in the ACG NY branch.
George was critical of the political direction of the PPP in its last few years in office. He was upset that the party did not allow a democratic process to choose the Presidential candidate for 2011; and he spoke his mind. And he felt not enough was done to prevent the departure of Moses Nagamootoo as well as Ralph Ramkarran from the party. He felt both should have been accommodated in the party that would have allowed it to remain in office.
George told me Donald Ramotar could not cut it as the candidate in 2011.
George felt Ramkarran would have won handily. George’s view was ignored. And George was quite upset when Ramkarran was let go with no effort made by the PPP leadership to reconcile with him. George saw PPP defeat coming in May 2015 and tried to reason with the leadership without avail.
It is hoped that George’s charity will continue in Guyana to help improve lives.
The PPP will also be a better party if it takes simple advice offered by humanitarians like George Subraj.