Reminiscing on Yesu

Dear Editor,
It was with a sense of great loss that I learnt of the passing of Dr. Yesu Persaud, a Guyanese icon who had achieved very much in his life, and one on which I could not help but reminisce as we celebrate his life.
Until his founding of the Institute of Small Enterprise Development (ISED), Yesu was someone I had read about in the news in the latter half of the 1970s and into the early 1980s. He was an executive of great standing in the Government-owned enterprises; someone whose name was associated with sugar and rum, Sandbach Parker and Jessels, and the Guyana Liquor Corporation.
Living and working in Linden, in the bauxite sector, I did not then think that we would meet.
The latter half of the 1980s was a time of change – change from the era of nationalisation of foreign and locally-owned businesses of any significance, which had been ushered in with the nationalisation of DEMBA bauxite, where I was working in 1971, until it was estimated that 85% of all economic activities were in the hands of the Government.
There was – from the early 1980s – a slow, reluctant returning to the multilateral institutions. The World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); and, in time, a reversing of previous nationalisations with privatisations and an acceptance and unshackling of private enterprise, both foreign and local.
Yesu took a leading role in the reopening of the economy and larger society as a whole, and held the view – like a number of other citizens – that there should be a resurgence of local Guyanese private sector, and that this resurgent Guyanese economy should not be dominated by foreign companies.
Two persons working with Yesu in launching ISED, later called IPED, had been friends of mine: Dr. Leslie Chin, who had been a sixth-former when I entered high school in 1955, was at that time one of the leaders of the GPC (Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation) group; and Mr. Vic Oditt, my link with whom goes back to Mahaicony, and who had been at the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) working at various food products with Ms. Vashti Warner.
The launching of ISED/IPED, and a number of subsequent meetings which I attended, provided me opportunities for my first meetings with Yesu. In apparent coordination, Stabroek News, which itself was launched in those times, carried a daily column commending and giving examples of a small business person. ISED/IPED was favourably received by many vendors and other small start-up business entrepreneurs, and continues to contribute not only to generating new economic activities and jobs, but also a degree of social cohesion, establishing bridges between our various peoples, providing real opportunities for small people to become real big people.
The latter half of the 1980s saw new buildings being erected and new techniques being introduced. The construction of two multi-storey buildings in Georgetown, Yesu’s DDL head- office in Main Street and the Government-owned GuySuCo Head Office in Camp Street (completed two decades later as the GRA Head Office), symbolised for some the competition between private and state-owned enterprises.
I got to know Yesu better at the public launch of GUARD (Guyanese Action for Reform and Democracy), held around 17th June 1990. My old high school friend Clairmont Lye (of the Coal Pot Restaurant family, who later founded and headed the Election Assistance Bureau (EAB) telephoned, informing me about the intended, same-day public launching of GUARD at the Parade Ground in Georgetown, at Dutchie’s Boat Landing in Linden, and at Rose Hall.
Yesu would be the lead speaker starting at the Parade Ground, then fly to Linden to lead the speaking there, then fly on to Rose Hall. Clairmont pressed me to be the lead local supporting speaker in Linden, and I yielded. It would be two years of many Guyanese struggling in various and varying alliances for a fair and free election and an election free from fear in October 1992.
As Prime Minister up to 2015, I met with Yesu, often accompanied by our wives, on many occasions marking the rebuilding of our economy, the lifting of sprits, and a renewed, induced venturing of citizens into the social and political life of our country. Ever so often, I met with Yesu at his office in the DDL Building in Main Street for a pleasant, cordial chat with tea and a video-taping session in his TV studio there, (Chris Ram participated in the early sessions) for a programme he hosted on one or other of our then many, many mini-TV stations.
Yesu and I differed from little to greatly, but always gently on the current policies, programmes and doings of the Government. Those visits often gave me a chance to meet up with fellow high school mate, fellow DEMBA bauxite Scholarship awardee, and alumina plant colleague, Stanley Latchmansingh, who would tell me excitedly about DDL’s EHP vinegar production and a number of DDL’s food products – jams, jellies, cake mixes – in which he had a leading hand.
It might have been a natural thing for Yesu, with his local business leaders and international connections, to launch the first indigenous bank of our times (records suggest one or more plantation owners started a bank to serve plantation owners in the early 1800s).
I recall Yesu telling with great satisfaction of the construction of the Demerara Bank branch at Diamond, which was built after the two other banks there. He was able, with judicious selection and use of local Guyanese professionals, contractors and materials, to construct a comparable building at about two-thirds the cost of the two others.
A construction that brought much pleasure to Yesu was in the cultural field, the creation of the Monument Gardens at the site of the long-abandoned water treatment plant at the end of the Lamaha Canal at Camp and Church Streets. I listened to Yesu speaking at a number of occasions, stressing that whilst the Ship sculpture there was to represent the Hesperus and the Whitby, the Monument should be seen as symbolic of all the ships in which our foreparents, except for the Amerindians, arrived. We were now all together in the same boat.
The Monument Gardens would serve to recall the contribution from India to our One Guyana, which inevitably is emerging. I viewed in a similar light the annual presentation of Nytriyageet by the Sawh sisters at the National Cultural Centre, sponsored by Yesu from its launch in the early 1980s, and at which we met over nearly twenty-five years after 1992. Nytriyageet might have prompted the annual presentations of “Naya Zamana” by my friends at the Dharmic Sabha, and the “Tribute to Fathers” by Ms. Norma Joseph on Father’s Day each year.
I thank Yesu’s support as a Guyanese national for our Guyana Prize, and his related international association with Warwick University in which David Dabydeen has had a big hand.
I thank also the Yesu Persaud Clinical Education Centre within the Georgetown Public Hospital grounds, granted by Yesu, offering post-grad and Primary Health Care training. May successful Guyanese continue to leave their names in wood and cement, steel and glass.
In these times, with our recently discovered oil and gas, and a new generation coming to the fore in today’s different world, the passing of Yesu may well fall into the fading away of us colonial boys and girls, many of whom became teenagers during World War II; our ambitions sparked, struggling each in his/her own way for improvement, ‘Reaching for the Stars’, eagerly seeking to show what Guyana’s sons and daughters could be and do.
As happens, we Guyanese, intoxicated with Independence, took a turn to where the grass seemed greener, but soon found ourselves lost in the wilderness for nearly three decades. Yesu helped to hold high a light alive, and to help return us to a better path.
Many thanks to Yesu.

Samuel A A Hinds
Former President and Prime Minister