Guyana Resource Center
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Saturday, May 13, 2006
Letter to the Editor (Stabroek News)

To The Editor

Stabroek New

Dear Editor

African Guyanese Marginalization is a result of a Disproportionality of poverty

Two recent letters have sought to refute the claim of African Guyanese marginalization, Prof. Randy Persuad’s letter, titled, “The Argument that African Guyanese have been marginalized in Guyana cannot be sustained”, dated 05/09/06, and Mr. Latchman Sharma’s letter, titled, “I would like to see the data for Dr. Hinds proposition that African Guyanese are more disadvantaged than other groups”, dated, 05/10/06.

I would like to begin by pointing out that both letters have somewhat mischaracterized Dr. Hinds’ argument which was a response to your editorial, especially Mr. Sharma’s letter. The argument is not a question of who is more disadvantage, rather it is a question of being disadvantaged and marginalized. Marginalization is not ethnically specific, or is it a case of, if one group is marginalized other groups are not, or whether people within other ethnic groups are not disadvantaged or marginalized. There is no argument against the reality of the marginalization of our indigenous population, and I agree that all Guyanese should be more vocal about this issue. However, what is constantly denied by supporters of the government is African Guyanese marginalization. I think when we speak of African Guyanese marginalization we are speaking in terms of a disproportionality of poverty resulting from unequal access to resources. Whenever the question of African Guyanese marginalization occupies discourse, their predominant occupation of the civil services, discipline services and the 28 years of political rule by African Guyanese political elites are pointed to as evidence that African Guyanese are not marginalized. Those who make this argument are not only disingenuous but show little understanding for the relationship between income inequality, unequal resource distribution, poverty and marginalization. In fact, the sectors that African Guyanese occupy are cause for their impoverishment and marginalization, due to the fact that wages are kept miserably low in those sectors. Some may argue, as your editorial did, that this is a consequence of structural adjustment programs, prescribed by international financial institutions, whose policies the government pursues. Regardless of this fact, African Guyanese are impacted disproportionately more, (excluding indigenous people) because of their occupation of those sectors that are hardest hit.

In addition, the Guyana’s economy is based largely on small business economic activities that are controlled largely by a cultural collective, which discriminates in their employment practices; so that outside of the public service which offers some job security for African Guyanese, the private sector has an extremely narrow opening for them. The wage disparity between the public sector and the private sector is very stark, notwithstanding, the fact that the inability of the present administration to attract new investment to absorb the available labor force, is responsible for the large unemployment rate in Guyana and thus poverty, but the disproportionately large unemploy,emt rate among African Guyanese is partly because of the discriminatory practices employed in the private sector.

The economic marginalization of African Guyanese is also realized in the lending policies of local financial institutions. The Strict Collateralized loan policies preferred by banks keep African Guyanese from obtaining most loans thus contributing to their inability to sustain new and emerging economic ventures, and as a result keep them out of the growth process. It is not that African Guyanese are not represented in the economic sector - the pavements of Guyana are liter with micro enterprises owned by African Guyanese - it is more a question of the ability to access collateralized loans to encourage growth in those economic ventures.

The government’s discrimination in terms of inequitable resource distribution is well known. In Guyana, budgetary allocation is constituency driven. Regions where PPP supporters live receive disproportionately larger budgetary allocations on a per capita basis than other regions of non-supporters. Because of this pattern and practice African Guyanese communities are increasingly sinking into severe economic depression and this is partly responsible for the increasing crime rate among African Guyanese youths, notwithstanding the drug activities that make these youths vulnerable. And it is public knowledge that the government supporters received more governmental contracts than any other group.

Contrary to Prof. Randy Persaud’s belief and most other supporters of the government, whose first instinct is to fall into the pit of revisionist history, no serious African Guyanese academic has argued the case that Indian Guyanese are responsible for African Guyanese impoverishment. Prof. Persaud declaratively states that Indian Guyanese never enslaved Africans. I have no idea what this means, but African Guyanese marginalization is not an argument against Indian Guyanese as a Group. In fact I and others including Dr. Hinds have acknowledged the period of PNC authoritarian rule and mismanagement as responsible for the improvishment of a vast number of African Guyanese. So I agree with Dr. Persaud that Indian Guyanese do not owe African Guyanese anything. Dr. Persaud and many PPP sympathizers must learn that an indictment of the PPP regime is not by extension an indictment of Indian Guyanese as an ethnic group. Governments have a responsibility to ensure fair and equitable distribution measures. The Jagdeo administration has and continues to do nothing to address the situation of African Guyanese poverty and by their practice of exclusionary politics has marginalized African Guyanese and African Guyanese communities. Prof. Persuad by his own admission is a majoritarian and therefore is not concerned with promoting the politics of inclusion. I wonder what would be Dr. Persaud’s position if the shoe was on the other foot. One of the traits of a good academic is social compassion and intellectual honesty.

No group in Guyana should be making claims of marginalization if the emphasis is on promoting social and economic cohesion and ethnic peace in Guyana.

“The state has a fundamental role to play in guaranteeing a degree of social and economic cohesion. It can change the way public money is spent to achieve greater redistribution and repair holes in the social fabric (i.e. exclusion). It can also promote social cohesion by focusing on delivering higher levels of social protection for all. Measures to foster participatory democracy are also a crucial part of strengthening social cohesion. It is essential that, alongside representative democracy, all groups are involved in decision-making.” United Nations.2005 Human Development Report.

This is what we should all struggle for, not the domination of one ethnic group by the other, be it African, Indian Amerindian or Portuguese. Guyana desperately needs cohesion to move forward and the government must be held accountable for this.

Yours Faithfully

Dennis Wiggins

Special Thanks to OV for this insightful piece !!