By Jean H Charles
An election will take place in Guyana in 2012 that could assault the colonial concept of black Guyanese on one side and Indo and white Guyanese on the other side. In Trinidad and Tobago, an Indo-Trini, Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar, the prime minister of the country has campaigned upon and may smooth further race relations in Trinidad. In Haiti, Joseph Michel Martelly the new elected president, in choosing a light skinned, able economist cum entrepreneur, Daniel Rouzier as his prime minister, is giving the signal that he has no patience for and no interest in using the skin color as the standard for conduct and services to the citizens of the nation.
Are we at the end of an era?
To rule upon a large tract of human beings, financiers, philosophers and rulers have devised for three hundred years, a principle that some human beings are superior to others because of the color of their skin, the shape of their nose and the size of their mouth.
The Haitian Revolution in 1804, the Black Emancipation in 1864, and the American Civil Rights Revolution of 1964 have assaulted the concept of race as the determinism for your station in life.
Yet, the remnant of the concept of black skin inferiority is alive and well in the Caribbean. A review of the literature in this very news network, fellow columnists Dr David Hinds and Sir Ronald Sanders have displayed the situation in Guyana: a rich and well endowed nation in terms of natural resources, it lags right before Haiti in terms of poverty index in the Caribbean because the concept of nation is not yet a reality in Guyana.
It is true that Guyana’s economy has enjoyed lately an impressive economic boom but the remnants of two societies going side by side is still the rule in the land. There has been a constant call for the PPP, the party with an Indian majority, as well as the PCN, the party with a black majority, to engage into a national unity government with intra-racial solidarity to create a nation that shall become hospitable to all.
The PCN vision under its founder, the late President Forbes Burnham, foresees “a new Guyana man and woman oriented towards the role of nation building in a spirit of mutual respect with persons of all ethnicities.” The excesses of the founder have foundered the vision.
To quote Ron Chernow in his new book “Washington, A Life”, a country at its beginning needs a leader with an “uncanny ability to lead a nation.” It implies such exemplary virtues such as unerring judgment, sterling character, rectitude, steadfast patriotism, unflagging sense of duty and civic-mindedness.
It is interesting to note that in a current essay in Stabroek news, Mike Persaud, settling the dispute between Dr David Hinds and Mr Vishnu Bisram (a former student of mine), has provided the solution for nation building in Guyana. Stop the practice of ethnic politics. The PPP as well as the PNC must engage in genuine inclusive governance not the window dressing one practiced by both parties.
May the black Guyanese or the Indian Guyanese leader with such civic mindedness step up to the plate?
Haiti, one of the poorest countries of the Western Hemisphere, is also a champion of the culture of exclusion. The rural sector that includes eighty-five percent of the population is excluded politically, socially and economically. The Diaspora (4%) is excluded socially and politically, while the mulattoes (1%) are excluded politically.
Lately, it has been discrimination in reverse. Since the mulattoes held power for the first one hundred fifty years with no benefit to the population, the dark skinned Haitians have for the past fifty years taken their revenge by excluding the mulattoes from occupying executive position in the Haitian government.
In Haiti, as well as in Guyana, the past governments, whether with dark skin or light skin, have ruled the country with a sense of unaccountability toward all sectors of the society. There has been a yearning for a government that sees itself as the custodian of the whole.
Trinidad and Tobago has the good fortune of having a founding father such as Eric Williams, who had the uncanny ability to lead a nation. Furthermore, the makeup of the population, half black, half Hindu, does not leave room for racial politics a la Guyana. There has been some fear lately of racial politics in calls for dividing the cake according to ethnic makeup.
I am optimistic about Trinidad. (Review my essay: A roadmap for a coordinated approach for the Caribbean islands)
More than a century ago another country was debating the concept of one nation under God. It took the leadership of Abraham Lincoln to settle the issue of States holding slaves and those States that refused to accept slavery to create the true United States of America. Barack Obama the beneficiary of that leadership is promising action in furthering the cause of freedom for all.
Haiti, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago should be on the high priority list. The impact of their integrated recovery will reflect on the whole Caribbean!
June 7, 2011