Two Fridays ago a seminar on Constitutional Reform the Process, was held at the University of Guyana. The event, which was well attended, was organized by the Carter Centre and facilitated by the British High Commission. The PPP and a cross-section of civil society were represented, but conspicuously absent was any APNU or AFC party or Government representatives. The discourse focused on why there should be constitutional reform and the process by which it should be undertaken. The event was not intended to have a formal conclusion but to have Guyanese ownership.
Many ills of the society that needed redress were identified. There were concerns that elected officials were interfering in the democratic right to protest, of political intermeddling in Amerindian affairs, of the need for equity in the society, of implementing the existing provisions of the Constitution, of educating young people about the issues, and everything in between. The debate around the issues raised was lively and energetic. The fact that the audience remained attentive and engaged throughout the three-hour event suggested that there is much interest in constitutional reform and scope for more debate.
Three of the four dailies on Friday headlined the second oil find by ExxonMobil at a well called Payara-1. Past predictions about the presence of petroleum deposits in off-shore Guyana were confirmed when ExxonMobil’s announced its world class discovery, the largest for 2016, at its Liza well. If the Payara-1 turns out to be large, then the predictions of much greater deposits in the area could be accurate and much more oil could be found.
The amount of petroleum deposits that have already been found is enough to transform Guyana. But somehow Guyanese do not yet appear to be impressed. Casual conversations with Guyanese suggest that the cynicism that has developed from decades of promises based on Guyana’s agricultural potential, that Guyana could become the bread basket of the Caribbean and Guyana’s failure to take off economically, continues to exist. When told about the prospect of oil wealth for Guyana, and what it could mean for the future, many Guyanese are dismissive and unbelieving.
The truth is that Guyana would be transformed and we need to choose how. It would not happen overnight, of course, but by 2025 Guyanese would be feeling the impact of the oil income, which would continually increase. The Government appears to be making preparations to establish the legal framework and institutional mechanisms. There is no evidence that it is making any effort to reach out to the Opposition to build consensus from the earliest stage. If the Government wants political and national consensus going forward, it needs to start consultations with the Opposition early or face the possibility of a perennially contentious situation for our oil industry. Former Minister of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Ramnarine, speaking in Guyana recently, urged the establishment of a national oil and gas company to manage the oil industry, whose leadership should be insulated from politics. While this is easier said than done, it can be accomplished if the effort starts now.
The world woke up to the news yesterday that Fidel Castro had died. Although his increasingly frail health and advancing years suggested that Fidel’s continued sojourn amongst us would be of limited duration, the news of his passing nevertheless delivered a shock, then sadness, that a revolutionary giant of the 20th century would no longer be a presence. It was the sheer audacity and bravery of his Moncada attack, his inspiring speech (“history will absolve me”) at his trial and the death-defying persistence of the Granma invasion, buttressed the rousing speeches but vague notions in Guyana of independence and socialism, that inspired me as a teenager.
The success of the Cuban Revolution lies not only in the social developments which it brought to Cuba by way of its world class health and education systems, exemplified by one of the highest literacy rates and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, but by bringing an end to the second class status for Afro Cubans who were historically discriminated against and lived in dire poverty. These social benefits are available to every single Cuban.
October 5, 1992, was an historic day for Guyana – the day when democracy returned in free and fair elections for the first time in twenty-four years. It is commemorated only by the PPP but in a way that aids its own credentials and whatever current political disputes it is engaged in. It would have marked a maturing of Guyana’s political leadership if the PNCR could have also noted the importance of October 5 and claim ownership of the role it played in restoring democracy. Since the PNCR would have had to confront a part of its past to do so, this period of its and Guyana’s history, like several others, for which it shares some credit, remain unaddressed. Guyana will have to ascend to a higher level of statesmanship for both of our main political parties to put the events of that now historic period in full perspective without the politically antagonistic framework in which it is now remembered.
By the time October 5, 1992, came along, both the world and the PNCR had changed. The Cold War had ended and, quite independently, the PNCR had transitioned dramatically from a party that espoused Marxist socialism, close relations with socialist countries and state ownership of the means of production, to a party which identified itself in completely opposite terms. The PPP came to accept these changes in 1992.
In 1838, as former slaves were celebrating the abolition of slavery the British colonial empire, Jesuit priests of Georgetown University in Washington DC, in the US, were selling 272 slaves to Southern estates to raise funds for the University. This trade in human degradation lasted until 1865 when the institution of slavery, one of the worst crimes against humanity, was formally abolished in the US.
After much public pressure Georgetown University announced during last week, as recommended by a report it had commissioned, that it would offer a public apology, would rename two halls as Isaac Hall for Isaac Hawkins, one of the slaves sold, and as Anne Marie Becraft Hall, in honour of a 19th-century educator who founded a school for black girls in Washington. It would also give priority in admission to descendants of the 272 slaves whose names were recorded and some of whose descendants have been or are being traced.