I was in the audience (as a scribe reporting for community publications) last Friday evening at the Queens public meeting where President Donald Ramotar updated the diaspora on the state of affairs in their homeland and fielded questions. Donald was booed a couple times (for remarks contrasting crime and sanitation with other countries and on corruption) and praised several times. What struck my attention was not what the President said but what he did not do or say. He failed to acknowledge and recognize the significant contributions of some towering New York-based personalities who helped to put the PPP into office and who played a critical role in the restoration of democracy in Guyana. He should have used his trip and or the speech to bring healing to and unite the disparate factions of the PPP’s support group, Association of Concerned Guyanese.
At the Ramotar public engagement, I saw former loyalists of the Association of Concerned Guyanese, support group of the PPP in America, who had a public fall-out with Mr Ramotar and who were very critical of him prior to the November 2011 elections. I know these individuals very well since 1977 having joined them (though I am not an ACG member) in protests, rallies, picketing exercises, etc, against the 24 year old PNC dictatorship. They were a small group but very dedicated to the cause and effective at organizing public actions and several of them attended numerous protest events and rallies organized by myself, Dr Baytoram Ramharack and Vassan Ramracha – all pioneers and founding fathers of the New York Guyanese revolutionary movement that helped to usher in democracy in the homeland. The PPP and Guyanese owe the ACG early activists (such as Arjune Karshan, Chuck Mohan, Mel Carpen, Joe Kanhai, Flatty Singh, Danny Singh, John Drepaul, ‘V’, etc), and later ones like Joe Kanhai, Abudul Hafeez, Chris Sarabit and his brother Michael, Samad Ally, individuals like Ramharack, Ramracha, Joe Ragnauth (DLM), Mahadeo Persaud, Dr Ravi Dev, Pandit Ramlall, Ramesh Kalicharran, Vishnu Bandhu, others activists of the WPA support group, etc a debt of gratitude for their commitment to the struggle. Political struggle was not easy. Very few people were interested in Guyana and we could not raise a dollar from them. Only a handful of us took up the cudgel — unrelenting in our activism to lobby international organizations and governments for the restoration of democracy in our former homeland. Even a Chinese Jamaican, Richard Chin, who joined us in the struggle, deserves kudos. Many of the activists suffered tremendously because of their commitment to the struggle – families were neglected and broken. Because they were so strongly wedded to the anti-dictatorial movement, some marriages ended in divorce. Some of the activists like Ramharack, Vassan, and myself gave virtually all of our financial resources to the movement; our incomes were used to fund activities and print literature for free public distribution. Virtually no New Yorker, apart from Karshan who served as Ambassador to Suriname for over 10 years, who partook in the revolution was ever recognized, honoured or rewarded for their immense contributions to the struggle. A few opportunists were highly rewarded. The ACG splintered after the restoration of democracy and the departure of Karshan who was the leader of the group for many years.
President Ramotar had a historic and unique opportunity last Friday to make a gesture to those former stalwarts of the struggle of the need for healing and a desire to reconcile factions. The presence of some of these ACG founders and activists, once critics of Mr Ramotar and former President Jagdeo, at the meeting was a clear signal of their desire for reconciliation with the PPP leadership but no one paid heed. President Ramotar should have taken advantage of his presence in NY to unite the various factions and to bring former stalwarts together.
Compromise and reconciliation with critics (overseas and domestic) are critical for the PPP especially if it is to recover lost support. The former PPP activists, turned critics, are not enemies of the party. They ought to be recognized for their hard work to help liberate Guyana from oppressive rule. On the issue of reconciliation, the PPP also needs to reach out to others who left (or were pushed out) for whatever reason. One name that comes to mind (and there are several including Lionel Peters, Sasenarine Singh, etc) is the experienced and highly respected Ralph Ramkarran. The PPP cannot afford to lose one vote and it will be very difficult for the party to win a majority in the next election without Ramkarran (given that Moses Nagamootoo is campaigning against the PPP) high in the line-up. And elections are not far away with Moses threatening a no confidence vote, the PNC saying it is ready for an election, and the PPP saying elections will be held soon. Reconciliation with constructive critics and former stalwarts, overseas activists, etc, is urgently needed by President Ramotar and General Secretary Clement Rohee in order to strengthen the party.