I have noticed that Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association (RPA) two arms of the PPP have suddenly found a voice after both of these industries which they controlled for decades were billions of dollars in debt. The leaders of these two organizations sat in parliament as MPs and never raised any objections when the rice funds were being diverted for other purposes, and now they are using the media to highlight the problem as if it was caused by the new coalition government, and they are demanding that the administration pay these workers and farmers.
The sugar workers and rice famers have now become disillusioned with GAWU and the RPA, as they have failed to be militant instruments to fight for their rights. Both of these organizations were founded by the late Dr Cheddi Jagan who gave active guidance to the sugar workers and rice farmers, but they never lived up to their names after he died. Rice farmers and sugar workers later found out that they were being betrayed by these organizations.
In the case of sugar, millions have not been paid into NIS and the credit union. Farmers and millers in all the rice-growing regions are still owed millions of dollars for rice and paddy supplied under the PetroCaribe agreement, which was signed in 2005. The balance of the money was paid promptly after the deduction was made for the oil supplied by Venezuela.
Today, I noticed that the General Secretary of the RPA is demanding that the farmers and millers be paid from the empty rice pot which was inherited by the coalition government, and that the Rice Factory Act be implemented to protect the rice farmers. The millers were flouting the very act in his presence and he was toothless. He and the GRDB have never represented the rice farmers who had grievances; farmers were being shortchanged with their weight, grades, moisture, dockage and most of all their payments without interest, while he stood there watching. The crisis is still there, and the new coalition government has to find money to bail out the two industries, workers, farmers and millers.
While the rice farmers were protesting for their paddy payments here on the Essequibo Coast, the government stood quietly in a corner without explaining to them where the money had gone. On top of that they sent the police to tear gas them during protests. One miller told me that he was muzzled and couldn’t talk because of fear of being victimized, and that he wouldn’t get a quota to send paddy and rice to the Venezuelan market. He was glad to get his stocks off his hands as his warehouse was filled with rice and paddy. The GRDB and the RPA knew that they couldn’t enforce the Rice Factory Act against the millers, because they knew that it was the government which owed the millers and they couldn’t pay the farmers for their produce.
I worked with both of these organizations, and knew they would only be vibrant and represent the cause of the workers and farmers when the government changed, as has now happened.