Fifty years after the Union Jack was lowered and a newly independent Guyana raised the Golden Arrowhead, thousands of Guyanese turned out last night to witness a spectacle of song, dance and military displays as the country marked half a century of freedom from British rule.
They turned out at the newly constructed D’Urban Park complex to bear witness to the momentous occasion which was also attended by a large number dignitaries including the Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart. It could have been a programme that showcased the development of Guyana over the past 50 years as well as the vibrant cultural diversity of the nation. Instead, the night’s programme was limited though this was not the fault of the artistes and performers who performed with enthusiasm under a moonlit sky. Perhaps it was fitting as 50 years after independence, Guyana remains the third poorest country in the Americas. The programme disappointed and fell far short of the hype. It could have been 50 years of colour. Instead it was 50 shades of a particularly lacklustre grey.
Adding to the disappointing programme, there was a problem involving seating for special invitees. There were not enough seats for the PPP/C officials and they left. The crowd also overwhelmed the police and broke through the barriers into the restricted area. Their initial enthusiasm waned as the hours passed.
The announcement of the national awards – headed by the Barbados PM – was the most significant event of the evening.
Persons had turned out early for the programme that was to begin at 8 pm. The night was perfect. Golden Arrowheads waved in the wind. When Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo arrived, the crowd cheered. When President David Granger arrived, the cheers were louder.
However, the loudest cheers came at the end of the night as the Golden Arrowhead was raised just before midnight. One section of the crowd burst spontaneously into song, singing ‘Oh Beautiful Guyana’ as it fluttered in the breeze. For a moment, the flag slipped. Some gasped, others screamed. “Everybody blow,” a woman shouted and the call was taken up by others.
Then as the flag caught the wind, the cheers erupted again and the crowd sang. Some prayed. It must have been this way on May 26, 1966.
“Focus,” one woman told her child as preparations were being made for the flag raising. It was advice the organisers could have done with…about six months ago.
In a statement last night, the PPP/C explained its walkout.
It noted that it had publicly expressed its desire to celebrate and participate in the 50th Independence Anniversary Flag Raising Ceremony and as a result, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo and other PPP/C MPs made every effort to ensure that they would be there and able to participate.
The party said that the issue of arrangements for accommodating the PPP/C MPs was raised on May 23rd,2016 with Minister Amna Ally and again on May 24th, 2016 at the sitting of Parliament; the Leader of the Opposition spoke directly to Minister in the Ministry of Educa-tion Nicolette Henry who is the Co-chair of the Flag Raising activity. The release said that the Minister gave all assurances that seats had been reserved for the PPP/C MPs and their spouses.
The PPP/C said that on the morning of May 25th, 2016, Henry was approached again about the location of and accommodation at the flag raising. The party said that all assurances were given that the Leader of the Opposition, Members of Parliament and their spouses would be accommodated.
“Regrettably on arrival at the VIP area (last night) there were no seats set aside for the Opposition MPs, except for the two Former Presidents, Dr. Jagdeo and Mr. Sam Hinds and two other MPs. The majority of the MPs were left standing. Appeals were made to Minister Henry and Attorney-General Basil Williams but to no avail. However, in the interim dozens of people were escorted to and seated in the VIP area. After standing for over half of an hour in the passageway and no seats were made available, the Leader of the Opposition, Former President Hinds, accompanied by the MPs and their spouses departed.
“The humiliation of standing in the passageway while other people were being seated was deliberately designed to humiliate and embarrass the PPP/C parliamentary opposition”, the party said.
Former President Donald Ramotar arrived separately and when he realized that the party delegation had left, he also departed.