The letter by former PPP/C Prime Minister Sam Hinds published on October 8 in Sunday Stabroek intended to refute ACDA’s claim that a conspiracy exists to hinder the empowerment of Afro-Guyanese, and which was sent to all the print media houses, compels an answer on the grounds of its erroneous opinions derived from ignorance. He begins by implying that Afro-Guyanese should forget slavery because Joseph in the Bible was sold into slavery. I assume that he does not know that the ancestors of Afro-Guyanese were enslaved on the coastal plantations created by their muscle; that they were allowed their own kitchen gardens by plantation owners to save them money. Every Sunday they would travel with their passes to the township markets, which in the case of Georgetown was located where Demico House and St Andrews now stand. They sold with restrictions, to Stabroek/George-Town residents and the moored ships, saved their monies and bought the first villages including Mahaicony.
He implies unacceptable behaviour by Afro-Guyanese in the pre-Independence years and jumps past the drug cartels, auxiliary phantoms, and extrajudicial murders during the period when Mr Jagdeo was in office, blaming Afro-Guyanese for I am unsure what.
Mr Hinds declares that it was in the 28 years of PNC reign that Afro-Guyanese were steered away from business. That is insane. In the post emancipation years, the quest of the plantocracy and colonial government was divide and rule; they played the indentured Portuguese against the Afro community. The intention was to destroy existing Afro entrepreneurship, apart from the economic fact that after the implementation of the Earl Grey ‘Sugar Duties Act’ sugar fell, and the colony likewise into continuous heavy unemployment. These manipulations exploded in 1856 with the Angel Gabriel Riots, the deception of taking taxes from the villages and not providing drainage services, that destroyed existing agricultural capabilities.
It was the opening of the ‘gold bush’ in the 1880s that saved the villages. The landscape of the import-export business community by 1966 constituted Bookers; Portuguese-owned [commercial agents] businesses; the Indian-National owned businesses invited in by Premier Cheddi Jagan; Chinese supermarkets and the Artisan Afro-owned businesses. This was in addition to the fact that most of the Afro-Guyanese were in the lower to upper levels of the public service that included the police force; they were also stevedores, pork-knockers, members of the Merchant Marine, owners of drugstores, tailors, seamstresses, and the entertainment/Arts industry before and after 1966. Today many Guyanese who grew up in those 28 years are professionals in diverse fields because of developmental opportunities during that time.
Afro-Guyanese need not be lectured to sarcastically on self-empowerment; they do face obstacles at various levels because of the local colonial mythology directed against them and their perception that the principles they apply to engagements also exist among others. When in the 1980s the global economy sank into crisis, OPEC tightened its noose, especially around non-oil producing third world countries, and Guyana had to question its ideological direction, commodities were restricted, and the mainly Afro-Guyanese suitcase traders emerged. They supplied private sector stores, while some went to the North West, where barter with Venezuelan providers was conducted. I recognised from Mr Hinds’s essay on the occasion of the 155th commemoration of Emancipation that there existed a superficial understanding of the Afro New World condition. It became stronger and more obvious that something was wrong with Mr Hinds when he volunteered to visit Leonard Arokium and convince him of logistical fictions concerning the murder of his crew and sons at Lindo Creek.
I will conclude by outlining some personal experiences that I have made public before. In 1992 Norman Beaton came to Guyana to act in my play ‘Shadow of the Jaguar’ produced by Archie Poole. Mrs Jagan claimed erroneously that it was because of the ‘return of democracy’ ‒ the PPP mantra. The Jaguar was a comic strip published in the Sunday Chronicle at the time, and Claudette Earle was the Sunday editor. Sharif Khan told her they wanted the series stopped, and his secretary later related that it was considered an Afro-Guyanese super hero, so the PPP wanted it out of the paper. Sharif approached me and said that the two other strips ‘Bugs’ and ‘Times of Vincent’, “we like”, but he would like to make inputs. I cannot say in this letter what I said to him, except that they too were discontinued from that very weekend. I had outstanding monies for another newspaper so I had proposed ‘The Mighty Itanami’ [recently published] and two other illustrated works, but they were rejected. The owner’s wife was brutally honest when she told me, “Barry the people on the board would never allow yuh creole black people art stories in this paper.” The owner not long after asked ACDA if it would be okay for him to commission another artist to do a strip about an Afro-vendor with children whose husband had deserted her and the eldest children were turning to ‘badness’. ACDA’s response was that we will picket your newspaper on the grounds that other solid strips were offered defining Afro experiences and you rejected it; now you want to define Afro-Guyanese as essentially negative, and he dropped the idea.
At a function at the residence of the US ambassador in the presence of Paloma Mohammed and Malcolm DeFreitas I asked then Prime Minister Sam Hinds about the question of copyright and meaningful public sector participation with the Arts and cultural industries. Sam Hinds brushed away the latter and replied, “too many of our constituency would be affected by copyright.” That justified the strangulation of an entire industry and the livelihoods of people not considered his constituency; I was enraged and Malcolm grabbed my hand and pulled me away. This is magnified in numerous ways that includes the conflict of small miners today. The Afro-Guyanese community recognises the transfer of millions of state dollars by the PPP to chosen areas of its constituency to the point that one of their associates contended that if he wanted to own the Bourda cricket complex no one could stop him. This administration has to fulfil its UN obligation to the decade of rectifying wrongs against the Afro-Guyanese community. No wonder the PPP was so comfortable with Mr Hinds.