Pressing the issue of ‘ancestral claim’ has serious consequences

Dear Editor,

Now that the largesse from our oil riches is about to make its appearance in the country’s coffers and perhaps pockets of some, the clamour for a share of national endowment as a matter of ancestral right is becoming more frequent and getting louder and more insistent. With an eye on the largesse, both major ethnic political parties are more determined than ever to capture the Cacique Crown of Power and to hold it for as long as possible, regardless of the means employed.  For example, the present government has invented a new arithmetic and statistical method to overturn the no-confidence vote that would have cut short its time in office and required fresh national election.  By no logic can the “absolute majority” of 65 be 34.  In demography, it is the norm to express statistics as a whole number with decimal points.  Just look at the 2012 Census Reports: average household size is not expressed as a round number but as a number with a decimal point: 3.6 persons per household for Guyana.  The same holds for the number of persons per square kilometer: 3.5 persons at the national level, 9.6 on the Coastland, and 1.8 persons in the Hinterland.  If only whole numbers count, much of Guyana’s demographic statistics will have to be revised and the number of MPs will have to change from an odd to an even number.  Such a change will introduce a stalemate in decision-making by Parliament and will only create unnecessary structural problems.

In the past, the burning desire to claim the British legacy and to fight for the working class were, for the most part, the motive for capturing and staying in power.  Subsumed in the “British legacy” is the ancestral claim to a share of the country’s endowment, marginalization and victimization of a major ethnic group that is not supporters of a symbolic coconut tree, and widespread corruption, especially petty corruption.  The “working class” ploy was perceived as an opportunity to impose socialism upon Guyanese and, later, to enrich politicians and an anointed handful of others via discrimination and massive and pervasive corruption, including high-level corruption and state capture, while mostly ignoring the very working-class people who got the octopus – with an empty cup as the ensign of its greatness – into power in the first place.

One major political party has always been interested in protecting the ethnic group that is its base, has been explicit about it and has never wavered. Its raison d’être is unequivocally rooted in narrow ethnic interests.  For example, Public Health Minister and People’s National Congress Reform Chairperson Volda Lawrence told attendees at Region 4 District Conference held on 25 November 2018: “Well I got news for you: The only friends I got is PNC, so the only people I could give work to is PNC” (SN, 30 November 2018).  The other major political party purports that is it a working-class party, a useless analytical device that cuts across ethnicity – there is only class in Marxism; ethnicity does not exist – but is more interested in furthering its own interests. In effect, one political party is transparent about its goals; the other shrouds its goals in thin nothingness that still mystifies and deludes its die-hard supporters.  Regardless of posture, aim, method, competency or the state of the economy and society, both of the major political parties want to capture the country’s endowment – one for its ethnic base, the other more for itself than its supporters. The acquisition of wealth is thus a fundamental plank from which both major political parties derive their motive, drive, relevance, praxis and staying power.

Cognizant of the above arguments, I have tried my hand at composing a little “poem” that, hopefully, captures the prevailing ethos of political parties and ethnic groups.  I call the “poem” “Ode to wealth.”

With oil money flowing soon

Dreams of wealth and laziness spell doom

Of claims to national patrimony

About this, nothing’s funny

Perceived entitlement to Guyana’s wealth unfounded

Commencing with claims to ancestral land

Rights to only two ethnic groups belong

Who alone toiled and must be made strong

Amerindians 23.8 percent of the land deserve

Africans 18.0 percent which exceeds the coastal reserve

And Indians none

For Indian had all the fun under the sun

To them all rights undone

As I see it, “ancestral claim” is a can of worms and oil its tipping point.  The claim cannot be justified on the basis of 400 years or so presence in the country, mortality rate, suffering or the diabolical instrument of colonialism, slavery and near-slavery, with the latter euphemistically called indenture.  Reparations is different from “ancestral claim,” and there is probably some justification for the former but none to the latter. Pressing the issue of “ancestral claim” has serious consequences.

Yours faithfully,

Ramesh Gampat

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