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Guyana’s Bitter History of Ethnic Based Politics

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This article was first published on the 8th of May, 2020 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: May 8, 2020 at 17:33 pm

In any multi-ethnic society such as Guyana, South America, ethnic based politics would be a recipe for disaster and will include ingredients such as marginalization, race baiting, mismanagement and oppression. But sadly, for the last 70 years, ethnic based politics, also referred to as “ethnopolitics,” has been practiced in Guyana.

In 1950, three politicians of different ethnicity teamed up to form Guyana’s first major political party. These were Cheddi Jagan – a Guyanese of East Indian descent, his wife Janet Jagan, an American born Jewish woman and Forbes Burnham – an African Guyanese descendant of slaves.

The trio were doubtlessly well educated, but not necessarily skilled in the art of governance. These were the ringleaders of the group who pushed for independence against the British. Needless to say, Guyana did not win independence, but was granted independence by the British which was looking to relinquish control of “burdensome colonies.” Nevertheless, there were much protests and violence leading up to Guyana’s independence in 1966, and many Guyanese still harbor the illusion that Guyana fought for and won independence from the British Empire (using cutlasses and knifes).

In 1950, Guyana was obviously off to a great start – with an African and East Indian man coming together to form Guyana’s main political party. However, this multi-ethnic coalition did not last long. In 1955, Burnham broke off from the PPP and formed his own political party which he renamed in 1957 the “People’s National Congress.”

Since 1957, the PPP and the PNC have been Guyana’s two main political parties taking on a strong ethnic overtone. The PPP, led by a man of East Indian descent, appealed to and courted the East Indian population while the PNC, headed by a man of African descent, appealed to and courted Guyanese of African descent. Minority races such as the Indigenous, Chinese, Portuguese and mixed races were almost evenly distributed between the two. This situation led to the brewing of racial conflicts that often turned violent and even deadly.

The PNC ruled Guyana from 1964, and, according to a US report, remained in power up to 1992 through rigged elections and centralized party control.

Read Story: US Report States that PNC/R Rigged Elections up to 1992.

In 1992, with the intervention of the Carter Center and various other international bodies, a free and fair elections was finally carried out in which the PPP won. The PPP ruled up to May 2015 when the PNC formed a coalition with seven other parties and renamed themselves APNU/AFC. The APNU/AFC won the elections in 2015 and ruled up to 2020.

At the time of this article, the controversial March 2020 general election in Guyana is still in process after over 2 months – with a recount having been agreed upon and ongoing.

Related: Showdown Looms Over Guyana as International Observers Blocked from Recount.

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