Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
There is an ongoing debate in the Guyana media on whether the PNC led coalition government should utilize the services of members of the diaspora in Guyana’s development. Missing in the narrative is the role the diaspora played in the restoration of democracy in Guyana as well as in national development, and whether this role qualifies them for government positions and contracts.
It is my view that individuals from the diaspora who played a role in the struggle against the dictatorship are deserving of government positions providing (off course) they are qualified for the job. They earn their way to a position for they made enormous sacrifices to liberate their homeland. And it will not be accurate to say that overseas Guyanese come to Guyana after democracy has been re-established to enjoy the benefits of the struggle of others. And at any rate, only a handful in Guyana actively partook in that struggle to restore democracy in the country. Others were afraid to join the struggle for fear of reprisals or most were physically too meek (very frail) to participate in a movement against the dictatorship during a period of mass hunger. Violence was used against dissidents and protesters; opponents were killed. Most in the diaspora had accepted their faith that Guyana would remain a dictatorship, and so they decided they would not return to Guyana. It is true that they lost interest in the homeland till after the fall of dictatorship and the consolidation of the return of democracy.
If those from the diaspora who played a role in liberating the homeland come to Guyana now to take state jobs or seek a piece of land for a house, what is wrong with that? Don’t they deserve it? They earned their place in the nation. They fought as much as others in Guyana, if not more, to free the country from authoritarian rule. And without the role of the diaspora, the country may well have remained a dictatorship.
For all practical purposes, the diaspora was always a part of Guyana. Most did not completely abandon their homeland. They had a tough life overseas, but they could not come home during the authoritarian years because the country was in terrible shape to accommodate them. It was rated as worse off than Haiti. Yet most in the diaspora maintained a link with a homeland expressing concern about human rights abuses and lack of democracy. All overseas Guyanese were not equally vocal in their opposition to the dictatorship, and some were more active than others in the struggle for restoration of democracy.
During the period of the dictatorship, when there was almost mass starvation and shortages of basic necessities, the diaspora sustained the economy. They sent barrels of food and other items and large amounts of remittances that provided much needed foreign exchange. A handful of us from the diaspora lobbied world governments (ABC countries, in particular) to pressure the dictatorship in Guyana to end the food ban, re-open the economy, and re-store democracy. I remember well the many long journeys I and a few others took in a vehicle from New York to Toronto, Washington, South Carolina, Atlanta, Miami, etc. to meet with colleagues who were part of the struggle to restore democracy to our country. I remember the many days I skipped classes at university to undertake these journeys and calling in sick from my job to attend political protests. I remember well the few of us who flew frequently to Guyana during our school vacation to join the struggle there. We used our own money to fund activities and to travel to distant locations in Canada, UK, Trinidad, Florida, etc. to garner support for the struggle against the dictatorship. These can never be repaid. I should note that only a handful of us from university days were actively involved in the struggle. Those doing Masters at McGill University or PhD studies at University of Toronto or at other universities did not join us in the struggle against the dictatorship to return democracy to the homeland. We remember that well. It was carried out with dedication and commitment by a handful of us who made tremendous sacrifices neglecting family life and purchasing a home. A few us (and a few Trinis, Antiguans, and Jamaicans as well) sacrificed education, income, and family life to liberate Guyana. For anyone to tell activists of the diaspora that they are not deserving of a job or a house lot is the epitome of ingratitude especially when you yourself did not join in the overseas struggle for restoration of democracy in Guyana.
It is true that several of those now hired on high (fat) salaries and those given business contracts (from the diaspora) are those who were with the authoritarian PNC regime up until 1992. They are not deserving of their positions. They were part, parcel and beneficiaries of the dictatorship, and they were not interested in ending the dictatorship in 1992 or played a role in the restoration of democracy. They were for their self-interests; the same is true today.
Overall, I say the government should use the services of the diaspora if they can play a meaningful role in development. Every country is courting its diaspora for investment and expertise in transforming the economy. Why shouldn't Guyana? And never forget the unique role the Guyanese diaspora (as well as non-Guyanese friends in Trinidad and elsewhere) played in eradicating hunger and starvation and in ending authoritarian rule in Guyana.