Guyanese recall their treatment in Trinidad when life was most difficult in Guyana during the period of Burnham and Hoyte rule. Indians and non-Indian Guyanese experienced hostility at airports around the Caribbean region. The people for the most part were friendly but governments and immigration and customs bureaucrats were not welcoming of Guyanese. Almost every airport had a bench where Guyanese were sent after they landed as visitors or on work permits. Guyanese have a long memory especially against Trinidadians.
As I traveled around Guyana, concerns have been raised about Trinidadians coming to Guyana, getting state contracts ahead of Guyanese, purchasing property, pursuing various investments including housing construction, employment at UG, etc. There is a somewhat negative attitude towards Trinis who are coming to Guyana to do business, and it is related to how Guyanese were treated in Trinidad decades ago when the twin-island state was doing financially well while Guyana was in near starvation mode during the Burnham dictatorship.
Guyanese recall the ill-treatment meted out to them when they landed at Piarco since the early 1980s onwards. Hucksters and visitors were given a rough time in Trinidad by the authorities at the airport; these huckster helped to enrich Trini business community with their shopping, and they also rescued Guyana from shortages of basic items. Somehow, Guyanese blame all Trinidadians for their mis-treatment in Trinidad. They fail to differentiate between the authorities who instruct immigration and custom officers to be tough on Guyanese and the ordinary people who welcomed Guyanese.
It must be clarified that it was not Trinis who were ill-treating Guyanese, putting them to sit on that special bench at Piarco airport and deporting many to Guyana. That was the government policy and a few unfriendly immigration and custom officers at Piarco that felt Guyanese were coming to take away the jobs of Trinis or impacting on the politics. It was not the ordinary hard working, friendly, loving Trinis who were mis-treating or abusing Guyanese. Only once I was harassed at Piarco some three years ago when an inexperienced custom officer felt I was visiting Trinidad too often (every couple months) and recommended that there be a thorough search of every part of my luggage. But I did observe Guyanese being harassed at Piarco, Barbados, Antigua, Dominica, and Grenada.
Trinis, on the whole, treated Guyanese very warmly and helped Indo-Guyanese during the darkest days of the Burnham and Hoyte dictatorships. I met a lot of Guyanese (traders, hucksters) shopping in Trinidad and being hosted at homes of Trinis since the 1980s and I helped several bringing their luggage to Timehri. I heard Trinis spoke very fondly of Glen Lall and several other prominent Guyanese. Several were employed at UWI and at the library that I frequented.
Like most other Guyanese, I have had a very warm reception in Trinidad since my first trip in 1981 and made over two hundred trips since then as a researcher and pollster. I appeared on dozens of radio and TV programs and penned countless columns in newspapers and magazines. Every place I went, I was warmly received and there isn’t a village in Trinidad or Tobago that I did not pass through. Several Trinis hosted and fed me, and I spent hundreds of nights at various homes. I spoke at countless events throughout the island during festivals and at Indian Arrival Day commemorations. Pandits Reepu Daman Persaud, Prakash Gossai, Satish Prakash, Chunellall Narine, Gowkarran Sharma, Vishnu Panday, among other religious icons, were given royal treatment in Trinidad. Guyanese students at UWI also had positive experience in Trinidad where Indian families hosted them when they lacked funding for their studies. Politicians like Basdeo Panday, Ramesh Maharaj, Trevor Sudama, Kelvin Ramnath, among others, were sympathetic towards Guyanese. They chastised the T&T government for ill-treating Guyanese during the 1980s and beyond. Thousands of Guyanese are employed in T&T and hundreds owned businesses. Guyanese count among the wealthiest business people in Trinidad. Many Guyanese are married to Trinis and have settled there.
So there is a very close relationship between Guyanese and Trinis. The Trini people helped Guyanese. So we must not allow the government directed treatment at Piarco of the 1980s onwards to shape and define our attitude towards Trini investors. We must welcome Trini investors. Off course, there are some crooked Trinis, especially those who were part of that plot that was engaged in no bid contracts as happened during the preceding regime. The crooked ones must be excluded from state contracts.
As Guyana becomes a rich ‘petro inclined’ state, and positioned for economic take off, Guyanese must not look back and say it is time to get back at Trinis. They should be welcomed as investors and or as partners in business projects.