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GUYANA: Amerindian votes at stake amid govt officials’ utterances

President Donald Ramotar on a recent campaign trip to Kurukubaru. The governing People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) flag is hoisted in the background (GINA photo)

As Guyana’s ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) aims to regain its badly needed parliamentary majority in early elections, the government appears to have smudged its own image again in the eyes of the Amerindians.

This time, President Donald Ramotar’s alleged utterance to a heckler at Aishalton, Rupununi has sent the administration scurrying to explain the circumstances of what might have been said.

Reacting to a heckler at a recent public meeting in that Amerindian community, the Guyanese leader is heard purportedly suggesting that the person was “stupid.” “You don’t know anything about Jagdeo. If he been here, he might a slap you, coz (because) you stupid,” he said.

In remarks leading up to that purported utterance, the President flayed the opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) for its record of governance from 1964 to 1992 and implied that that party leader, Retired Brigadier David Granger, had knowledge of Working People’s Alliance (WPA) co-leader Dr. Walter Rodney’s  bomb-blast death in 1980.

In a statement, the Office of the President did not rule out Ramotar uttering those words, but said that the integrity of the recording would have to be authenticated. At the same time, Ramotar’s spokesman, Kwame Mc Mcoy confirmed that there was a verbal exchange between the Guyanese leader and an Aishalton resident three weeks ago during a meeting there. “In the meantime, the specific incident being referred to involves a hinterland resident who attempted to disrupt the President’s public meeting using invectives, insulting and disparaging remarks towards Former President Bharrat Jagdeo.

“The tenor of the engagement represents the cut and thrust of public meetings,” said Mc Coy.

The Office of the President’s statement did not specifically say whether President Ramotar’s remarks were in defence of his predecessor.

 
Mc Coy went on to blame the opposition and and its allied media for engaging in desperate antics to remain relevant “particularly since Guyanese recently rejected the opposition’s calls to disrupt the Christmas season.” “As the New Year beckons, particularly with general elections pending, we can expect many more such attempts at sensational reporting.”

This is the third reported discordance involving top government officials in recent months. Relatedly,  the heckler at Aishalton less than one month ago had alleged that a Presidential Guard assaulted him after the meeting. The accuser, Teacher John Adams, expressed concern Tuesday on the privately-owned Capitol News television that police have been dragging their feet on the investigations as part of a plot by the PPPC.

The first reported matter involved Permanent Secretary, Nigel Dharamlall in April, 2014 at a gathering of Amerindians before a government-organised protest against the opposition’s cut of the sections of the 2014 National Budget.

At that meeting, Dharamlall had told village leaders that if they had supported a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-funded Community Development Programme (CDP) they could not have interfaced with his office.

“I don’t want any single one of you to ever again…and I keep saying this all over and over again, any CSO (Community Support Officer) who says that they are working on the UNDP project called the CDP, I want you off the CSO project”, he riled.

He added that,” any Toshao or senior councillor who represents to any village that the CDP is a UNDP project, you don’t have access to my office “. He continued,” I am coming hard-line on people who don’t see the future and who don’t want to be a part of the development of the country”.

They must not receive your support, just like how the destroy you, you must tell them no, he told the Toshaos.  He also accused the leaders of being sympathetic of the APA, stating that that body is “in bed with the opposition”. So in as much as APNU and AFC are doing what they are doing in Parliament APA is doing the same things outside in the fields”, he said.

The Amerindian Affairs Permanent Secretary later denied threatening the First Peoples and assured that he had an “open-door policy to anyone who comes to the ministry.”

With the PPPC having lost a fair number of its traditional East Indo-Guyanese supporters to migration, apathy, disenchantment, over-confidence and new generation of voters since the party gained office in 1992; campaigning has been heavy in Amerindian communities.

Observers say that the PPP regards the Amerindian vote as crucial to catapult it back into majority control of the 65-seat National Assembly. The combined opposition, using its one-seat majority, has claimed credit for greater transparency and accountability. On the other hand, the government has repeatedly accused A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) of paralyzing a number of key transformative mega projects like those in hydropower, aviation, hospitality and health.