Burke fires back at Jagdeo’s plan to “embarrass” participants at US Conference on discrimination in Guyana

Last Updated on Monday, 21 August 2023, 20:05 by Denis Chabrol

Rickford Burke

New York-based Guyanese opposition political activist Rickford Burke has fired back at Guyana’s Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s plan to go after participants at a conference on alleged racial and political discrimination against Afro-Guyanese that is expected to be headlined Democratic Leader in the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

Mr Jagdeo clearly expressed his disgust at plans by Mr Burke’s Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) and other organisations to hold the conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC from September 27-28, 2023 under the theme, “Promoting Inclusive Governance and Economic Growth, Equal Justice, Social Equality & Sustainable Development for all Guyanese in the Era of Oil and Gas.”

“We will robustly take that on and we’ll point out all of this. In fact, he’ll get some robust engagements there and we’ll embarrass those who will be part of these activities,” he said.

Mr Burke said delegates will also brief White House officials, as well as officials from the State Department, Justice Department and FBI and US Exim Bank on the situation in Guyana. Delegates will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with key Members of Congress and US Senators, and there will be a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mr Jagdeo questioned the legality of Mr Burke’s work, saying that he is required under US law to be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). “He is lobbying in the US and it’s illegal to lobby the way he is doing it unless you’re registered as a foreign agent,” and maybe someone needs to complain to the Justice Department,” Mr Jagdeo added.

For his part, the Guyanese Vice President said his focus was mainly on Guyanese living in Guyana. “I don’t care which congressman or which body else who wants to be part of a criminal network… At the end of the day, the people of this country matter particularly those who live here,” he said. Two Guyana Police Force wanted bulletins have cited Mr Burke for several offences.

Congressman Jeffries, in the past at a Guyanese opposition event, had expressed concern about alleged racial discrimination in Guyana. A number of other Democratic Congressmen and top US government officials had in recent years urged wealth sharing and inclusivity. The Guyana government had rejected claims of discrimination and had issued failed invitations to Mr Jeffries to meet and have his concerns addressed.

Reacting to Mr Jagdeo position on the upcoming conference, Mr Burke reiterated that delegates, including Guyanese political leaders, would lobby for a brake on a US$134 million loan that Guyana wants to borrow from the US Export-Import Bank for the gas to shore project at Wales, West Bank Demerara. “We will mobilise our elected officials to put a hold on any US Exim Bank application from the racist PPP government until the practice ceases,” said Mr Burke who has consistently accused the People’s Progressive Party of practising racism against Afro-Guyanese and in favour of Indo-Guyanese in the award of contracts, distribution of oil wealth, seizure of lands and other practices,” he said.   The Irfaan Ali-led administration has denied those charges.

The Vice President appeared quite optimistic that the EXIMBANK loan would be approved. ““I think we’re on track…We’ve been assured.There is nothing we’ve been told that is adverse,” he said. 

In defending his government’s track record, the People’s Progressive Party’s General Secretary said a breakdown of data to show deprivations, as was demanded by political and social activist Attorney at Law Nigel Hughes, would reveal the distribution of house lots to public servants.

He also said the majority of people working in the oil and gas sector were Afro-Guyanese. In terms of Mr Hughes’ statement that no Afro-Guyanese has been awarded an oil block, he conceded that a few Indo-Guyanese had acquired an oil block in the distant past. However, he said under the auctioning of oil blocks it would depend on who submits attractive bids.  “Not Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese will get a new block because you have to bid now. Now, if they bid and they provide the signing bonus and everything else- because people like to flip these blocks- then they will get it but this is not like Indo-Guyanese getting it at the expense of Afro-Guyanese,” he said.  He said a number of exploration companies had spent large sums of money in Kaieteur and Canje so they are “seriously out-of-pocket” from failed exploration.

In response to Mr Hughes recommendation that Guyana’s constitution should be amended to allow for the provision of a breakdown on the allocation of resources by race, Mr Jagdeo said the supreme law could not segregate. “Our constitution operates on the basis that you can’t discriminate so this is all floury language to say to Afro-Guyanese ‘you’re not getting your share and, therefore, we are representing you and we want a constitutional amendment’,” he said.

At the same time, he defended his government’s track record towards Afro-Guyanese, noting that they have benefitted from contracts, distribution of lands, jobs and scholarships in addition billions of dollars in allocations that have benefitted all Guyanese. He said claims of discrimination in the award of certain licences turned on “how many people applied”. Mr Jagdeo challenged aggrieved persons to file complaints with the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). “If they believe that this is so why not go to the ERC and say ‘this is what we discovered’…The ERC is the mechanism that we jointly agreed to pursue to investigate discrimination, but you know why they wouldn’t go to the ERC because you have to go with facts,” he said.

Son-in-law of the mainly Afro-Guyanese backed People’s National Congress Reform, Dr Richard Van-west Charles also weighed in on the subject. “The Constitution is not an African Constitution but bears direct linkage and relevance to Guyanese citizenry. Hence it is worrying when any one of the ethnic group seeks to secure benefit for a particular ethnic group from the national resources without consideration for the other ethnic groupings. This approach does not align itself with what should and must be our preeminent identity which is Guyanese,” he said.

Dr Van-West Charles recently described President Irfaan Ali as “my friend” at an event that was held on the lawns of State House to mark the 185th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and the 200th anniversary of the Demerara slave rebellion of 1823.