Sunday, July 17, 2016

Guyana’s Junta and the New Cold War

by clairmont chung

Many thought the Cold War over: dead and buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall. The winners claimed their medals and the superiority of their ideas. These formed an alliance centered on notions of individual freedoms and a free market. Seemingly, slowly, the rest of the world fell into smug step. But, now, as the whole planet grapples with the same old but growing income inequalities and all kinds of fundamentalism, environmental degradation, mass health emergencies, racism and xenophobia, huge cracks have opened in once sacred alliances. Smaller countries like Guyana and others in the region struggle to fill their cracks while being knocked around by huge waves that originate elsewhere, in a struggle to stay afloat and a lifeline with room for only a few. For Guyana, more than most, it seems a lot like that old Cold War.  The offered lifeline is the exploitation of resources but that has brought little benefit to its caretakers; only its takers.

President David Granger
So, instead of discussing the next 50 years of development and possibilities of progress, the promise of new kinds of sustainable energy, mass transportation, race-free distribution of resources and internetric commerce, we are mired in a familiar ‘we versus them’ paradigm as an excuse for our stagnation. Except ‘them’ and ‘we’ are not so clear, or different, ideologically. Segments of the population struggle to maintain a course to their own humanity. In a decade where many would be celebrating 50 years of independence from colonial rule, the old powers and allies are even more involved in our lives as anytime since independence and effecting the usual coups and regime changes. And the recent change a rehash of the same.

What does one call a government with one career military officer as Head of State and another as Minister of State?

There are some differences in this new Cold War. It’s not communism versus capitalism. One wonders what happened to that difference and if it ever was. Instead, it’s one kind of neoliberalism against another kind of neoliberalism, one more fascist than the other, and all to control any resources or ideas of self-determination.

On May 16th of 2015 Guyana swore in Brigadier David Granger, Ret’d, a former Commander in that country’s army, as winner of its May11th national election and its 7th President. Brigadier Granger headed a coalition of parties, APNU-AFC, led by his own People’s National Congress (PNC), that promised a return to order for a country that had been racked by underdevelopment ills, misuse of natural resources, narco-traffic, narco-klepsy, violence, institutional racism, poverty, and corruption.

Guyana’s election could have gone without note as many of its sister Caribbean nations in Trinidad, Jamaica and St. Vincent had it not had a border with Venezuela. Immediate military and nationalistic rhetoric followed the election and brought Brigadier Granger under closer scrutiny, not only because he is a former military head, but also because of the peculiar rise of his star, and his close association with the US military, that notorious cold warrior. President Granger appears to have emerged quite rapidly from relative obscurity and retirement to head of state. Even within his own party, the People’s National Congress, now APNU, his rise seemed almost Obama-like as among US Democrats. His challenge for party leadership shunted aside very well known, long time, aspirants to power. It caused some early divisions in that party but fences appear to have mended quickly and with good result: a seat at the head table.

His political platform was not ideologically different from the incumbent People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Unlike the early days of Guyana’s modern political history when the masses aligned with socialist PPP against the conservative colonial agents; now, both the losing PPP and now ruling PNC led APNU-AFC tout the usual neo liberal platitudes made popular during the Cold War; the country’s consistent economic growth or its lack, security, more foreign investment, privatization, free markets and anti corruption.

Corruption seemingly only resides in the underdeveloped, as if corruption is somehow greater in victims and pawns of the war than in the ones who conspired to seize power; and replace their enemies with their allies in coups and other conspiracies.

The Cold War labeled the PPP as Marxist and the PNC, now APNU-AFC, as, not so much, and more sympathetic to western interests. Neither protested then nor do now. Guyana’s modern political history, like the rest of the world’s, has been written on a slate mined in the Cold War; but recent times have seen little to betray the Marxist histories of its earlier leading political figures. Nothing either major presidential candidate said harked back to the old days of Marxist influenced appeals to broken chains, real independence, organized labor or a communist international against European and American imperialism. Instead, both groups have avoided any left leaning rhetoric and fought to outdo each other finding the narrowest distance between them and US sentiments. Part of the reason is that neither of the old Cold War leftist countries, Russia nor China, espouses any left leaning rhetoric and certainly not in actual practice. In fact, both show contempt for workers' rights at home and abroad.

US involvement would seem unnecessary in this environment.  Evidently, the US saw things differently. If, in fact, it was the vote that ousted the PPP, it was a vote informed by that government’s connection to narco traffic and gang warfare that left several hundred dead or missing and one of the US consulate staff kidnapped. He was rescued allegedly by a gang leader attached to the PPP. In the recent elections, not one to leave anything to chance, the US engaged and funded a get ‘out to vote campaign’, with TV advertising no less, that posed as part of the democratic process and without an obvious bow to either side. A cursory reading of US history in the region reveals little of anything democratic.

But despite the similarities of the two vying factions, Guyana is a central part of that new Cold War and the US role looks now as then:we look as we did in 1964. Then, A PNC led coalition, PNC-UF, won an election that ushered in that country’s independence of May 1966. Similarly, now a PNC led coalition has won the 2015 election and the right to preside over the country’s 50th year of that independence.

The Invasion
That 1964 victory came at the end of a decade that had begun with a British led invasion. In 1953, British troops intervened to suspend the then British Guiana constitution with its new rights for working people, and imprison its socialist and communist leaning authors. That invasion came at the beginning of the Cold War and helped identify the Cold War strategy of coups and regime changes in the region. 

Within 5 years thereafter that coalition of left leaning Guyanese leaders had been divided and split into two main parties with race as a primary function in the split, but ideology too. Race would become a touchstone that would usher in a civil war. Many rural villages were racially ‘cleansed’. There had been some blurring of the lines between East Indian and African villages kept historically separated. Civil war meant one had to move back to one’s traditional villages and sometimes live in homes once occupied by a family of the other race. The irony: you could not live in their village but you could live in their home. It was really a political war between two parties fueled by the cold war, not unlike Jamaica in the 1970s, except in Guyana race played a greater role in identifying the enemy. All of this, much like Jamaica of the 1970s, garrisons included, has been shown to occur with the full involvement of the US and UK. There was an invasion then too, more like a build-up, not to change governments only but to enforce its change and to maintain the separateness: apartheid. This is separate from the state sponsored violence against the people that has continued unabated from forced labor, through indenture, to now.

The 2015 elections saw none of the political violence of the previous political milestones of 1953 or 1964. There was violence and even racial violence, in the past decade, but not overtly party centered. It is yet to be fully analyzed. Narco funded gangs began a series of assassinations, seemingly random, initially, but as part of a crime fight, then grew as a gang related fight for control of the narco traffic and with the victors tied to the ruling PPP: operatives would later testify in US courts. It was not the racial-political civil war of the 1960s, but a war to control the local drug trade and, inevitably, political influence, that had long been racially divided. The US seemed disinterested but with the occasional reprimand about drug transshipment and the need for greater security including a local DEA office.
Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and President Lyndon Johnson

The Cold War was long over and the wars on drugs and terror the new focus; if just a kind of distraction at first. All are now ongoing, simultaneously, molded into one huge globe of insecurity. The war on drugs became a war that militarized the police to control human resources and any kind of resistance with Black Lives as examples of what could happen. The war on terror began as a war for control of oil resources that escalated into what we now know, but we have been under a state of terror at least from enslavement and the deaths of innocents its hallmark. 

Looked at as a whole we see its not cold, its not drugs, its not terror. Bodies are lying everywhere.  It’s the expansion of empire and on a much older battlefield.

In 1953, Fidel Castro was in jail for his failed armed attempt to seize power in 1952 Cuba. So US and UK intervention in 1953, in Guyana, was informed by those developments and similar attempts around the world as well as their own global ambitions. 1953 was also the overthrow of Iran's elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and the re-imposition of the Shah of Iran.

A similar pattern emerges and questions raised when Guyana’s 2015 election is viewed in the context of regime changes in Brazil and Argentina, ongoing attempts at similar changes in Venezuela and as far back as the 2009 coup in Honduras.

Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama
When in 1980 Former US President Ronald Reagan commanded the Berlin Wall torn down, Russia and China were not the same kind of enemy US President Kennedy had faced in 1961. By 1961, Castro had finally succeeded in seizing power and banishing unbridled capitalism. And moreover, the USSR had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the US: a short 90 miles from Miami. China was in support of North Vietnam in a war that would see the US withdraw in shame. But by 1980 all showed signs of structural political change and an end to the Cold War. US global goodwill was not sufficient to end the Cuba blockade. But it would be US money that kick-started China’s new economic ascendancy.

Today, China’s brand of state sponsored capitalism, as is Russia’s, can hardly be distinguished from the US or the UK’s.  It is all state sponsored, the US’ too, because none of it could be possible without the military apparatus and corporate welfare. It appears that economies survive; even if in turmoil, when you have the military might to support it. The others seek favor. This was the case in the 1620s when the Dutch West India Company and its agents arrived in the Americas and, importantly, in the now named Essequibo River, in Guiana and Hudson River in New Amsterdam, now New York. This is still the case now; as Exxon-Mobil makes its timed appearance.

Beginnings of the Modern Empire

The short and brutal Spanish-American War of 1898 is generally accepted as the first steps of US imperial ambition. Wars have been glorified through history, but they are as glorious as a stick-up, and much more deadly. Weakened by the weight of smaller wars and insurgencies in its colonies, Spain did not relish a battle with the US: it had been spread too thin. Cuba was in revolt. New Granada, by then Gran Colombia, was in revolt and The Philippines too. Spain learned, as had the US, an economy without forced labor is not as easy as one with. The US moved against a now wounded super-predator and a chance to expand simultaneously in the Atlantic as well as the Pacific coasts of both the Americas and Asia. New Granada had broken into Gran Colombia, which included Panama. New Granada originally included today’s Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and parts of Peru. These territories remain crucial to understanding the US’ continuing imperial ambitions. Again, not much has changed.

The US hit upon its signature strategy of backing insurgencies and then staying; usually beyond its welcome. It revived the dream of a transcontinental canal; it financed Panama’s secession from Gran Colombia, in 1903, were the first to recognize the new country, immediately, and promptly arranged for its own control of what was to be the Panama Canal.

The same strategy was used in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. With its fleets in disarray, Spain agreed at the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, to cede control of Cuba, The Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US. Though it did not get the whole of Gran Colombia in the deal, it got the Panama Canal along with significant regional influence.

In the Asian theatre, The Philippines became a base, and remains so today, from which to monitor developments in China and Russia. This made the Panama Canal even more important. At about the same time, China was engaged in its own rebellion against European interests. It had come down a long way from its once mighty military and technological advantage. And now was the subject of colonial exploitation under European control. Resistance to foreign exploitation and the attendant humiliations evolved into the Boxer Rebellion lasting from 1899 to 1901. That resentment was soon directed at the monarchy, the 4000-year-old Qing Dynasty; that revolution began in 1911 and by 1912 had established the Republic of China.

Simultaneously in Russia, strikes and political turmoil evolved into the 1905 Revolution and a new constitution in 1906. But that did not stem the clamor for greater equality from below. The First World War, 1914-18 only exacerbated these inequalities and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 by 1918 had led to a full civil war and the execution of the Royal family; Czar Nicholas II, his wife and children.

My Enemy’s Enemy

The Cold War is so named because the main participants were engaged in a war that did not result in an actual exchange of fire between them. Many of the cold warriors fought as allies; the US, USSR and China in WW II and I. They were not allies before the wars but common interests prevailed over individual ambitions. Between the wars, many leaders in the Pan African movement identified with Russia and were viewed with more than suspicion by western imperialism. That was set aside during the Second World War and to the great benefit of Europe and America because it is the opinion of the experts that without the Soviet involvement the result would have been decidedly different.

However, that alliance did not survive and it is that post WW II period that intensified the freeze of the Cold War and laid the foundation for its current reboot. President Obama’s recent visits to Cuba and Argentina set the context. It is the places he did not visit that better tells the story; Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia Ecuador and Venezuela, of course. The Cuba visit was sold as a thaw in that relationship. But little was mentioned about the origins of the freeze.

Are We Friends, Nyet?

Now that Russia has relinquished its socialist ideology and its regional satellites, Cuba in particular is no longer seen as an obstacle to US expansion. It is cast more as a relic of the geo-politico-ideological war between socialism and capitalism waged primarily between the US and the former USSR. Despite these developments, Cuba holds tenaciously to some old socialist tenets. While at US held Guantanamo, that lasting vestige of that old war, terror suspects undergo the kind of torture formerly associated with the Iron Curtain that once cloaked the Soviet socialist republics on the other side of the Berlin Wall. There is talk of lifting the 60 year old US enforced blockade against Cuba. No US President had visited for 88 years. President Obama’s Cuba visit may have been intended as confirmation of the old war’s end, a demonstration of the toothless bear, with manicured claws: a friend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only is the war not over, but also it’s at one of its most volatile points and being waged, as of old, everywhere. This was not always apparent. The lines on the battlefield, if so before, are not as simple and clear now: the two dimensional view of socialism versus capitalism has ramped up. China, once seen as a sidekick to the Soviet machine, at least in the post World War II period, has emerged as its own superpower and blurred the line with its own brand of imperialism with state lubricated capitalism. Russia, freed from its satellites forged its own sleeker brand of imperialism. Russia’s once global reach has been surpassed by China, both are modernizing their arsenals and looking for opportunities. 

As if out of step, in the US of all places, a viable presidential candidate publicly declared himself socialist and drew hugely popular support. Times had changed or not. The US is effecting every bit of influence to chart the planet’s orbit and nowhere more evident than in little Guyana.  

President Granger’s People National Congress (PNC) that had been out of power for 23 years had itself dabbled with socialism through the years; despite its origins as the beneficiary of the US intelligence and its decidedly neo colonial policy. State department records and independent accounts confirmed that in 1964 the US and Britain combined, through various agents including the CIA and the AFL-CIO, to elevate Forbes Burnham to power as leader of the PNC and part of an earlier coalition with a decidedly pro-west United Force. The PNC’s early leadership had once been part of the then defeated People’s Progressive Party. PPP leader, Cheddi Jagan, had identified himself and the party as a socialist and the US and UK intelligence agreed he was Marxist and a communist. Forbes Burnham lead a split from the PPP in the mid 1950s to form the PNC, became premier in 1964, Prime Minister in 1966, and President in 1980: a run that saw him as the head of state in some political form for 21 consecutive years until his death in 1985. The PNC held on until 1992.

A Guyana National Service Contingent
President Granger served as a career military officer under the Burnham regime for most of that time, 1967 to 1992, and a primary architect of its Guyana National Service program 1974 to 2000. National Service was adopted as part of that government’s ‘socialist’ phase lasting from around the early 1970s to Burnham’s death in 1985. President Granger’s earlier socialist association seems distant now; as did President Burnham’s earlier socialist association with the PPP must have seemed when he was anointed as Premier in 1964. The US did view Burnham with skepticism then, but felt he would be better than Cheddi who was more clearly aligned with the Soviets of that time. President Burnham’s socialism grew more austere the longer he remained in power and included fraternal relations with Cuba, the USSR, China, and The People’s Republic of Korea. President Granger even led military delegations to some of these countries including North Korea; a trip that one would think unthinkable for him now. Perhaps Burnham felt pushed and Granger was excused as a soldier following orders from his Commander-in-Chief.

The Chile Connection

Most of Latin America was under military juntas, dictatorships or close. Brazil’s ‘Three Stooges’ took control in 1969; a reference to the US roll in the coup and the three-person military junta. After a few months, they relinquished to another career military officer in Emílio Garrastazu Médici that began an extended military rule. While Forbes Burnham as Commander in Chief of Guyana's armed forces pushed towards socialism and Pan Africanism, in a military government of sorts, Salvador Allende was overthrown and assassinated by his military leaders, some he appointed, in a US supported Coup. Augusto Pinochet became that country’s Commander in Chief. Pinochet in Chile marks that country’s most repressive period. It is claimed 3000 were murdered or disappeared and 80,000 tortured or imprisoned. Almost every Latin American country has had a period of military rule, except Mexico and that is debatable; and if not military rule certainly dictatorship.  Some even claimed socialism. Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil enjoyed the longest periods of military rule. It is with some irony that in recent times these 4 countries posed, along with Uruguay and Ecuador, some ideological resistance to US hegemony.

Perhaps President Granger had been better vetted than Former President Burnham. President Granger is listed by the National Defense University (NDU) as a 2000 graduate and also as an Adjunct Professor until 2010 at its Fort Lesley J. McNair home in Washington DC. It is operated by the US Department of Defense. It was in 2010 that Brigadier Granger’s star began to rise within the PNC and APNU organizations and in 2011 stood as its leader in national elections in a losing effort. Immediately after his 2015 election victory he returned to deliver a commencement address at his alma mater. He had been retired from military service since 1992.

In fairness, his address was not to the entire university: He addressed graduates at William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies who had completed the 6-week Caribbean Defense and Security Course. The center is sometimes referred to as CHDS and also WJPC. The release noted all participants received a copy of President Granger’s book on geopolitics. This involvement, by itself, would not raise too many eyebrows in even the Caribbean region as most of its military brass have historically attended military schools in England and France and more so now the US. Additionally, the center’s stated goals of security in Latin America and the Caribbean seems fairly benign.

However, as recent as 2014, US Senator and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, launched an investigation, headed by the Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, into the Perry Center (WJPC) and whistleblower allegations that it protected one of its professors indicted in 2013 by Chilean civil court as responsible for the torture and murder of 7 detainees while he served in Chile’s secret police under President Pinochet. Further allegations surfaced of the clandestine involvement of WJPC officials in the Honduras Coup of 2009 that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and that the WJPC exhibits a culture of mismanagement, corruption, homophobia, racism, and sexism. US Senator Patrick Leahy noted allegations the National Defense University has hired as faculty, military officers accused of human rights violation that included extra judicial killings and torture. The William J. Perry Center falls under direct command of Southcom, US military southern command, and so too does Guantanamo.

Orlando Letelier
The 2009 overthrow of Manuel Zelaya was carried out by Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, another retired Brigadier but of the Honduran Armed Forces and a graduate of another US Department of Defense school, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). This was formerly the School of the Americas originally opened in Panama in1946 but moved to the Fort Benning, GA in 1984 and later renamed after repeated protest about its graduates and their history of torture, murder and coups. It is from that school that Manuel Contreras graduated and became the head of the Chilean Secret Police (DINA) under Augusto Pinochet. But even more importantly Contreras was serving as Chief of Secret Police in 1976 at the time of the murder of Carlos Letelier an exiled Chilean dissident in Washington DC. Letelier had worked for the deposed Socialist Salvador Allende and was imprisoned, tortured and exiled after the 1973 Coup.

Michael Townley 
A DINA Agent, Michael Townley confessed to his role in the murder of Letelier and implicated Manuel Contreras in that and Operation Condor; a plan to eliminate political dissidents, trade unionists, and Marxist subversives in Latin America and beyond. John Judge in his essay “The Black Hole of Guyana (p143)” called Townley a  ‘decapitation specialist’. Cuban dissidents from New Jersey helped Townley and the names of Luis Posada Cariles and Orlando Bosch surfaced as part of that conspiracy and others including the September 1, 1976 bombing of the Guyana Consulate in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Posada and Bosch were later arrested and held in Venezuela for the October 6th, 1976, bombing of the Cubana Airlines flight 455 that killed 73; 11 Guyanese citizens were among the dead. Cariles escaped while awaiting retrial and is reported to have subsequently worked for the CIA and the Contras in the war to depose the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

More important is that the car bomb that killed Letelier was taped to the underside of the car, to the frame, its switch in the 'on' position, under the driver’s seat. Townley confessed to taping it himself.  The bomb was detonated remotely, electronically. The injuries are also significant to note. Letelier’s lower torso was blown up, his legs severed. His front seat passenger, 25 year old Ronni Moffitt, would more than likely have survived except for a piece of shrapnel that punctured her throat. She drowned in her blood. Her husband in the back seat survived with minor scratches.

Letelier's bombed car
It is in that sense we are back at that earlier political juncture. Perhaps we never left. Most of the operatives are still alive and changes in government have seen a return of retired actors. This essay is not to cast blame but to raise awareness, vigilance and provide context for the debate and to analyze current and coming developments. 

From 1964, for 28 years until, to 1992 the PNC was able to hold onto power. And from numerous and credible reports, none of the many elections and one referendum were free or fair. The PPP regained and held power from 1992, for 23 years, to 2015.  If you listen to PNC supporters, none of those elections were free and fair. And the players in front and behind the scenes now, hold a stunning resemblance to those then. Even the differences help make the point. The Cold War is alive and well.

Even the APNU AFC coalition came on the advice of US interests. A Wikileaks release revealed the US sent an emissary before the 2011 election to urge a coalition of the parties against the PPP. Only one year earlier Brigadier Granger had risen from obscurity to party leader. The AFC comprising then a younger generation of former members of the PPP and PNC disenchanted with the old politics, refused the advice and invitation to a coalition.  

Guyanese victims on Cubana Flight 455
The numerically smaller Working People’s Alliance (WPA) joined the coalition in 2011; a party founded in opposition to the PNC during that earlier reign and also one once closer to traditional socialist conventions.  The AFC holds no socialist pretentions. It joined the coalition in time for the 2015 elections.

A recent commission of inquiry convened before the elections by the PPP, determined that the then PNC government under Forbes Burnham carried out the car bomb assassination of Walter Rodney in 1980, the WPA’s Marxian co leader. His driver, brother Donald Rodney, survived with lacerations to the exposed side of his neck and face.

Though the participants in the Cold War never exchanged direct fire that does not mean there were no casualties. There were millions of casualties within those countries and their satellites;some attacked their own citizens. Wars were fought by proxy. Millions died in Vietnam. Afghanistan is ongoing, so too is Syria. Many died inside the US, the black power movement, the anti war movement, and the overarching civil rights movement. It was a war of ideas. Not all ideologues occupied lands with needed resources to fight a war. Not all casualties were ideologues. Most were innocent.

Congressional hearings on FBI activities confirmed the already known activities under its Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) ranged from actual assassinations, infiltrations, false prosecutions, character assassinations, finding the seams in the organizations and splitting those seams to the point where the factions were shooting each other.

A number of players surprisingly sought refuge from this onslaught in Guyana. The story of the Stiner brothers was recently retold on National Public Radio. Two brothers, members of the Black Panther Party, were convicted of killing Black Panther leaders Bunchy Carter and John Huggins. Both brothers escaped prison together and ended up in Guyana in the early 70s. Larry Watani Stiner left Guyana for Suriname in 1980 and the story was about his life there, his return to the US, where he was re-incarcerated to complete his sentence. He did survive prison and was reunited in LA with his Surinamese wife and children.

Rabbi Washington
The most notorious was Jim Jones. The People’s Temple massacre remains incomprehensible and ripe for speculation. But its tragic end as a supposed socialist experiment supported the point of socialism’s failures. Rabbi Washington, known as David Hill, was another US refugee in Guyana and formed the House of Israel. These were not Panthers but were supposedly seeking a safe place away from the attention of US laws and enforcement; but instead became the law against any opposition to the ruling PNC. Many came to realize that they were in as much danger there from US authorities as they were in the US. Others became disenchanted and left what they thought would have been an Nkrumah-like Pan African socialist country under Forbes Burnham.

Maj. Gen. Norman McLean
President Granger has surrounded himself with former military colleagues in key positions. His Minister of State is Joseph Harmon a retired Lieutenant Colonel and seen as the force behind the Office of the President forming a kind of Junta Elegida (elected). Old party faithfuls and military personnel of the 70s and 80s head state-run corporations and key institutions. Norman McLean, Maj. General Ret., heads the Private Sector Commission. The newest admit to that commission is Exxon.  Maj. General is the highest rank among the retirees. Bloomberg News valued Exxon’s recent oil find in Guyana at $40 Billion, the Guyanese 2014 GDP at $3.23 Billion and Exxon’s market value at $341 Billion. One can see the likely reason for Venezuelan nervousness and Guyana’s spirited rhetoric about border protections.

Guyana has historically been analyzed within the context of the English speaking Caribbean. A more accurate analysis may require Latin America as the context. US hegemony has not spared former British colonies of the Caribbean. But for the most part they have complied with the dictates of US foreign policy, except for Grenada in 1979, Trinidad and Tobago in 1970 and 2 later coups, and Jamaica for a time under Michael Manley. After the 2015 election, President Granger flew a day early to a Mercosur conference in Brazil. It was reported as an opportunity to request then President Dilma Rousseff to talk to Venezuela’s President Maduro and help calm down the rhetoric. President Granger could not have known a conspiracy was brewing to oust President Rousseff and replace her with conservative neo liberals bent on her impeachment. Rousseff had been imprisoned and tortured by Brazil ‘s military government while a young leftist activist.

Presidents Granger and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil
Mercosur has pursued a self-determination line. All had issued directives that they will not send any further candidates to the schools run by the US Department of Defense. Though that was before the ‘coup’ against Rousseff and the neo liberal victory in Argentina.

It has been three years since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fled into and remained in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has been granted asylum by that government but believes he would be arrested and extradited to the US if he attempts to leave its embassy. Eric Snowden, National Security Administration whistleblower, fled the US and settled in Russia. Evidently he did not feel safe in China, his first stop. The fallout from the US role in the ouster of President Zelaya of Honduras may yet haunt Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in her presidential bid. At the most recent Caribbean Energy Summits 2015 and extended to Central America in 2016 in Wash. DC, US, Vice President Biden urged Guyana and regional heads to seek alternative oil deals to the ones with Venezuela, Petro Caribe. That may be mute now.

All this is happening as traditional Cold War enemies are cleaving towards neoliberal agendas. While a US presidential hopeful has met with tremendous success from younger Americans despite declaring himself socialist. NATO is massing in Poland and Russia’s western border as a response to Russia in Crimea and Syria too. China is everywhere. A China based company is a partner in an oil-drilling consortium headed by Exxon to develop the new fields off Guyana’s coast. Another US presidential hopeful plans to build a wall to exclude people from the center of the empire. It seems the more things change the more they stay the same. And Guyana is, as always, caught in the strong currents, vulnerable, like the infantry, on a battlefield with its Kings, Queens and Knights moved by an almost unseen hand.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fires, Bombs and Hearsay: A plan that blew up the prison, finally!

by clairmont chung

Our penal system came out from the enslavement system. Until we recognize that, bigger better prisons would lead nowhere. They too will be filled with the hordes of the dehumanized; and the population desensitized.

Survivors of the prison massacre taken for medical attention

The 17 men incinerated at the Georgetown Prison on Thursday, March 3, 2016, is a warning of things to come. It has reached a point where we do not recognize our own contributions to the condition; our fuel to the fire. Fire has been a traditional political weapon to terrorize poor people, and the bomb its most recent incarnation. At no point was this truer than now: a time of the Walter Rodney COI, its delayed report and the Georgetown Prison massacre.

In one week Guyana’s political leadership felt compelled to denounce testimony from one Commission of Inquiry, WRCOI, solely because it came from a convict and then convene another ‘Commission of Inquiry’ at which convicts and would-be-convicts would have to testify. More than likely, as a cruel joke, one of the witnesses could be Robert Gates, inmate and confessed Death Squad member of the Rodney COI fame.

The government alleged Rodney had a plan to blow up the prison. No one knew it would go down like this, 36 years later, and as we await the government’s delayed release of the WRCOI's report on the circumstances of Rodney's death, and with such tragic circumstances. It would be the prisoners themselves claiming the humanity they and Rodney warned had been denied. A fire that may have been set to bring attention to their plight resulted in the deaths of seventeen, so far. Rodney had little to do with this, but had forewarned of events like these. Some listened. Most appear still too afraid to speak, except for attacks against the commission itself.

Attacks against the Rodney COI, and its unreleased report, range from: Testimony from a convict! Hearsay! A joke! Political! Circumstantial evidence! No smoking gun! Too Costly! A burden on the Taxpayers! No truth! After 36 years, too late! PPP atrocities! Beyond a reasonable doubt! ‘Flawed’ is the general and official term. All are ill advised and expectedly conclude that no worthwhile facts could come from such a flawed commission. Of course, it’s a self-serving position.

As expected, the political cardholders echo the sentiments of the leadership. Suddenly, lay-people became legal analysts, but not the lay-people who actually live it and suffer in legal limbo. Some of these analysts would pass by the prison but never heard, listened or cared about the loud cries of the prisoners about conditions, brutality, and trial delays. These analysts and their relatives are good people and have not been victimized by the injustice system in Guyana for the past 50 years; or before, not yet. But had they listened or asked the victims, they would have heard about Sergeant Andrews and Robert Gates, and Fat Keith, the Death Squad and its more recent incarnations with the likes of Axel Williams and the Phantom. They would not have had to wait for the WRCOI or the prison massacre because the sufferers would have told them about the broken justice system and explained the hearsay rule too. Because it appears none of the analysts and their legal advisers understand the rule.

Listen. Hearsay is admissible in all courts and is admitted every day. Hearsay is only inadmissible if it falls outside one of the many exceptions. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

African Soccer: Culture and World History Intersect

by clairmont chung

Nigeria won its fifth FIFA Under 17-World Cup by beating Mali in the 2015 final held on November 8 in Viña Del Mar, Chile. Nigeria has dominated this level of world soccer by virtue of its appearance in eight finals of the 16 tournaments to date. As if not enough this was a repeat victory to defend the cup won in the UAE in 2013. Repeat victories are rare and more so in world finals of any sport. But nothing is, as it seems. I for one find more comfort in search of a deeper wider context. The seaside host city for the final presented an opportunity to show that deeper wider context: and how that country and the Pacific Coast of South America intersect with African history, art, and soccer.

Nigeria: Under 17 Soccer World Cup Champions 2015 
Equally remarkable as Nigeria’s 5 cups, is that this was the second all-African under-17 soccer final: Ghana and Nigeria had that honor in Japan 1993. These victories demonstrate Nigeria’s and Africa’s superiority over this age group in soccer. Africa is the winningest continent at this level with 7 World-Cups which is more than twice as many as Europe’s 3. Superiority here is not some unintelligent question of brain-size and race. It’s a question about the method of expression, the art, measured by creativity, agility, speed and goals. The game’s agreed King, the Brazilian Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, ‘Pele’, called this style ‘The Beautiful Game’.

Nigeria beat Mexico and Mali beat Belgium to reach the 2015 finals in a real demonstration of the beautiful game. Those victories, Mali’s more than Nigeria’s, resurrected aging sentiments of anti-colonials and our thinning interest in examples of triumphs against the empires.

Spanish Conquistadores once overran the whole of Latin America, including Mexico and Chile, murdered and enslaved the indigenous populations and supplemented that labor with captive Africans whom they had captured in a still evolving war for control over Africa. Latin America was not always Latin or America and became so only by overwhelming military force. Mexico and Chile were victims of this aggression: though in too many respects they remain as neo colonial and neoliberal as any former or current empire.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Then they killed Walter Rodney. That was Naïve.

Walter Rodney’s continuing influence and relevance are not solely of his own doing or that of his champions. His books remain a poignant record of our historical struggles and he an example of fearless challenge to power. That should be enough to make and keep him a household name. Of course, it’s not the case. However, Rodney’s detractors contribute as much to his popularity, in small if increasing circles, despite naive attempts to diminish his work, the activism, and the person. 
This was never clearer than during the recently concluded general election in Guyana and its immediate aftermath. 

The election of May 11th 2015, returned the People’s National Congress (PNC) to power, as the leader in a coalition of parties renamed A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), after 23 years in the opposition. The Alliance for Change (AFC) also forms part of the coalition but retained its own name.

Maybe by design, the election was called during an ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Rodney’s death 35 years ago; on June 13th 1980. The losing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had convened the COI. The PNC was the party in power at the time of Rodney’s assassination. It is expected the COI’s findings will hold that government responsible for Rodney’s death.

The COI began on April 29th, 2014 and immediately drew criticisms as being political. How could the ‘death’ of this world-renowned scholar, by bomb explosion, not be political?  The critique was expected, though disappointingly weak. Nine years earlier, the same parliament with the current government in attendance as opposition, voted unanimously for a COI but to use ‘death’ instead of ‘assassination’. It was the coalition’s pressure in parliament that forced the early elections call. Calling the commission ‘political’ required no deep thought, but may have revealed a deeply condescending attitude towards the masses: People who had a history of revolt against colonialism would not know the difference between the political from the essential and when the two coincide.

Everything is political. When we inhale, it’s political. The quality of our air, water, food and education is political. And all are essential. It was not the only critique. The coalition charged exclusion from forging the terms of reference, the general planning, and key appointments of the COI. Rodney’s widow, Patricia Rodney, received her share of criticism. Naïve was a common one. It is one still used against her husband. But she remained dignified. There was lengthy speculation for APNU on whether to participate or not: eventually, they did.

Critique of the COI merged into election rhetoric: its high cost; exorbitant salaries for the commissioners and staff, endemic corruption generally and narco-traffic; and a filthy capital city as a symptom of what is wrong.

In the aftermath of the elections the new government condemned the millions in public funds wasted on a politically motivated COI. New president, coalition leader, and former army general under the PNC government, David Granger, only days after his election victory, announced the COI must wrap-up its work. Its next sitting is to be its last. He described the COI as a failure. Others involved in the political campaign dubbed the commission a farce. It did not matter that the PNC participated as APNU.

On May 26, two weeks after the declaration of victory, and on the country’s independence anniversary, President Granger awarded Hamilton Green the country’s 2nd highest honor. Green is the capital city's current mayor, and a former Vice President, trusted enforcer, and front man persecuting the WPA under the Forbes Burnham led PNC during Rodney’s last days. The decision to deny Rodney a faculty position awarded by the University of Guyana was announced and enforced by then General Secretary of the PNC party, Hamilton Green. Fortuitously, that action precipitated a spontaneous uniting of local activist organizations that would later become the WPA; first as a pressure group and later as a political party with Rodney as a co-leader.

That movement then created the space for a larger groundswell of public resentment that eventually led to the PPP returning to the seat of power in 1992 after 28 years of PNC rule. We are back at that juncture today after 23 years of PPP misrule. With the noted difference of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), co-founded by Walter Rodney, as part of the now ruling, if nervous, coalition with the PNC as (APNU). The WPA had once worked together with the PPP against the PNC. Then add the coalition’s AFC originally formed to bridge ethnic divisions, something Rodney’s WPA pursued, though substantially to the right of that WPA.

A too common sight as cars inch along a flooded city street in Georgetown (c) Demerara Waves

As if in a fit of nervous energy and joy at the election result, residents spontaneously organized and began the process of cleaning clogged drains and immediate surroundings of debris. The government followed suit. Entrepreneurs loaned heavy equipment for the job. 

Simultaneously, as if recognizing the change and the need for cleansing, annual May-June rains came strong and hard; washing but flooding the capital city and surrounding areas. Flooding, clogged drains and garbage accumulation formed a substantial part of the coalition’s election message and against the previous government. Mayor Green claimed he was impotent to clean and maintain the city because of the prior government’s refusal to fund it. The cleaning improved the city’s looks, but seemed initially to have little effect on the flood. And residents must have wondered what, other than garbage and clogged drains, may have caused the flooding.  Perhaps, no cleaning would have meant worse flooding. A reading of any history of Guyana, including Rodney’s would have identified the real reasons for the flood. Garbage, clogged drains and broken infrastructure due to ignorance, mismanagement and corruption all contribute to the flood. But its much more complex. Tides and weather are global phenomena with local impact.

I watched volunteers and machines work, some around the clock, against the flood and saw in the struggle a vindication of what Rodney saw as wrong with the current system of government. As mechanical cranes crawled along the banks of canals that crisscross the city, clearing them of vegetation and debris, I thought of Rodney’s acknowledgement of the feats of our ancestors as captive labor. Rodney wrote, in A History of the Guyanese Working People 1881-1905, (HGWP) of the one hundred million tons of mud dug by forced labor to create the canals using nothing more than picks and shovels. It was a massive land reclamation scheme. Guyana’s coast is 5-6 feet below sea level. Its is said that for every square mile of farm land we require 49 miles of drains and 16 miles of trenches. Without this system we would be under water and unable to farm and live on dry coastal land. A review today may show it as great a feat as the Great Wall of China.

As a boy attending St. Stephen’s elementary school in the mid 1960s, I watched older boys run and leap across the canals near the school. Not all made it to the other side. Rodney was born and grew up nearby. He also attended St. Stephens. He too would have watched or leapt across those canals; he described in HGWP. I believe he still holds his high school’s, Queen’s College, high jump record. That ability would have helped him escape the security forces trying to capture him during those last days. Former President, Forbes Burnham had in a public speech noted Rodney’s athletic ability in escaping the government’s security squads the night before.

While I watched the canal jumpers and occasionally swam, Rodney completed his doctorate at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. His thesis was published as A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, but not before his handbook on Black Power, The Groundings with my Brothers. Posthumously, a year after his assassination came HGWP, which highlighted the importance of the canals but more importantly the people that dug them and maintained them and without mechanical help. Our take away, in addition to the magnitude of our achievement, is that flooding didn't begin with the return of the PPP in 1992 or any party, as one might have thought listening to election rhetoric. Colonial authorities had described villages during the rainy season as covered with huge swaths of water. Flood has always been reality in Guyana.

Punt Trench Dam. Once used for transport and drainage became a landfill for Georgetown's garbage. 

However, Rodney’s most popular book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, dealt with a different kind of flood. He may have written about Africa but it applies everywhere. It is about economies that are under water, debt ridden, because of the historical system of colonialism and neocolonialism. Like Guyana’s floods, it is a structural and systemic problem; a global tide. 

Guyana’s economy, like its coast, is underwater, underdeveloped, and a function of a global economy financed and powered on the backs of a captive labor force. Today, it's income from exports and taxes are insufficient for day-to-day operations or to contemplate new infrastructure or interest payments. And like the flooding, no amount of cleaning will solve that problem for the long term. The new government campaigned against corruption and followed through with an anti-corruption campaign of a size never seen before. Rooting out corruption is like cleaning the canals of debris. But, it is not enough.

Captive labor shoveled miles and miles of canals
Overgrown vegetation and used plastic containers that clog the canals are evidence of the runoff from the overuse of synthetic fertilizer on one hand and, on the other, hyper-consumerism, a love affair with synthetic packaging, and  with inadequate disposal systems. Both are products of the developed centers of capital. Like debris, corruption is fertilized by greed at the centers of capital demanding austerity at the periphery.

Here we need to revisit Rodney’s understanding of underdevelopment and plan development strategies that keep in mind the structural inequalities of a global system that inundated our economy with debt and interest payments. 

Debt is not all bad. As destructive as some floods may be, they don't have to be. Periodic flooding, like that in Guyana, brings nutrients to revitalize the land. Farmers often deliberately flood the land to revitalize it. Rice, our staple, is a flood crop. Similarly, debt could bring new opportunities to an old economy: that of an enslaved and later indentured society. However, flood may be good for the lands but not the people living on the lands and not long term. For a stagnant economy, debt may be a stimulant, but as a permanent condition it kills new growth and development. The dilemma is how to make debt an engine rather than an indenture.

As we watched Greece’s resistance, then submission, to international capital and Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle, one is left curious about the Guyana government’s silence on its balance of payments. The global flood of debt is growing, rising, and claiming once developed spaces like Detroit and Spain at the core of colonial empire. A cosmetic house cleaning, investigations of corruption are great but not enough. Guyana’s new government announced it met an empty treasury. Even if it had cash, it belonged to someone else, somewhere else. We need an understanding and application beginning with the ideas in Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

Rodney warned that a new group, including his, coming in and running the system better is not a solution. It is more complex and required ordinary people to take the initiative because better does not come as a gift. If taking the initiative to clean the canals is a forward step, it is just the beginning. And calling the COI a failure and ordering its end does not bode well for Guyana’s coalition. The COI may have gone on too long, but if it is a failure then it has to be redone and that ensures Rodney’s name remains current, if not household.

His assassination is part of the debris, the debt, clogging the forward movement of a real partnership for national unity. His life and death was about political freedoms; of speech, assembly, protest and the right to work. One is either for those freedoms or not. To deny that is to ensure life in his growing shadow. It's naive. Resistance to the facts surrounding his death is not the way to clean the canals between us. Maybe there is hope when the WPA (‘Worst Possible Alternative’ Burnham’s words) and PNC become uneasy friends. Whatever chasms remain would require a leap and Walter Rodney too.

Walter Rodney,
    A History of the Upper Guinea Coast (1970)
    The Groundings with my Brothers (1969)
    A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (1981)
    Odeen Ishmael, The Guyana Story: From its Earliest Times to Independence (2013) Xlibris

Other Sources:
 W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney (A documentary on the Life of Walter Rodney 2012)

From the Margins of History: To Multiracial Equality in Guyana ( An Interview with Wazir Mohammed)