Dealing with the race issue in CARICOM Guest editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 27, 2002

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CONFRONTING CRIME has become a most undesirable but unavoidable problem for member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It will be one of the issues to be seriously addressed at next week's 23rd Community Summit.

But there is another very serious social problem that requires honest, imaginative and courageous efforts by some CARICOM states to deal with it, and also in the interest of peace and orderly development. It is that sensitive issue of race.

Whenever it surfaces in disputes involving political parties and some social interest/cultural groups, the tendency is to think of the multi-ethnic CARICOM states like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname.

But, as experience is proving, it is also a matter that has to be carefully addressed by other societies with minority ethnic groups, among them Barbados, where there continues to be much negative debates involving, in particular, Black and White Barbadians.

Clearly, the race factor in the politics of CARICOM states cannot be expected to be a (formal) agenda issue at any Heads of Government Conference.

However, in their caucus sessions, these leaders should at least seize the opportunity to informally discuss how the region could possibly find creative ways to cleanse itself from a deep-rooted problem that, as the former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Basdeo Panday, has declared, "it is time to end".

Of course, given the realities of politics, and party politics in multi-ethnic and culturally diverse Caribbean societies, that is easier said than done. And Panday knows this only too well since, as he has candidly admitted over the past weekend, the country's politicians and parties have contributed to the politics of racism that has "incapacitated the growth of Trinidad and Tobago..."

As the leader of the predominantly East Indian-supported United National Congress (UNC) has rightly observed, the fact that racism was also traceable to our colonial history and inherited from previous generations of African slaves and indentured East Indian labourers, "can no longer be an excuse to continue such a problem, hundreds of years later".

The question is whether both Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Panday have the required creative imagination and political will to exorcise the plague of racism that afflicts their society.

Similar questions can justifiably be also asked of Guyana and Suriname.

In the case of Guyana, the well-known politician and social scientist, Eusi Kwayana, one of the "elders" among the country's politicians, has openly condemned Afro-Guyanese in the Buxton-Friendship area for attacking innocent Indo-Guyanese merely on the basis of their race and, by extension, supporters of the governing People's Progressive Party (PPP).

It would make a lot of sense if those who speak for the PPP or the main opposition People's National Congress can express similar sentiment, as Kwayana, to their respective supporters. Panday has now rebuked some of his own Indian supporters.

Perhaps Guyana's President and the Opposition Leader can do even better by a joint statement, while Barbados works out its own responses.
(Reprinted from Tuesday's 'Daily Nation' of Barbados)