President Jagdeo picketed in NY at meetings with Guyanese
Says he’s upbeat about the future of Guyana
By Vishnu Bisram
in New York
March 5, 2003
President Bharrat Jagdeo’s appearances at public forums and on various radio programmes as well as his lone press conference in New York City were marred by stiff opposition and heckling.
The President was given a rough welcome at two public forums where he addressed large gatherings of Guyanese on Saturday afternoon. He was heckled at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, the heart of the Afro-Guyanese community, where several incidents disrupted the meeting. And in Richmond Hill, the centre of the Indo-Guyanese community, Guyanese mounted a peaceful picketing exercise.
The President was scheduled to speak at 4:30 pm in Richmond Hill but did not arrive until around 7:30 pm. A decoy four-wheeler pulled up at the entrance of the building with secret service agents giving the impression that the President was in the vehicle and loud heckling erupted from the large contingent of protesters who had waited to welcome the Presi-dent. Instead, the President was hustled inside the building through the rear entrance, accompanied by several secret service agents and police officers.
A contingent of police officers also stood outside of the entrance of the Tropical Hall where the President spoke; but picketers were not allowed inside the building although it was a public meeting. However, a few of the demonstrators made their way inside by eluding the tight security and were allowed to ask questions which the Presi-dent generously answered.
As the President spoke inside, the protesters, braving ice-cold weather, chanted anti-Jagdeo slogans criticising him for not doing enough to protect Indo-Guyanese.
The protesters carried two coffins with the question: “Who is the next Indian victim?”. Some of the pickets read: “Jagdeo Must Go”, “Be a Leader Not a Follower”, “Federalism Now”, “How Many More Indians Must Die?, “PNC and PPP are Sisters”.
Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said the protest was called “to highlight awareness of the government’s unwillingness to address rising crimes against Indians and the ethnic security dilemma facing the two major races”.
The President said he was in the United States to meet with several officials of the American administration at their invitations. He met with Secretary Tommy Thompson of the Health and Human Services administration and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as well as officials at the Treasury Department.
He said he raised the issues of deportees, the brain drain involving teachers, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, among other skilled personnel, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the WTO, the political situation in Guyana, AIDS, and unemployment and appealed for U.S. assistance on a number of projects. He also met with officials of the IMF and World Bank to discuss loans and loan forgiveness for Guyana.
The President painted a bleak picture of Guyana and was taken to task by several members of the audience who posed tough questions and highlighted problems they encountered while seeking to make investments in their former homeland.
One member of the audience accused the government of corruption. The President conceded there may be corruption in Guyana but said he cannot do anything about it unless people come forward with evidence. But he said he plans to review the performance of Ministers and other government officials and will make changes if they don’t do their job.
The President said his description of Guyana sounded pessimistic and “that is because of the rising crime wave and the ongoing political problems.”
However, he said, he remains upbeat about the future because of activities in the interior savannah regions close to the border with Brazil and the new road that is being constructed to improve trade with Guyana’s southern neighbour. “A whole range of new agro-industries can be set up and I encourage you to come and invest in that part of Guyana.”
Jagdeo said anyone who has money to invest will be given land to set up industries in the intermediate savannahs.
In general, Guyana’s Head-of-State was well-received by the Richmond Hill crowd inside the building where there were mostly Indo-Guyanese males with a sprinkling of Afro-Guyanese. The President answered several questions and did not turn away anyone who had a question for him. He walked around and shook hands with the audience and posed for pictures with admirers.
In his extemporaneous remarks in Richmond Hill, Jagdeo made reference to the problems he encountered at Medgar Evers but said he had a good exchange with Afro-Guyanese Americans. Re-ports say that the President’s appearance was marred by a bomb scare, a fire alarm, jeering and heckling from the audience. But in spite of the minor disturbances, Jagdeo said he was happy to be in Brooklyn because he wanted to meet with Guya-nese of all races in various sections of New York City.
He said: “I don’t want to be accused of meeting with only Indo-Guyanese in Queens. I am accountable to Guyanese living abroad. And I wanted to meet with all of you.” He also noted that he received an invitation to visit the Bronx to meet more Guyanese and hopes to do so on his next visit.
In his brief address in Richmond Hill, the President noted that at Medgar Evers Afro-Guyanese Americans accused him of marginalizing and discriminating against Afro-Guyanese at home. Ironically, in Rich-mond Hill, members of the crowd accused him of the opposite — that is of marginalizing and discriminating against Indo-Guyanese.
The President responded: “It is impossible to discriminate against Indians and Africans at the same time.” He assured his audience that Africans are not discriminated against and declared, “I can prove with facts that there is reverse discrimination.”
The President urged Guyanese not “to pay attention to the fringe elements, racists in Guyana who are seeking to divide Guyanese.” He said: “There are racists on both sides and I don’t pay them any mind. I ignore them because to do otherwise would be to make them important.”
Jagdeo also appeared on several live radio programmes on Saturday and on Sunday as well as on several ethnic TV programmes that are geared towards a Guya-nese audience.