`We're battling 163 years of suspicion'
- President says on Indian Arrival Day anniversary

by Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
May 6, 2001

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday urged Guyanese to realise that racial problems among them are rooted in almost 200 years of suspicion.

"What we are battling here today is 163 years of suspicion, and much of what we have seen reflected in our society has its roots in that suspicion," he stressed at a ceremony in Georgetown to mark the 163rd anniversary of the arrival of Indians in this country.

He, however, said that despite this, "we can change this situation with hard work."

Referring to the unrest since the March 19 elections, President Jagdeo said he is of the firm conviction that even though many persons would have voted on the grounds of race at the elections, the problems which confront Guyanese are not ethnically motivated.

"It is an attempt at grabbing power outside of the ballot box, and we must always keep that in mind," he declared.

The President said many persons who may have voted for one party or another, do not agree with what's going on today.

President Jagdeo cautioned the gathering: "Never allow, however deep the hurt is, the manifestation, the violence and the terrorism, and the criminal activities by a few people to allow us to condemn all the people of one particular ethnic group or the other."

He said that many of the criminals have no political loyalty or decency. Noting that very often suggestions are put to him for dealing with such situations, he said that the lives of some 800,000 people depend on the actions and decisions he takes.

The President said, "I feel the hurt, but too many people depend on me, people of all races."

"Sometimes you have to look to consequences, not just immediate action, and not make decisions that would take the country down a path that we would all regret," he reasoned.

The Head of State cited the massive destruction in East Timor, Africa and Asia, as examples of the devastation ethnic conflicts can cause.

He said that as a nation, it is necessary for Guyanese to condemn criminal acts since these demean all Guyanese.

Noting the emergence of a new trend which blames the Police for everything, President Jagdeo said: "We have to stand by the Police, because there is a psychological warfare going on, and the Police come constantly under pressure, with the hope that they will not act."

He reaffirmed that his job will always be to stand by the people of this country, adding that he will always take that responsibility seriously.

"I will not descend into representing partisan interests," he vowed.

And referring to Indian ancestry in Guyana, the President said he was very proud of his ancestry as an Indo-Guyanese and what it had given him, and will always remain true to that position.

Noting that hate mongers on both sides of the equation attempt to influence his position, he said, "They will not succeed. I love this country and all the people of this country."

He said that the contributions to the development of Guyana by people of East Indian descent since their arrival here 163 years ago cannot be disputed by anyone. Indians have contributed in every single area of life since their arrival here.

"We, as a nation, especially people of East Indian descent have every reason to be proud and celebrate these achievements, because you have contributed in a great way to making Guyana what it is today", he said.

The ceremony at the Indian Monument Gardens at Camp and Church streets was attended by a moderate gathering which included Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green; Mr Reepu Daman Persaud, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs; Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Ms Gail Teixeira; Bishop Juan Edghill and members of the diplomatic corps.

President Jagdeo said that over the years, there has been deliberately created suspicion about Indians in the minds of various ethnic groups, starting with the suspicion planted in the minds of other groups which were previously here. This, he said, was in a deliberate attempt to prevent the forming of an alliance of the various ethnic groups.

He said the colonial sugar planters feared that any alliance of the ethnic groups would have posed a threat to their interests and governance of the country. The other people were also conditioned to see the Indians as persons who had come to displace them from the jobs they were engaged in, he noted.

He said that this policy of division persisted over the years and did not end with Guyana becoming independent.

The afternoon's programme was spiced by rich cultural pieces from the Little Diamond Dance troupe and singing by the Christ Community Church, among others.