The diaspora needs a collective voice

Stabroek News
January 11, 2016

Dear Editor,

With reference to Mr Pantlitz's letter titled, 'There is a division between the locals and the diaspora,' (SN, January 5) may I state that my sentiments are almost in harmony with his.

I have been in Guyana for the past few weeks and I expect to be here for a few more. I am retired and have resided outside of Guyana since early 1981, first as a student in Toronto, Canada and then in the USA. I currently reside in Michigan, USA.

Mr Pantlitz's proposed poster at CJIA, 'Diaspora not wanted in Guyana' should further read, 'Please spend lavishly but retain $4000.00 for your exit tax. Caribbean Airlines did not remit that amount to us.'

The exit tax should be included in our airfare. I was completely surprised when I was first asked to pay this tax. I wondered what my position would have been had I arrived at the check-in counter, penniless, having given the taxi-driver my last remaining Guyana currency? All Guyanese need representation to Caribbean Airlines on this issue. Why does Caribbean Airlines include taxes and fees, etc, in the airfare, but not the tax payable on exit from Guyana?

I am not in agreement with a political party for the diaspora but I passionately believe that we need representation on the home-front. The call to return home is more than a show, it is a scam.

I recently spoke with a long-time PPP supporter and he mentioned two "facts": (1) overseas-based Guyanese are not investing in Guyana. I responded that we know of the level of corruption in Guyana and he replied with (2) Guyanese lost a lot of money in the 2008 financial crisis. A response to the clueless is an exercise in futility.

Since 1992, both of Guyana's administrations and its people need only the following three things from the diaspora: (1) remittances, (2) political donations and (3) money for projects. I fully concur with these points enunciated by Mr Pantlitz.

In the mid '90s I attended a presentation by Dr Cheddi Jagan at Princeton University (NJ). When I pointed out that some favoured companies seemed to be able to easily establish themselves in Guyana while some others experienced many obstacles, he immediately raised his voice and began to list the numerous procedures a company must follow and then could report to him in the event that such effort(s) failed. I concluded Dr Jagan was not the man of the '60s. He wanted our money, not our complaints.

I too have observed that they don't want our "knowledge, expertise or experience." Also, in one of President Granger's recent speeches he stated that what Guyana needs is money; he did not mention skills or knowledge or expertise.

Did those who could not or would not leave Guyana feel abandoned? I do believe that the feeling was one of envy, not abandonment, while many would say that we abandoned them. Those who did not leave did not stay out of patriotic fervour.

While it may be argued that the diaspora have the option to pick-up and leave, I would posit that those in the diaspora have the freedom to verbally express themselves without fear of retribution or victimization. And for that we are resented, etc.

The diaspora experienced their own struggles to place themselves in positions from where they fund the Guyana economy to the extent of 20% through remittances. When we return to live or vacation we have to struggle against those who resent our presence. One of my struggles in the USA, was shovelling snow at 3am at a temperature of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degree Celsius, rounded), after which I would travel more than 100 miles, by car, bus, subway and bipedal locomotion, to get to work. I would return home at 7pm. However, I was able to put rice and sugar on the table for my three children. While I taught at QC, rice and sugar (Guyana's two major products) entailed long lines.

Local Guyanese cannot point their fingers at the foreign companies that are literally pillaging this country, and those companies were and are aided and abetted by those working in the trenches.

From the Pradoville-2 reports, it is quite evident that remigrants are victimized in the price they pay for the purchase of house lots. Did we subsidize Pradoville-2?

For decades, I have worked in technology and have attempted to persuade the PPP/C government to create a technology-based sector of the economy, providing service and software for the USA market. I had meetings with the Science Advisor to the President (CBJ at that time), the Minister of Education, and others, but it did not take much to quickly become aware that those 'experts' had little or no grasp of the real world. At a presentation, in Toronto, during an Independence-day celebration, (1999 or 2000), the then-President Bharrat Jagdeo said that Guyana does not want donations of computers because they don't work and besides they do not run Windows. May I state that a computer that does not work does not run anything, and Windows at that time was still only an interface, running on the DOS operating system. In addition, Windows was and still is, only one of several interfaces/operating systems.

My last position in employment, was teaching Mathematics and Physics at the tertiary level.

I am convinced that this diasporian, can make significant contributions at the village level, and I do not expect a single penny from anyone in Guyana. The Indigenous people seem to be the ones in most need. Their culture, as stated by them, is under severe threat and their voices are simply ignored.

The rejection (not marginalization) of the diaspora, while neither aided nor abetted by the administration, is the direct result of the failure of the administration to perceive our intellectual value, and not merely a source of liquid-cash injection in an economy with a highly questionable ROI (return on investment). Our name is the diaspora, not Baishanlin, We are neither accorded not afforded the highly favourable conditions as per the numerous foreign entities.

Finally, again, I would suggest that we do not need a political party, but we do desperately need a collective voice.

Yours faithfully,

M Zamir