Guyana - a nation on the move
December 24, 2003
AS we reflect on where we've come from and where we are at this point of our history, Guyana is very much a nation on the move.
In the 1960s, just as government began initiating mechanisms to move the country forward, racial violence thwarted its efforts as grassroots Guyanese, succumbing to the rhetoric of the PPP's rivals, unleashed a race-hate wave of disturbances that set us back many years.
Emotionally, some generation survivors, especially those who have had to resettle from their ancestral dwellings, still express bitter memories of that infamous era.
But more was to come. Guyana would eventually spiral into the pit of poverty and want when some countries, deceived into believing that Guyana's salvation lay with the rulership of Dr. Jagan's opponents, manipulated the country's electoral process to oust the PPP from office.
By the time political democracy returned to Guyana in 1992, Guyana had sunken to the bottom of the economic stream, bedded with Haiti as the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Many Guyanese both at home were therefore surprised, pleasantly we hope, when the international community recently upgraded Guyana from a poor, low income country to a "middle-income" country.
That's good news. But considering the implications of that new status for the inflows of international finance to our still-emerging economy, being a middle-income country is as challenging as it is comforting to all who sacrificed blood, sweat and tears - and to the survivors of those who sacrificed their lives - to move Guyana from the brink of economic collapse.
As we normally plead on festivities and anniversary observations, we ask Guyanese to see Christmas, both in its religious and socioeconomic terms, as a time to reflect on what we can do to shape our country into a nation to be reckoned with.
We got one of our biggest Christmas gifts last week when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declared Guyana eligible for further debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Guyana's qualification, after reaching the HIPC-stipulated completion point, means that government will be able to keep US$30 million a year in the country for the next 10 years and invest it in developing the country's socioeconomic sectors.
Retaining a total of US$600 million in the country's coffers - money that would otherwise have had to be made in foreign debt payments - is great news.
But it also presents great challenges. Unless we spend it well, matching investments in the social sectors with our productive support, our negotiating skills and the goodwill of the international community would all have been in vain.
Our task, then, is to approach the challenges to development with the same luster with which we are preparing for Christmas.
Government and Opposition are continuing to talk about how to resolve the many public policy issues that confront the nation. Those of us who follow must take a cue from our leaders - that addressing concerns through dialogue, as against fighting each other down, is the way to go.
We hope that the country's main parties will also see it fit to talk with their supporters about the importance of them talking together, working together, dining together, embracing each other and practicing brotherly and sisterly love - as the spirit of the Christmas season demands.
Because the pace at which our country moves, in fact, where our country goes from here, will depend on how we meet the challenges that face us.
Happy Christmas Eve!