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Guyanese race relations: genuine talk or open conflict

ghklall volcano

The House Speaker and a prominent Roman Catholic clergyman have endorsed a new book on race on Guyana that calls for an open and frontal discourse on the issue or the country could erupt into open conflict.


Titled ‘Sitting on a Racial Volcano (Guyana Uncensored)’ by G.H.K. Lall was launched Friday evening at Marian Academy.

Monsignor Terrence Montrose urged that the dialogue begin and continue among youths, children about the meaning of being Guyanese. “If we don’t start now, if we don’t dare ourselves; frightening though it may be, terrifying though it may be, if we don’t start now, all of us are doomed,” he said.

The third-in-command of the local RC Diocese appealed to Guyanese to immediately make decision about “stemming the storm of race in this country.”

While House Speaker, Raphael Trotman said he did not agree with the entire 166-page book, the publication was “startling,” “chilling” and “it was actually quite scary.” “While I don’t share and subscribe to all the issues and the views raised by Gabriel Lall, I have to concede that he has set us thinking and we must ask ourselves a series of pertinent questions,” he said. Those included whether Guyanese should allow the drift to “a place of no return.”

Trotman “wholeheartedly and unreservedly” recommended that ‘Sitting on a Racial Volcano (Guyana Uncensored)’ be used as part of the national discourse to explore the way forward including a better governance system that might executive power sharing or federalism. “This book and its contents must be added to the all important conversation that must take place and must, I believe, be driven by the people mostly and less by the politicians,” said Trotman, a former member of the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR). He has since gone on to co-found the Alliance For Change (AFC) which has seven seats in the House.

The Speaker described the author as Guyanese, patriotic and honest whose latest work has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box that would not earn him friends but respect.

The book focuses largely on relations between Black and East Indian Guyanese at almost all levels of the Guyanese society, an approach that did not find favour with the Speaker of the 65-seat National Assembly. “If there is one deficiency that this book has I have to say, it would be it does not adequately address the shared concerns, fears, the anguish and the plight of those who do not strictly belong to either of the major ethnic groups,” he said. They include the Indigenous Peoples and Guyanese of mixed ancestry.

He chided politicians across the divide for continuing racial and political rivalry that had been the work of the British and Americans prior to Independence in May 1966.

The author told the audience said the almost incendiary issue of race relations was now in full public view rather than avoiding and pretending that it does not exist. “Let this be the most recent national conversation on the issue of race. Let it start now… let it be the first of many conversations, long hard gruelling conversations,” he said.

Citing President Donald Ramotar’s refusal to assent several pieces of opposition-sponsored laws that have been passed by the House and two months later the Guyanese leader’s invitation to the opposition leaders to talks on improving governance, Lall questioned the sincerity of such gestures. “This outreach, this avoidance of conflict- will it last? Can it last? It can if it’s genuine, if it’s intended to be enduring to lift up and to move forward beyond the racial divide,” he said.

Justifying that Guyana is sitting on a racial volcano, Lall pointed to perceived inequities in the distribution of wealth, marginalization, death squads, proliferation of guns and hopelessness. “This country is divided, that there is anger, that there is burning resentment in large blocks of this country but nobody is listening, nobody in charge is listening,” he said.

As an alternative to guns being the final arbiter in a racial cataclysm that he said threatens, Lall issued a stirring appeal to leaders to find “new and different ways” to inculcate hope and a rebirth of dreams.

Attendees at the launch included the Chief Executive Officer of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Michael Khan; Governor of the Bank of Guyana, Lawrence Williams; United Kingdom-based poets John Agard and Grace Nichols and Commissioner of the Ethnic Relations Commission, John Willems.