GEORGETOWN (IPS)–A violent crime spree that has eluded government control for months has revived calls to partition this tiny multiracial country, reserving half for Afro-Guyanese, the other half for the Indian community.
In quieter times, no one pays heed to such delicate issues, but the crime spate, with a record of nearly 140 murders so far this year–four times the usual rate–has brought the topic back to the table, after having first surfaced during heightened racial tensions in the 1950s and 1960s.
“The feeling that we might not be able to make it as a united nation is very, very strong,” said Indian rights activist Ravi Dev, leader of ROAR, a small party with a single seat in the 65-member national assembly. “The government does not have a clue as to what it takes to keep this country together,” added a frustrated Mr. Dev in early November.
Although more Guyanese of African origin might have perished during the murder spree, many from the Indian community say they feel insecure because, as business leaders in this nation of 750,000 people, they are perceived to have wealth.
Many have indeed been robbed of cash and jewelry. At least eight Indo-Guyanese have been killed during attacks on their homes or business places or for failing to pay ransom money to kidnappers.
The fear in the Indian community lingers even as Blacks have experienced similar fates, many losing their lives during U.S.-style car thefts, as law enforcement officers, or victims of burglaries.
Indians, whose ancestors were brought here by the English as slaves, make up 47 percent of the population, Blacks 43 percent and the remainder comprises people of mixed origin, Amerindians, Chinese, Portuguese and Whites.
Mr. Dev said Indians throughout the country have approached him demanding that consideration be given to partitioning Guyana, a territory of more than 86,000 square miles perched atop the northeastern shoulder of South America.
Many Indians have hurled stinging criticism at the government of Indo-Guyanese Prime Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, calling it weak, inept, unable to protect them and clueless about ensuring that peace can reign here.
Mr. Dev said some fear for their lives and family so deeply that they are moving out of villages that have become targets for multiracial gangs roaming the country armed with AK-47 assault rifles, bulletproof vests and powerful escape cars staging daring daylight robberies.
Mr. Dev’s party has in recent months shifted from its staunch pro-Indian stance to a more moderate position, calling for a government or political system in which all the races would be represented.
He said the governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), now in its third term, has become uncaring and arrogant, a view shared by Desmond Trotman, a respected Black political activist and executive member of the multiracial Working People’ s Alliance (WPA), which has two seats.
“We have long come to the conclusion that neither tribal party can run the country. Both have had a chance over the last 50 years and look at the mess we are in. We need political inputs from all parties in parliament to affect a solution. The crime wave is just frightening,” Mr. Trotman said.
Several newspaper letter writers have openly called for separation, calling it the only way for the country to move forward and for each of the major groups to live without looking at one another with suspicion.
The country has been on a downhill path ever since President Cheddi Jagan, the nationalist and internationally respected founder of the PPP, died in office in 1997.
Mr. Dev said Black fears of marginalization are very real and must be addressed before things can improve.