Post 365.

Here as in Guyana, we live with myriad injustices, but continue to assert a sense of expectation that state institutions – such as the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) or the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – will protect us from the likelihood of fraudulent politics which undermine democratic agreement and inclusion.

It is to our credit that, against all odds, we remain invested in rule of law and are provoked into anger at its blatant violation. When that anger turns to violence, however, much more than democracy is threatened.

In their Letter to the Editor, Karen de Souza, Josephine Whitehead and Danuta Radzik, representing Guyanese NGOs Red Thread, Help and Shelter, and Child Link, wrote,

“We are alarmed at the acts of intimidation, the threats, and verbal attacks including sexual threats to women and girls, the physical violence, the reports of property invasion by groups, attacks on police officers and schoolchildren and ethnicity-based attacks being reported in several communities. Recent reports of the loss of life of one young person points to escalating violence which must cease immediately. We condemn and call on all Guyanese to condemn and refrain from all racial and ethnic slurs and actions, to respect the rule of law and keep the peace. We call on all political parties to abstain from provocative statements, ensure that their supporters do not violate the fundamental rights of any citizen and keep all protest action free from any kind of violence or intimidation. We call on the police and security forces to protect the rights of all Guyanese and carry out their duties without bias in accordance with the law of Guyana.”

Invested in each other as one Caribbean family, we are also aware that the precedent set by one signals a risk to us all. In recognition of this, the Caribbean women’s movement and its allies, from at least seven countries, issued a statement echoing the words of these and other Guyanese women. The statement reads:

“We, Caribbean advocates for social justice and gender equality, join in solidarity with the people of Guyana in calling for compliance with the rule of law and specifically with the election procedure in Guyana. A damaged electoral process will negatively affect the likelihood of social cohesion in a country scarred by ethnic and political polarisation. The people of Guyana and indeed the Caribbean deserve better from political actors.

They deserve political leadership with integrity and that honours the collective will of the people. We particularly share our deep concern for the safety and security of all Guyanese and call for peace and calm in all communities. Not one more life should be lost.

We support the call of CARICOM for the lawful completion of the electoral process in Guyana by ensuring the tabulation of results in all regions using the Statements of Polls and the offer of the Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, to personally assist with dialogue, if needed, once there is acceptance of the results of the lawfully declared elections.

All parties should do their part in ensuring an engagement that is transparent, accountable and which builds trust. Political parties should dialogue with civil society and build consensus on the way ahead. We call on the political leaders to issue a common call for peace, respect and community-mindedness, showing their concern for all people and their safety and well-being.”

No electoral win can be a victory when safety, harmony and dignity, however inessential these seem, immediately become threatened too.

As long-time Guyanese activist  Vanda Radzik wrote last week, “What we see unfolding before our eyes is the poison that emanates, in a heightened way, from the recurring contest between two forces – hell-bent on “winning” power – at the expense of our nation. Being drawn into foolish political, largely race-based camps, with hatred and fear stitched into the fabric – for winner and loser, alike – is a recipe for disaster. It has to be stopped in its tracks now.”

Watching how quickly abuse of power and process devolved into public confrontation in Guyana and noting that, in our Local Government election, there were complaints about insults and abuse from supporters of the major parties on Nomination day, we should not only wet our roof but avoid irresponsibly starting fires in the backyard of our own racial and political tensions.

Trinidad and Tobago’s major parties should therefore re-affirm commitment to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct for the upcoming general election. Meanwhile, we look on at Guyana’s election imbroglio and hope for peaceful resolution.

Post 299.

Sacrifices must be made. The question is how much, by whom and at what cost.

Ordinary working people, from retail and restaurant workers to office clerks to nurses, are carrying the unequal burden of economic adjustment.

This is felt deep in the bones of families in term of increased prices at the gas pump, or the uncertainty of month-to-month contracts, or lay-offs without sufficient labour opportunities anywhere in sight.

It’s almost impossible for thousands willing to make an honest living wage to make ends meet, qualify for a loan, buy a house, build family savings or even know if they can afford medicine and school books in one year’s time.

Even attractive VSEP packages cannot simply be reinvested or turned into new income among those forced to become entrepreneurial for the first time in their 50s.

Entrepreneurship rarely leads to economic security or wealth, and access to health and other labour benefits. Meaning if you can’t work, you starve, you wait two days to see a doctor in the hospital, and when there’s a downturn or too much competition, minor profits evaporate.

The lesson from the Caroni 1975 Ltd shut down is that the psychological impact, which can hardly be managed by four or six EAP sessions, rolls out across communities through increased intimate partner conflict and violence, child sexual abuse and incest, substance abuse, and undiagnosed depression, particularly when men’s sense of masculinity is also at stake.

The myth and reality of women’s ability to make miracles out of scarcity, and the basics of the welfare net, are holding household budgets together by a shoestring.

Still, don’t fool yourself that such survival produces children that are well. Policy makers rely on people’s capacity to live on very little, but they don’t fully consider or cost how much children suffer or truly fail to thrive.

Thinking about all this, I called up Ozzie Warwick, Chief Education and Research Officer of the OWTU. Both his parents lost their jobs around 1987, under the NAR. Ozzi will tell you he had to eat bread and butter with sugar water during the week, and stretch one chicken from Saturday to Sunday among a family of six.  He was in QRC, but none of his other siblings passed for seven-year schools.

It’s likely that the 1,486 students who scored no pass marks in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam this year were from homes pressured by such economic stresses and harms. The burden of belt-tightening had a direct impact on the children in his family, as it will on others today.

I asked Ozzi the questions that seem so obvious. Shouldn’t the gas subsidy be removed? Don’t jobs have to be cut in bloated public sectors? Isn’t our national problem one of champagne taste and mauby pockets?

There are different ways to deal with a subsidy, he said, but it’s important to understand that it ensured widespread benefit to all citizens, whether rich or poor or single mother on minimum wage, from our national resources.

We fall for the story of cutbacks while no more empowered to stop corruption and elite collusion, or the stranglehold of party patronage. We see businesses benefit from subsidized electricity and water rates, which they rely on for profit rather than to live from day to day. We see banks booming when people are being made to sacrifice even while their actual income value falls.

The long-expected Petrotrin crisis, as Bhoe Tewarie pointed out, is also related to “the debt created by the Malcolm Jones-led board in 2005” which has now become due, and requires a payment of US$850 million in August 2019 which cannot be met.

Ozzi also argued that rating agencies downgrading of Petrotrin and the country’s credit rating is something which a government reliant on borrowing wants to avoid. Yet, shouldn’t the reports and the decisions that follow be debated in Parliament where we can hear all sides?

As we said our goodbyes, Ozzi highlighted labour’s economic alternative plan. He cited Barbadian PM Mia Mottley’s approach to stimulate and stabilize growth through public investment and to default on debt rather than lead Barbados down an IMF-advised road that made Jamaica poorer today than thirty years ago.

We are all in pain, but it’s worse when there is inequity. Fair sharing of national hardship and wealth is the guarantee that government should provide. This should make us all call for consensus on how to share the national burden of adjustment and its impact on our lives.