Guyana’s sugar estate in trouble

Editor, my compassion for people – particularly my Guyanese people – is what has driven me to politics. I grew up in a rice farming family. In fact, my family still owns rice lands. In my teenage years I shifted from the active rice farming into real estate and other entrepreneurial ventures, which have served me in good stead over the years.  However, I never lost my love for the people of the country of my birth. Given my early beginnings, I can identify closely with the farming community.

Therefore, you must understand my hurt and the deep burden of my heart as I watch the realities of what is unfolding along the sugar belt of Guyana. First it was the Wales Sugar Plantation that has closed and plunged that community into an economic conundrum. Wales was always a quiet village – my wife is from there – however, it has now become a virtual ghost town as the economic main-stay (sugar) has dried up. I live in Vree-en-Hoop, a mere 15-20 minuets drive from Wales. In my efforts to assist as best as I can, I often frequent that village and present myself as a sounding board for the bewildered residents.

But again my patriotic emotions took a beating as I visited the Canje area last week. There is talk there that their Estate might be closing. And the disorientation and anguish that are now befalling the Wales community, is being repeated with similar and even more widespread results, in Canje. Editor, how does a people who know only one way of living, grapple with the facts of losing their livelihood? After generations of sugar cropping, how does an entire village – with all the subordinate infrastructures – adjust to these harsh realities of a massive shift?

The United Republican Party (URP), has stated clearly that the responsibility for this sugar disaster falls squarely upon the PPP’s shoulder. They had 23 years to correct any negative effects that the 28 years of the Burnham regime might have caused. However, rather than plan with the sugar workers in mind, they stole billions of dollars, paid the sugar unions and executives fat-cat salaries, built their Prado Vills and invested in the Skeldon white elephant. However, the Granger administration must find a way of alleviating the tangible fears of these sugar workers. Race and/or political allegiances must be put aside!

At least the government can make a pledge to the people to award them portions of the lands for their personal use. Or the administration can use a sizable subvention to pay out the workers based on their years of service. (The Guyanese would not be opposed to this). Or indeed, the government can have some consultants sit with the workers and explain what can be done to avert this nightmare. I am sure that if a feasible plan is presented to the anxious sugar workers, they will be willing to listen and make the necessary adjustments. It is quit unfair to speak of closing these estates and not simultaneously talk about contingent plans for the livelihood of those who will suffer.

Editor, I have been also visiting the Town of Linden and the barrenness of a failed Bauxite Town is saddening. Poverty, lack and brokenness are visible everywhere in Linden. Linden and its people have been a forgotten Town. However, the collective fallout from the wide scale closing of the sugar estates will be multiplied several times over. It might even cost social unrest and worse.

The URP is calling on the government to show an unparallel level of political and humanistic restraint. If I am not directly subject to the impending suffering and yet I can be this perturbed by the realities, I can well imagine what those sugar farmers are going through, knowing that their futures are now uncertain.  The level of the PNC-Coalition ability to lead in this matter is being keenly observed.