Kathy Piper of the Catholic Institute for International Relations reports on decline and oppression in Guyana
• Left: Fr Andrew Morrison, editor of the Catholic Standard
THE expulsion from Guyana of Fr Patrick Connors SJ is the latest in a series of government attacks on church people which have been particularly prevalent during the last year. Fr Connors' case seems to be part of the government's reaction to criticism of the recent election process which was blatantly fraudulent, even by Guyanese standards. The "election" confirmed in power President Hoyte and the Peoples National Congress (PNC) party.
Attacks on the Church are not new. For years this has been the government's response to the Church's defence of fundamental rights and denunciation of the coercion and rigged elections which have sustained the PNC in power since 1964. The most notorious event was the murder in 1980 of another Jesuit Fr Bernard Darke, photographer for the Catholic Standard newspaper. The paper has been a critic of the government since 1978 and its current editor, Fr Andrew Morrison SJ, is a regular target of government vituperation. In recent years the paper has faced several government instigated libel suits.
When President Forbes Burnham died in August 1985, he had been Guyana's Head of State for 21 years and leader of the PNC since its foundation. The regime was controversial from the beginning when it was
imposed by Britain, the colonial power, in collusion with the United States, in 1964. Since then Burnham's PNC has ruled over what is now described as the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
The issue of race, legacy of the colonial past, has long been a factor in Guyanese history. It was the labour needs of the sugar plantations which brought firstly West African slaves and later indentured workers, mainly from India, to Guyana. Today the population is 51 per cent Indo-Guyanese; 31 per cent
Afro-Guyanese; 5 per cent Amerindian (the only indigenous people). The remainder are people of mixed race, or Chinese and Portuguese descent. Always a potential source of tension the race issue has at times erupted into open violence.
Since independence in 1966 the social, political and economic life of the country has deteriorated, to the point of deep crisis. Every election since 1968 has been fraudulent. In. December 1980 an international team of observers concluded
that the election which had just taken place was "rigged massively and flagrantly".
In May 1985, in response to an invitation from 14 Guyanese organisations, the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Americas Watch, undertook a Mission of Enquiry into Guyana's electoral laws and practice. A report published on December 5, 1985, concluded that "an electoral system that worked was destroyed by a combination of changes in the law and the way in which the law was applied". The election of December 9, 1985, confirmed this judgment. International observers were not permitted but reports indicate that, if anything, the scale of fraud and malpradtice was even greater than on previous occasions.
Guyana's economy is in ruins. Production of the main exports, bauxite, sugar and rice has declined and this has led to a disastrous situation (though bauxite production has improved recently).
Paralleling the economic crisis is a breakdown in the fabric of society. An unprecedented crime wave is sweeping the country, particularly in • Indo-Guyanese areas, which the authorities seem unable to deal with effectively. Some experts say that Guyana now has the third highest crime rate in the world.
There is a massive exodus from the country of Guyanese frustrated by their inability to participate in the country's political life, and the same frustration is at the root of the apathy and hoplessness felt by people in all walks of life inside Guyana. This alienation is increased by the PNC control of most aspects of life. Public sector employees risk` their jobs if they voice even minor criticisms; the state owned press and radio are simply PNC instruments — newspapers not directly controlled are severely hampered by restrictions on supplies of newsprint and the use of the courts to bring "libel actions"; harassment of political opponents ranges from petty bureaucratic restrictions to detention on the flimsiest of pretexts.
The Anglican Bishop of Guyana, Randolph George, has been prominent in his stand against corruption and the Guyana Council of Churches has denounced the regime's excesses. The result has been constant vilification. In March 1985 a crowd of government supporters prevented the AGM of the Guyana Council of Churches from taking place.
Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh has also spoken out against the infringements of rights and the Catholic Standard has been a beacon in its commitment to the right of free speech. An important recent development was the publication of a joint pastoral letter by the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops on the elections.
A most important signal for the beleaguered Guyanese is the increasing interest which other countries of the region are now taking in Guyana. There have recently been several pointed references to Guyana's lack of democracy in important Caribbean fora, and there has been criticism of the recent elections. This is all the more important because Guyana's foreign policy opposition to apartheid, has given it a misleading international reputation as a defender of human rights.
Inside the country it is possible that the opposition forces many now draw closer together and thus more effectively challenge this morally bankrupt government. The scale of the rigging of the latest election and the disappointment of many who had hoped for some change with the advent of President Hoyte may be important elements in overcoming the paralysis and despair which afflicts so many Guyanese and makes them despair of a better future for the country.
CIIR publish a Comment booklet on Guyana, available from 22 Coleman Fields, London NI.