The importance of Whim

By Ronald Austin

If Linden (a city in Upper Demerara, Guyana – a stronghold of the opposition APNU coalition) was a demonstration of APNU’s electoral strength, then Whim (a village in Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana – a traditional stronghold of the ruling PPP party) was a test to determine whether its coalition partner, the AFC, could attract a similarly big crowd in Whim, a PPP stronghold.

There is disagreement as to whether the AFC succeeded. The pro-government newspapers all said they did not. The AFC leaders said that they did. What is the truth?

I was at Whim, having arrived early at about 2 p.m. I saw the crowd build up, witnessed the arrival of both Nagamootoo and Granger with large numbers of followers.

By the time the rally started it appeared that more supporters from the African villages were in attendance than those from the Indian ones. One may well ask the reason for this.

I was told by some Indian farmers that the PPP had done heavy political work in Whim to dissuade the people of the village from attending.

There is also the phenomenon that the Indians will not attend a rally out of fear of antagonizing the PPP but might cast votes for the opposition on election day. Apparently, this is what happened in 2011.

Nagamootoo’s political obituary had been written then when he apparently could not draw a crowd. But the results of that election showed not that did he not have support in Whim but in the rest of the Indian heartland on the Corentyne. It was his ability to help garner 11% of the Indian vote which played a significant part in ensuring the opposition got the majority of seats in the National Assembly.

Given all this, I am therefore of the belief that the composition of the crowd at Whim is no indicator of what is likely to happen election day. That is in the hands of the gods.

What one can be certain about is that the perilous state of the rice industry in Berbice is hurting farmers, the traditional supporters of the PPP. There is a glut of rice as a result the ‘Grow More’ campaign initiated by Robert Persaud when he was minister of agriculture.

There is a lot of paddy but very low prices are paid and the farmers are not benefitting from the high price obtained in the Venezuelan market. Inputs are expensive but the millers rule the industry with a heavy hand, punishing any farmer who might have dissident intentions.

At Whim I heard stories of heavy indebtedness to the banks, searing domestic problems and suicide. I found it strange that the rice industry could be in such dire straits and the PPP is apparently not taking any emergency action to reverse it. And this crisis is giving rise to serious social problems.

In the past it would have been my party “right or wrong.” Apparently, this is no longer true. Anger is building against the ruling party; some Indians are openly defiant.

The danger here is that the crisis in the rice industry is not the sole testing problem in the ancient county. There is clearly a recession or something similar to it there. Unemployment is high; drugs a scourge. And what three farmers told me might represent a new situation in this PPP stronghold.

I paid attention because one is the biggest farmer in Berbice. They are of the view that as a result of the Cummingsburg Accord, the agreement between APNU and the AFC, the ministers of agriculture and home affairs will be Indian. And if an APNU dominated government does not meet their expectations, the AFC can vote with the PPP to get rid of it.

If this is not the most dangerous thing I have heard in Guyana’s politics, I do not know what is.

Ronald Austin is the former Guyana ambassador to Beijing. He lives in Guyana.