By Vishnu Bisram
A few Guyanese are seeking to resurrect the World Union of Guyanese (WUG) which has been dormant since around 1993/4. It is well-known that WUG, individuals and several groupings in the diaspora played a crucial role in the struggle for free and fair elections (FFE).
The struggle culminated in the October 1992 election which brought to power a democratic government, led by the PPP under Dr. Jagan’s Presidency.
The idea of WUG’s resuscitation is welcomed especially if it is to not only to champion free and fair elections but also to advocate for a new Guyana in which power will be shared by the varied parliamentary forces and ethnic groups in which everyone will feel they are equal.
The resurrection of WUG, I am informed, is being promoted by a few PPP affiliates in New York because of what they feel is a threat to democracy in their homeland in light of the unilateral appointment of the Gecom Chair by President Granger which is being peddled as a violation of the constitution. Ironically, when the WUG was launched (Spring 1991), PPP affiliates, members of the Association of Concerned Guyanese (ACG), initially opposed its formation. In fact, some individuals came to the launching, disrupted its proceedings, and leveled unsubstantiated allegations against the founders of WUG and the gathering at large. The creators of WUG were all freedom fighters who spent decades struggling for free and fair elections (FFE) in Guyana. The then opponents attributed unsupported (and even sinister) motives behind the idea of initiating World Union of Guyanese somehow feeling that the initiators, promoters and launchers had personal political ambitions to turn it into a political party or to build a name to run for political office in the 1992 elections. None of these suspicions came to pass and WUG did an effective job advocating for the restoration of democratic governance in Guyana. The early opponents and detractors quickly came around to supporting WUG especially when some of them were given leadership positions. But after democracy was restored in 1992, WUG was left by the wayside to wither and die. Since then, ACG splintered into several outfits with some of them even supporting the AFC.
And now, a handful of ACG affiliates from one of the splinter groups see value in the revivalism of WUG as a counter to perceived threats to democracy in Guyana. However, currently there are few enthusiasts supporting the idea of re-activating WUG or championing the grouping’s worthwhile objectives in light of how the group’s activists were mal-treated and marginalized by the PPP administration especially post Jagan.
The WUG was launched in Spring of 1991 in New York City to champion the restoration of democracy (and by extension the holding of free and fair elections in Guyana). The initiators of the idea of WUG were the late Hassan Rahaman (from West Dem), Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye, and myself. Contacts were initiated between us and Dr. Ramsahoye on launching an international grouping to link all of the diaspora to champion free and fair elections and promote democratic governance. Ramsahoye flew in from London and a few of us welcomed him at JFK and drove straight to my home where I hosted him. The WUG initiators met at my home and we chalked out a game plan to launch the organization the following day. All Guyanese groups, including the US support groups of all parties (PPP, DLM, URP, WPA, NRP, TUF, PDM) and socio-politico activists were invited to the launch. It was a public meet announced in the media and through leafleting to hold a round table discussion on the idea.
There was a huge turnout at the meeting held on Liberty Avenue at an office provided by realtor Reggie Rawana. Ramsahoye and Ravi Dev spoke of its objectives, relevance, and importance. There was a no holds barred discussion. The purpose, goal, aim, objective of WUG was discussed. There was a debate on whether it was needed. People vented their ideas and critique its formation. Arjune Karshan, Raj Singh, Chuck Mohan, and Joey Jagan of the ACG were there as were Albert Khan, Mike Persaud, and Roop Persaud. Some questioned “where was Ramsahoye during the preceding 20 years”. Joey Jagan was scathing in his criticism of the group querying its motives. He was also critical of the ethnic composition of the attendees – primarily, although not exclusively, Indian. That was (and still is) the ethnic composition of audience at Guyanese functions in NYC. It was a time when Afro Guyanese remained supportive of the PNC and crowded events where the PNC leadership (Hoyte, Hamilton Green, etc.) spoke in Brooklyn and Indo-Guyanese flocked to meetings where Dr. Jagan and other PPPites spoke in Queens. The launch of WUG did not exclude anyone. But it has been a reality in the diaspora that Afros did not attend events organized by Indos and vice versa.
It was agreed to launch the organization. Ramsahoye was chosen unanimously as International Coordinator and Chairman. Local executives were chosen. It was agreed that meetings would be held in other diaspora locations. A series of activities were suggested including lobbying Members of Congress and writing to President Bush and his Administration, seek a meeting with Sally Cowal who was Asst. Secy of State for Caribbean, etc. The following day, the initiators of WUG met at the home of Dr. Baytoram Ramharack in the Bronx to assess its launch. We discussed how to advance its agenda and realize the suggested activities, how to connect with the diaspora elsewhere, and how to make it an effective lobbying organization. Dr Ramsahoye broached the idea of funding to achieve goals realize the group’s activities. Each one of us donated a couple hundred dollars as a start up fund. It was agreed that similar meet would be held in London, Toronto, Miami, Washington, Trinidad, and Guyana. Later that day, Ramsahoye, Mike Persaud, Jerry Ganie, myself and another person had dinner at an Indian restaurant in downtown Manhattan where we reflected on WUG.
Through activism of some members, WUG expanded with affiliated branches in Miami, Toronto, London, Chicago, Trinidad, and Guyana. We did meet at the Hilton in Trinidad where Ramsahoye played host covering the hotel expenses for several guests from NYC; Ravi Dev, Lindley Geborde, Hassan Rahaman, Dr. Narine (from Chicago) attended. And we met again in Guyana where Geborde played host. Ramsahoye held meetings in London, and I also traveled to London that summer and met activists who were involved in FFE campaign.
WUG reps held exchanges with the leaders of the political parties in Guyana discussing the role of WUG and how it can assist with advocating and lobbying for FFE. In my private meeting with Dr. Jagan, he questioned the motif of Ramsahoye’s role in WUG and whether Ramsahoye and WUG would become a political outfit to contest elections. I assured him that Ramsahoye’s only objective was to promote FFE and that WUG would not be transformed into a party. He agreed to work with WUG and met with Ramsahoye several times thereafter. The ACG branches also began to work closely with WUG with their members attending protests, rallies, and meetings we organized and joined us in meetings with US Members of Congress,etc. When Mike Persaud and I met Congressmen Stephen Solarz and Elliott Engels in separate meetings, a few ACG members accompanied us. This led to press releases from these Congressmen calling for FFE in Guyana.
After Jagan became President, in early 1993, Ramsahoye and I met Jagan separately and pledged our support to consolidate democracy. Ramsahoye tole me he appealed to Jagan to replace the Burnham constitution. Jagan firmly but politely said no. Ramsahoye offered his service for free to help draft a new constitution, but Jagan declined. Ramsahoye urged Jagan to pass a bill in parliament stating elections between 1966 and 1992 and the 1978 referendum were fraudulent and therefore their outcome null and void, Jagan refused.
Ramsahoye urged him to return to the Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal since Burnham used his 1968 magic majority to terminate PC appeals, but Jagan was not receptive. Ramsahoye would later suggest that Guyana form a trade treaty with Trinidad under (Basdeo Panday Administration) that would give Guyana a back door for appeals to the Privy Council. But Jagan would not buy into anything that would reduce the power of the government or secure the legal rights of people. In my private meeting with Jagan, I urged him to return to the independence constitution since the Burnham constitution was illegal. Jagan said he was not going back to colonial rulers. He also told me he would not abuse the powers in the Burnham constitution. Ravi Dev, Geborde, Hassan Rahaman, and other freedom fighters also met Jagan but were unable to prevail upon him to bring about constitutional change to reduce the powers of the Presidency or pursue inclusive government or even to include some of the WUG affiliates (overseas freedom fighters) in his administration (as Ambassadors, Chair of Corporations, etc).
WUG and its affiliated members were dejected with how the PPP(mis) treated freedom fighters and its rejection of great advice to consolidate democracy in the homeland and strengthen relations with diaspora. After all, WUG did play a very important role in helping to secure FFE in Guyana. WUG affiliates did try to bring about critical constitutional reform that would have led to inclusive government and reduced powers of the President. Guyana would have been a different place today attaining high development if PPP leadership had listened to good advice.
With its sound advice rejected and those who helped free the country ill-treated after the 1992 election, it would take a lot for WUG affiliates to return to champion free and fair elections in 2020.
VISHNU BISRAM IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.