Addressing a commemoration ceremony for the Enmore Martyrs on Friday, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo told the gathering that the remembrance of the sacrifices made by those sugar workers in the face of harsh and unbearable conditions comes at a time when the industry is facing similar challenges.
“And why is it so fitting that we remember this occasion? It is because today the industry that so many people sacrificed to build together, people of all races, but predominantly indo-Guyanese across Guyana, that that industry is facing its worst time and it is not facing its worst time, because nothing better could have been done. It is facing its worst time in our post-colonial history largely because we have a vindictive government and they decided to bring sugar to its knees,” Jagdeo told those gathered at Enmore, East Coast Demerara.
He lamented that the People’s Progressive Party/Civiv (PPP/C), on several occasions, pointed out to the APNU+AFC coalition Government what it could have done to address the sugar industry, because it was experiencing problems prior to the 2015 national elections.
The Opposition Party had urged that a feasibility study be conducted as well as a social impact assessment and a diversification study be pursued and only upon securing the results of those studies, should the Government take any action.
“But what happened: the Government decided to ignore that course of action and decided to close the estates because they believed that somehow it would assist them … they probably hoped that the sugar workers would become disillusioned, they would flee this country and that they would change the electoral demographics of this country. But what went down effectively is to put 11,000 people – 7000 directly and another 4000 who depend on sugar for a living – out of a job; that is over 50,000 Guyanese in a population of about 800,000 people without knowing where their next meal would come from, how they are going to earn enough to send their children to school; in fact, we have seen a massive increase in poverty in the sugar belt.”
He noted that concerns should not only be raised about the closing of the sugar industry, but also the “wanton corruption” involving the assets of the failing industry.
“Stripping assets, moving the operable assets to inoperable lists and putting them as scrap and then selling them off to [People’s National Congress] PNC officials for a pittance. It is happening every single part of the industry and the people in National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo are all guilty.”
On this note, Jagdeo posited that the pending ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will determine factors as to how these issues and many other issues facing the country could be resolved.
“That decision will be a defining decision as to how quickly we will fix this problem. And what’s happening in sugar and all other areas … (they) can only be fixed by a change in Government … so the only way we can remedy the situation is changing the Government. Many people across Guyana want that,” he declared.
The commemoration event hosted by the PPP was in honour of Lallabaggie and Dookie from Enmore, and Rambarran, Harry and Pooran were shot and killed by police at the Enmore Estate, on June 16, 1948 while protesting for improved working conditions on the plantations.