How Eric Phillips sab­o­tages the African repa­ra­tion cause

Weekend Mirror - - EDITORIAL -

Dear Ed­i­tor,

In

Monday’s print me­dia, ACDA Pres­i­dent and Govern­ment Ad­vi­sor Eric Phillips tar­geted the Guyana Times newspaper and sev­eral of its columnists, in­clud­ing my­self. In an­other of his char­ac­ter­is­tic, petty pub­lic rants un­be­com­ing of any­one pur­port­ing to be of aca­demic stock, Phillips cited my name in the racial war de­clared against those he claims form part of the “In­dian in­tel­lec­tual com­mu­nity”. Judg­ing from its con­tents,

the let­ter seem­ingly in­tended to pur­sue a per­sonal vendetta against one Vishnu Bis­ram, a move Phillips seems to be­lieve will serve the African repa­ra­tion cause. Nev­er­the­less, I’m happy he men­tioned my name as it al­lows me to once again high­light why he is an ob­sta­cle to na­tion-build­ing, na­tional unity and by ex­tent, African repa­ra­tion.

Guyanese iden­tity pol­i­tics is in­her­ent to our colo­nial past and con­tin­u­ously falls prey to racism at the detri­ment of na­tion build­ing. Those bran­dish­ing flags of di­vi­sive­ness to de­fend causes blurred by racist lens have proven that iden­tity pol­i­tics can be hi­jacked to threaten the in­tegrity of the Na­tion-State.

In his fight to gather sup­port for African slave repa­ra­tion, Phillips has launched a cru­sade against Indige­nous land rights which are in­trin­sic to the sur­vival of Indige­nous cul­tures world­wide.

He has proven that if he can­not pig­gy­back on Indige­nous rights to pro­mote African repa­ra­tion, then he should seek to di­min­ish the le­git­i­macy of Indige­nous peo­ples’ mi­nor­ity rights.

It’s be­cause of lob­by­ists such as Phillips that Indige­nous rights, in par­tic­u­lar land rights, are now throt­tled by the Govern­ment, and that a Min­is­ter can stand with­out re­straint in Par­lia­ment and un­apolo­get­i­cally ac­cuse Amerindi­ans of be­ing “avari­cious”.

It’s be­cause of such di­vi­sive dis­courses, that there are in­creas­ing eth­nic ten­sions be­tween Amerindi­ans and Afro-Guyanese. As one se­nior Indige­nous leader puts it, now “we’ve gone from a PS who used to curse Indige­nous lead­ers, to Min­is­ters who at­tack our most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion”.

Vul­ner­a­ble, be­cause of lim­ited ac­cess to so­cio-eco­nomic rights; vul­ner­a­ble to po­lit­i­cal bul­ly­ism; vul­ner­a­ble to cul­tural ero­sion; vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of eth­nic stig­ma­ti­sa­tion and stereo­typ­ing; vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of poverty and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges – a vul­ner­a­bil­ity which com­menced with stolen lands. This vul­ner­a­bil­ity height­ened when the Coali­tion pulled the plug on Indige­nous land rights, an un­prece­dented act in in­de­pen­dent Guyana.

To jus­tify his con­tri­bu­tion to the grow­ing marginal­i­sa­tion of Amerindi­ans, Phillips con­tin­ues to make un­founded as­ser­tions, in­clud­ing his most re­cent state­ment be­fore the Land CoI where he ar­gued: “Africans in­stalled (…) 2.58 mil­lion miles of drainage canals, trenches and in­ter-bed drains; 3500 miles of dams, roads and foot­paths; and 2176 miles of sea and river de­fence. No one else in Guyana has done that, yet they’ve got­ten repa­ra­tions”.

Here he con­tends that Amerindi­ans are be­ing given repa­ra­tion for which they’re less de­serv­ing than Africans, sub­se­quently re­pu­di­at­ing the very le­git­i­macy of Indige­nous land rights. He pur­sues a path of ig­no­rance, equat­ing Indige­nous land rights to African repa­ra­tion al­though nei­ther evolves within the same his­tor­i­cal con­text.

In what ap­pears to be a case of se­lec­tive am­ne­sia typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism, Phillips omits that Indige­nous peo­ples were not just the first in­hab­i­tants of the lands that later be­came Guyana, but are also the na­tives of the Amer­i­cas for as far back as can be an­thro­po­log­i­cally and sci­en­tif­i­cally proven.

He must be re­minded that Indige­nous lands were stolen by European set­tlers, that the First Na­tions of the Amer­i­cas were forced from their homes, had 90 per cent of their pop­u­la­tion dec­i­mated, lost their cul­tures and lan­guages, are still stig­ma­tised and are still marginalised. No other peo­ples have suf­fered the same fate as the first known in­hab­i­tants of the Amer­i­cas.

Yet, Indige­nous peo­ples pro­vide that bridge be­tween hu­man­ity’s past and present, a quickly erod­ing frag­ment of our his­tory, for which sur­vival is bound to an­ces­tral land.

Sub­se­quently, the lands legally owned to­day by Guyana’s Amerindi­ans are not “repa­ra­tion” and the speci­fici­ties of Amerindian land rights pre­scribed by the Amerindian Act 6–2006, the In­de­pen­dence Act Cap 14-S17, the Con­sti­tu­tion of Guyana, and the UNDRIP can­not ,there­fore, “set a prece­dence” for African repa­ra­tion, as Phillips de­fends.

So as he con­tin­ues to pit groups against each other while dan­ger­ously pre­tex­ting merit and by ex­tent, hi­er­ar­chi­cal dom­i­nance, not only does he sac­ri­fice what is left of his own cred­i­bil­ity, but risks los­ing na­tional sup­port from Guyanese coun­try­wide in the fight for African repa­ra­tion.

His dis­course im­bibed with racial slurs seeks to in­flict on Guyanese a sen­ti­ment of guilt for a hor­ren­dous pas­sage of his­tory for which they are not re­spon­si­ble, and con­tra­dicts the very prin­ci­ples of tol­er­ance once ar­dently ped­dled by the APNU/AFC.

Al­ter­na­tively, there’s a re­gional and global fight for slave repa­ra­tion to which Phillips, should he ab­di­cate his per­sonal racist agenda, might be able to find rel­e­vance and valu­ably con­trib­ute to help­ing the Guyanese cause.

Sin­cerely, Anna Cor­reia

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