Page 4, 27th May 1966

27th May 1966
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Page 4, 27th May 1966 — Guyana sets out on its own under racist shadow
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Guyana sets out on its own under racist shadow

Norman St. John-Stevas says ...

BRITISH GUIANA — South America's only country that is nearly half nonChristian, speaks only English and is 90 per cent literate-severed its last ties with Britain yesterday and changed its name to Guyana.

Marxist domination threatens the country, which has a recent history of violent racial conflict and has been ruled by Leftists for most of the time since it achieved selfgovernment.

The new nation on South America's north-east coast is about the size of the United Kingdom. Four fifths of its area is virtually uninhabited tropical rain-forest or mangrove swamp.

The country, which Britain took from the Dutch in 1796, has a racially and religiously mixed population of some 700,000 that includes East Indians, Amerindians, Negroes, Europeans a n d Chinese; Catholics, Protestants, Moslems and Hindus.

The largest ethnic group is made up of East Indians, who comprise close to half of the population. These are descendants of labourers brought here to relieve the manpower shortage created when Britain freed the slaves in its colonies at the beginning of the 19th century.

A majority of them live in rural coastal areas where they provide the bulk of the workers on sugar plantations and rice fields. The two mainstays of a primarily agricultural nation. About 70 per cent of them are Hindus, 20 per cent Moslems and 10 per cent Christians. They back the leftist People's Progressive Party headed by Dr. Cheddi Jagan.

The more than 200,000 Negroes are mostly Christians and predominantly townspeople. They provide the main backing for Premier Forbes Burnham's People's National Congress, a relatively conservative party that split away from the PPP.

The rest of the people include about 25,000 Amerindians, the descendants of the original population, most of whom are Catholics; some 20,000 Europeans, a large proportion of whom are of Portuguese descent, a number of Chinese, and people of mixed race.

The new nation has had more than its share of troubles on the way to independence. The first general election under universal suffrage came in 1953, when the People's Progressive Party won 75 per cent of the seats.

This government was shortlived. Within a few months, the British were forced to step in and suspend the constitution "to prevent Communist subversion of the country," in the words of the official inquiry held afterwards.

Finally, in 1964, all political party leaders, including Dr. Jagan, asked Britain to find a way out of the impasse and agreed in advance to accept her solution.

Britain's decision was to introduce a new voting system based on proportional representation and to hold a new general election. The upshot was that Dr. Jagan's PPP. which gained 45 per cent of the votes and whose support comes almost exclusively from the East Indians, was ousted in favour of a coalition government headed by Mr. Forbes Burnham, whose support comes almost entirely from the Negroes.

The coalition government at once cracked down on Cubantrained terrorists in the country and revamped the security forces. It has been so successful in restoring stability and some semblance of good government that the inevitable independence has now been granted by Britain.

The country has about 100,000 Catholics spread over all the six races. There are now 63 priests, including 45 from the English Province of the Jesuits, of whom six are Guyanese-born. Bishop R. L. Guilty, S.J., of Georgetown is a Scottish-born member of the English Province.

Since 1952, Scarboro Fathers from Toronto have been working in the country and now have 10 members here. Six Indian diocesan priests and one Jesuit have recently come on loan from India.

There are two local diocesan priests. Local vocations have been coming forward in recent years. and now number eight in the major seminary in Trinidad, and about 20 in the

minor seminary outside Georgetown.

But four fifths of the priests and half the nuns still come from abroad. It will be some time yet before the Church here is self-supporting in personnel and financial resources.

The total number of Catholics has more than doubled in the last 20 years, and their proportion in the whole population has gone up from 11 per cent to 16 per cent in the same period.

Greater Georgetown, the A capital, with over a quarter of the country's population, is the natural focus of the Church's activity. it is one third Catholic, Three big parishes serve the central area, and four smaller ones the outer fringe.

The Church has a great stake in education. It is mainly due to the network of Church schools all over the country that Guyana has a literacy rate of 90 per cent, probably the highest in South America. In recent years Dr. Jagan's government, openly Marxist has attacked the Church schools, and had threatened to take them over until his government was defeated in 1964.

In the newly independent country, with nearly half the population non-Christian, it is important that explicit guarantees of religious freedom and of religious instruction in schools should have been written into the new constitu• tion.

Long before ecumenism became popular, Guyana had its Christian Social Council, formed by I I denominations to work together on questions of mutual interest and to act as a bargaining body for the denominations with the government. Its present chairman is Bishop Guilty; its president is the Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies. Relations between the denominations are most cordial.

Guyana, like so many developing countries, has a growing population, politically conscious, yet with undeveloped mineral and forestry resources and a comparatively low standard of living.

Politically the future is clouded. The tendency of the East Indian majority to vote as a bloc will inevitably put Dr. Jagan back into power either at the next election in 1968 or the following one in 1973, and the result may be that Guyana will become a full-blown Communist State.

On the other hand, the present government may be tempted to block this by unconstitutional methods. Guyana has surmounted her problems in the past, and rapid economic progress may supply the key to a way out of the dilemma.

TWO events this week have brought the question of race relations in Britain to the fore once again, the speech of the Home Secretary on Monday to the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, and the publication of Mr. Peter Griffiths' book, "A Question of Colour." Mr. Griffiths, my readers may remember, was the Member for Smethwick who unseated Mr. Gordon Walker in 1964 and himself lost his seat last March.

The approaches of the two men to the problem of race relations in Britain could hardly be more different. Mr. Griffiths thinks that the whole idea of "coloured Englishmen" is dangerous nonsense. that coloured immigrants can never become Britons, and that the solution to the whole issue is a complete ban on further emigration with "gradual" repatriations of the coloured people to their country of origin.

Needless to say this is a view with which I have little sympathy, but quite apart from the powerful arguments one can raise against it, there is one fatal omission children growing up in Britain who have never known any other country. Their loyalties are not to India. the West Indies or Africa but to this country.

The argument and discussion to he meaningful and constructive must take this as a starting point because this is the factual situation. One may argue academically that it should never have been allowed to have arisen, but the point is that it has and we have to make. in the most literal sense of the word, the best of it.

The significance of the Home Secretary's contribution lies precisely in its point of departure that he recognises the existence of a multi-racial society in Britain to which we have to adapt ourselves.

The first thing to do is to prevent racial hatred being fanned up and worked up. Recently some highly inflammatory pamphlets and leaflets on the subject have been circulating. Apparently, in the opinion of the Attorney-General and others these cannot be dealt with by the Race Relations Act which penalises the publication of such propaganda.

If this is so, the need to amend the act is urgent. I have already signed a motion to this effect which has been tabled in the Commons and later this week I will be part of a parliamentary delegation of Members of all parties going to see the Attorney on the issue.

Prevention of the stirring up of racial prejudices is essentially negative. More positive steps have to be taken by the government and the private citizen to ensure that racial relations in the future are harmonious

Here we can learn from the American experience where bad housing, negro ghettoes and the lack of opportunity for skilled employment have created an explosive situation in many of the great northern cities.

The need for special aid to those areas where there is a large immigrant population to help them solve their housing problem is vital, especially with government policy which believes in fostering council house building rather than for private owner occupation.

Next to housing, I put employment high on my list of priorities. The most dangerous social discontent will result if the coloured children now growing up in Britain find that only the most menial jobs are open to them. As Mr. Jenkins has said, the more talented of these children will expect and rightly so, professional, whitecollar, scientific and technological posts.

"If" he states, "we allow these hopes to be disappointed, we shall be wasting scarce skills and talents and building up vast trouble for the future."

We have to start with the individual employer and make him aware of his responsibility in this field, The Government itself can set an example in the sphere where it has direct responsibility, the public service. It can give a lead in such organisations as the police and the civil service and also in the nationalised industries.

It may well be necessary to insert a non-discrimination clause in government contracts, providing that no firm which received a government contract shall practice racial discrimination in its employment policy.

I think this is probably a more promising approach than to erect by law a whole legal scaffolding to outlaw racial discrimination throughout British industry, manufacturing and service. But if we cannot obtain fair play voluntarily then compulsion may have to he used as a last resort.




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