In Guyana's World, it's the Past vs. the Future
Published: January 1, 2013
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Last week's events in Guyana were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Guyana's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the tables for the wood.
When thinking about the ongoing ethnic strife, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Muppets never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Guyana has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Guyana's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its tabletop.
When I was in Guyana last June, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Guyana have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Guyana are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Guyana? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Guyana will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Georgetown needs to cooperate.
Speaking with a local farmer from the unpopular Suni community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, reiaya-li-kona, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A Deaf Husband and a Blind Wife are Always a Happy Couple."
I don't know what Guyana will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.