Unable anymore to deny that there was no racial motive behind nearly all of Guyana’s overseas-based diplomats being of East Indian ancestry, Guyana’s Indo-dominated government has bowed to stinging criticism from opposition parties and rights groups and has named two Blacks to senior ambassadorial positions and a third to head up a consulate in Barbados.
Until Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett named George Talbot to be the permanent representative to the United Nations and Keith George as ambassador to Suriname late last week, all of the overseas ambassadorial positions, barring one Guyanese of European extraction based in Belgium, were held by East Indians.
All were also political appointments from deep inside the bowels of the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP), a development that led to sustained criticism from the parliamentary opposition and other groups.
The issue was also a key opposition talking point in the run up to the November 28 general elections and clearly energized Guyanese Blacks into voting for the opposition A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) en masse. It also clearly hurt the PPP.
Rodrigues-Birkett also named veteran diplomat Michael Brotherson to head up a consulate in Barbados where thousands of Guyanese work and live. Brotherson had previously served in London.
Questioned about whether government was taking corrective measures, the minister said the staffers were being upgraded and race did not have much to do with them.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have never looked at it in that way. I have never separated them by the texture of their hair or the color of their skin,” she said, even as critics dismissed this reaction as a mere effort at political face-saving.
The issue first surfaced during an ongoing libel case brought by former President Bharrat Jagdeo against university professor and newspaper columnist Fred Kissoon.
Kissoon had criticized the lack of Afro-Guyanese appointments and had called Jagdeo an “ideological racist,” a label that sent the two straight to civil law courthouse.
Brilliant cross examination from Attorney Nigel Hughes forced Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon to admit that no Guyanese of African origin “was qualified” to be appointed as ambassador, fueling deep resentment in the community and energizing Blacks in the run up to elections.
An elated Freddie Kission reacted by saying that government was forced to “make a volte face, a U-turn in the matter and acknowledged that they were discriminating against African Guyanese.