Yesu’s support and civil society catapulted him to the forefront of the struggle for democracy


Dear Editor,

The news of the death of Dr. Yesu Persaud has stirred the emotions and awakened the memories of many. Letter columns and mainstream media pages reflect the praises, condolences and happy moments of the time spent with Yesu. It is quite understandable for the loss of a man of the stature of Dr Persaud, short in stature, but with an imposing and outstanding contribution to his country and to the entire Caribbean. Much has been made of Dr. Persaud’s contribution to the production and service sector in Guyana, but not so much of his political activism and level of involvement in it. My relationship with Yesu goes back a few years before the PPP/C won the October 1992 elections. At that time, he was openly involved in domestic politics although he did not belong to any political party. Suffice it to say that although I had never met him personally before, I knew he was making headlines when he fell out with the Hoyte administration over the management of Seals and Packaging Industry Limited (SAPIL) now Caribbean Containers Inc.

The struggle escalated, and as the Hoyte administration began to increasingly alienate professionals at the executive level of state-owned enterprises, others including then-CEO Pat Thompson. of Guyana Bauxite Company (Guybau), David Yankana, CEO of Guyana State Corporation (Guystac) and the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry (CAGI), other prominent members of the business community and state enterprises more vocal in their opposition to the Burnham dictatorship. With the loosening of the long-range and dreaded tentacles that characterized the Burnham era and the hesitant and reluctant opening of the democracy of his successor, many individuals boldly broke free and came out of their “holes”. At this particular juncture in our country’s political history, it was time for many to stand up and be counted. The political polarization in the country was so deep that it even manifested itself in the country’s religious and cultural life. Under these circumstances, Yesu found himself at the center of an impending controversy that had to be avoided in order to save a major event of historical significance from failure. Yesu visited Freedom House twice. First, was to negotiate an agreement between the government and the opposition regarding their respective roles in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the East Indians in Guyana in 1988. After successfully negotiating a deal, Yesu visited again to introduce Dr. Jagan to the main guest. , Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, the 8th Vice President of India and some members of his delegation, who had arrived in Guyana to join the celebrations.

I recalled Dr Jagan, as General Secretary of the Party, briefing the members of the Executive Committee on the difficulties in reaching an agreement with President Hoyte, who felt that Dr Jagan, nor the PPP, had no role to play, except that of being an appendage to a government program. Yesu was of a different opinion and ensured that Dr. Jagan and the PPP played a prominent role in the celebrations. Caught up in the whirlwind of local politics, Yesu stepped forward to play his part in the fight to restore democracy in Guyana. He recognized the inextricable link between economics and politics; that once field and factory workers were dissatisfied with their living conditions in towns and villages where basic social services were sorely lacking, workers would no longer be motivated to perform at their best . It is precisely because of this that Yesu Persaud and many others were fed up with the way things were going in Guyana. So it was no mystery why and how they got caught up in the realm of domestic politics. Riding the political platform as one of the prominent speakers at Guyanese Action for Reform and Democracy (GUARD) rallies, Yesu signaled his support for other members of civil society and the business community who spoke out to demand free and fair elections. This catapulted him to the forefront of the fight for political change in Guyana. When differences arose within GUARD over choosing a consensus candidate to face the 1990 elections, Yesu distanced himself from the infighting and backed Jagan for president and Sam Hinds for prime minister. .

Yesu, with a small team, skillfully negotiated with others who had expressed reservations but could not offer an acceptable alternative to the Jagan/Hinds combination. When cynics and critics brought in race, ideology and historical background to oppose what was clearly a winning ticket, Yesu insisted and in a historic meeting held with key players at the Park Hotel in At the time, all hands in a show of unanimity were raised in favor of the Jagan/Hinds ticket. The promotion at home and abroad of the agreed combination took on a momentous character with Yesu as one of the standard-bearers of what was soon to become the dawn of a new era. With the victory of the PPP/C in October 1992, Yesu continued to play a supporting role for the new Jagan administration. It was Yesu who encouraged President Jagan to visit Malaysia and Singapore in 1994. He accompanied President Jagan to some CARICOM Heads of Government Conferences to lobby for support for the rum industry of the Caribbean and to lobby CARICOM leaders to support key demands of the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA). Yesu distanced himself from unsubstantiated claims about the role of the private sector in advancing the development of the national economy under the Jagan administration. In a 1994 ‘Caribbean Voice’ article entitled ‘PPP’s Second Year in Government’, Mr. Persaud pointed out – ‘One of the healthiest and most salutary trends in all of this is that local entrepreneurs are now investing in the country. ‘

A concrete example of investment in local entrepreneurship was demonstrated with the launch of the Demerara Bank in 1994. Delivering the keynote address for the occasion, President Jagan said, “My congratulations must also go to Mr. Yesu Persaud, a dynamic businessman who has a talent for turning everything he gets his hands on into gold. In 1992, Yesu established ‘Independent Television’ (ITV) and hosted the popular and extremely informative weekly Sunday evening talk show program ‘Eye on the Issues’ where many topical political, economic, social and foreign policy were discussed. He was strongly in favor of constitutional reform and made it a constant subject of his program. Yesu Persaud and Cheddi Jagan were very close friends, one an accomplished businessman, the other an accomplished politician. They shared common views, albeit from different perspectives, on issues such as national democracy, paths of economic and social development as well as ways and means of combating poverty and underdevelopment in the world. . The two giants departed one before the other, but the challenges they discussed and faced in their interrelated yet interdependent roles remain, albeit in new, complex and difficult times.


Clement J. Rohee


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