The name of Guyana is commonly taken in vain to identify
the abyss into which Trinidad and Tobago could heedlessly
plunge. Guyanisation is the signpost for a dead-end
road down which T&T is enjoined not to go.
Still, the anglophone South American republic, christened
as West Indian and confirmed as a Caricom team player, exerts
powerful fascination. Things happen there, good and bad, on
a continental scale.
On the T&T sister islands, helpless agony
prevails over a murder a day, a kidnapping a week, and fire
and the threat of uncontrollable fire in city centres. The
police and fire services remain clueless, flat-footed and
waterless, as the case may be.
Looking through the louvres of self-absorption, T&T may
observe the Guyanese have a more sure-footed and less tortured
way of meeting similar challenges.
In the continental Guyanese scale, murder, gun running, kidnapping,
corruption and arson may extend beyond T&T comprehension.
In 2002-2003, jailbreaks by murderers, and the subsequent
gunning-down of policemen threatened to make Guyana terminally
If Guyanese now speak of those conditions in the past tense,
its because some people there contrived to make things
happen. It was dirty work; somebody had to do it; and it appears
they got it done.
This is how the period was recalled last week, not by a dispassionate
historian but by a major actor, Home Affairs Minister Ronald
Criminals, crime entrepreneurs and their political accomplices
sought to hold this nation to ransom and carried out murderous
acts with impunity. Fear stalked the land!
More than 20 policemen had been murdered, he said. The
Police Force was frequently engaged by unscrupulous and dangerous
criminals, armed with machine guns and other high-powered
The public lost confidence in the police. In a related parallel
with T&T, the information gathering machinery of
the police yielded very little. He was recounting not
the background to his career achievements but defiantly self-justifying
Mr Gajraj is shortly to become the former Home Affairs Minister.
Under heavy Guyanese and international pressure, he has quit
the portfolio, whose T&T equivalent is called National
The political opposition and public opinion organised under
civil society banners wanted him out. Not because,
like T&T counterparts, he appeared ineffective and hopeless.
Indeed, for the opposite reasons.
Wild, Wild West, said the Guardians banner
headlines reporting the noontime shooting on the Brian Lara
Promenade and the related killing in John John.
So far from rising to claim the role of sheriff, the National
Security Minister shut himself in, cowering in prayer to be
born again as Minister of Housing.
Not so in Guyana, where barefoot cowboys ride bucking broncos
in Rupununi rodeos. As gunfire echoed and blood spilled in
Georgetown, Home Affairs Minister Gajraj pinned a badge to
his chest, strapped on his guns, and raised a posse.
Mr Gajraj has not told all that he did. But what is known
portrayed him as a ruthless and lawless, over-achiever, a
fighter of fire with fire, guns against guns.
The minister became too much even for Guyanas Wild Wild
West. He was accused of organising death squads to terminate
The colourful Gajraj story took on ever more lurid hues. A
cattle rancher called George Bacchus publicly alleged that
the minister had recruited a trigger-happy taxi driver called
Axel Williams as both an informer and an executioner.
If the police could not get intelligence, the minister resolved
to find it himself; and he was profiled as ready to pay any
price. He created resources to act on the intelligence.
Axel Williams, by the time he became the ministers resource
person, had already shot someone dead in a dispute over 20
Guyanese dollars. Relating how the minister and the gunman
worked together, George Bacchus said one night Axel Williams
phoned the message to the ministers home, Suspects
identified, and Gajraj gave the order, Destroy.
Six men were shot dead at a Georgetown corner that night.
As reports swirled about his role as organiser of death squads,
Mr Gajraj gained a fearsome reputation. The US, Canadian,
British and EU missions joined protests demanding his investigation
and removal. The US and Canada cancelled his visas.
President Bharrat Jagdeo appointed a commission of inquiry,
whose three members pointedly excluded any Indo-Guyanese names.
The inquiry found no evidence (better than hearsay) identifying
Mr Gajraj as a ministerial Dole Chadee.
But the commissioners denounced his usurpation of the police
role by recruiting informers, and giving gun licences to,
among others, Axel Williams, a man implicated in at least
a dozen killings.
Living and dying by the gun is the rule of the Guyanese Wild
West. By the time the commission sat, Bacchus, the finger-pointing
rancher, and Williams, the ministers favourite gunslinger,
had both themselves been shot dead.
Nobody sent any memoranda to the commission. It heard only
from those witnesses it had summoned by sub-poena.
The commission also obtained records of telephone conversations
between the minister and Axel Williams from November 2002
to June 2003. The tapes confirmed a special relationship
between them but did not capture Mr Gajraj giving the
There seemed to be at least one other group involved in contractual
killings, the commission said, since Axel Williams was
himself killed by two unidentified gunmen acting in concert.
In the closing scene of what could be a movie, Guyana
2005, Ronald Gajraj may be pictured standing anti-heroically
tall over a field littered with the bodies of bad guys. The
former ministers role has already drawn critical acclaim:
You have displayed superior moral and spiritual values,
in serving the people of Guyana, and the Caribbean Indian
diaspora. You have beenand would continue to bea
shining example of a brave leader, one who walked the walk,
in addition to talking the talk.
This toast to the fallen Ronald Gajraj, raised by the US-based
Caribbean Center for Democracy and Social Justice, resonates
loudly in a T&T desperate even for an anti-hero to lead
its own fight against crime.