Thursday 28th February, 2008


Politicians failing their people

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By Sir Ronald Sanders

Opposing political parties in Guyana are in grave danger of failing the Guyanese people by what appears to be a determination by some of their leaders to cast blame on each other for two recent incidents of criminal lawlessness in which 23 people were slaughtered by rampaging gunmen.

What the Guyanese people are crying out for is not the finger-pointing and mud-slinging by opposing political camps which has ensued in the aftermath of these heinous acts, but a unified and concentrated approach by all their political representatives to a frightening problem that has created profound anxiety and intense fear throughout the country.

The brutal, deliberate and cold-blooded killing of 11 people—men, women and children—in their homes on January 26 in the tiny village of Lusignan on Guyana’s Atlantic coast, was followed on February 17 by the murder of another 12 people in the town of Bartica, a bustling town up the Essequibo river.

The first to be killed in Bartica by a group, which disappeared as quickly as it appeared, were five policemen at the town’s police station. The murder of the policemen was as starkly symbolic as it was callously strategic.

By killing the policemen first, the gunmen not only deprived the residents of the town of protection, they also demonstrated their contempt for the authority of the police and their capacity to eliminate them. They left no doubt in the minds of the public that the police are powerless in the face of the violent resolve of criminal gangs.

At the time of writing this commentary, it is not known whether the same gang committed both these atrocities, though there have been unsubstantiated claims by some in authority that it is the same gang.

In a sense, it would be a relief if it is the same gang. For, if it isn’t, then the problem of criminal lawlessness in Guyana has reached epidemic proportions, and the large scale slaughter of innocent people could occur anywhere and anytime.

If, on the other hand, it is the same gang responsible for both acts of carnage, then there is the chance that their containment would end the turmoil that now engulfs the nation.

Whether it is the same gang or more than one that is terrorising Guyana and challenging the authority of the State, the reality is that the country has been badly affected. There have been reports of businesspeople and tourists postponing visits; residents of the country have limited night time activities; restaurants have suffered.

Right now, Guyana is not regarded as a plum location for investment, and its beleaguered people—many of whom have been fleeing its shores for more than four decades—are continuing the exodus.

Yet, Guyana remains what it always was; a country rich in its vast natural resources of gold, diamonds, bauxite, and, if the US geological surveys are right, huge reserves of oil. Additionally, its immense expanse of arable land produces large quantities of food that could easily feed the entire Caribbean but most of which is dumped every day.

There simply is no good reason, apart from its political strife, for Guyana to be the second poorest country in the Caribbean, and for its people to leave in search of a better life abroad. Indeed, the reverse should be the case. The vast resources of the country should be a magnet for attracting human and financial capital from the Caribbean and further afield.

Immediately after the January 26 atrocity at Lusignan, I wrote the following in my weekly commentary: “The lawless acts that occurred in Lusignan (and which have happened before in Guyana in other areas of the country) in which innocent people are killed and the perpetrators disappear, demands the widest possible national participation in ending it.

“There should be the deepest and most meaningful consultation between the government, the opposition political parties and civic groups along with the law enforcement agencies on effective measures to ensure that lawlessness does not escalate to terror.”

As it happened, there was no attempt to convene such a consultation after the Lusignan massacre. Instead, there was political backbiting and snide accusations in a political game that conjured up the image of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.

It took a further atrocity at Bartica to motivate the summoning of a meeting of representatives of the political parties on February 19. But it was a meeting that failed to produce what it promised. At its end, the political parties again flayed each other with accusations of bad faith and double-dealing, and the people of Guyana were left with no sense of hope or expectation that their political leaders had the capacity to set aside their narrow political interests in order to serve the higher national cause of the people.

There is absolutely no doubt that the people of Guyana want an end to the criminal atrocities they have endured; they want tangible assurances that they can live in safety with confidence that law and order will be upheld, and that their representatives from all political parties will come together to guarantee the national effort to achieve it.

The Guyana Constitution provides at Article 13 for the cohesion of the political parties in times of crisis such as this.

It reads: “The principal objective of the political system is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”

In invoking the article, they would not be required to share “government” they could share “governance.” And there is a difference. Government, with all its trappings and authority would remain, but councils made up of representatives of all political parties could be given legal authority to govern structures that are focussed on solving particular areas of national concern.

By failing to establish such structures of shared governance, the political leaders of Guyana could well fail their people.

The writer is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat

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