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 peoplemen,
women and childrenin their homes on January 26 in
the tiny village of Lusignan on Guyanas 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
The first to be killed in Bartica by a group, which disappeared
as quickly as it appeared, were five policemen at the towns
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 isnt, then the problem of criminal lawlessness
in Guyana has reached epidemic proportions, and the large
scale slaughter of innocent people could occur anywhere
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 peoplemany of whom
have been fleeing its shores for more than four decadesare
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
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
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
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
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