I saw the Haslyn Parris incident

Stabroek News
March 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

I read with interest in your newspaper about the recent Haslyn Parris incident at Congress Place. Unlike the various authors of these letters I was at Congress Place at the time Haslyn was attacked and witnessed most of what took place.

Minutes before the attack, I saw Haslyn in the corridor near the Hall of Heroes on the first floor speaking to a few people. I invited him to join myself and a small group of PNC/R supporters in an office near where he was standing at the top of the stairs, but he said he could not do so at that moment in time. Minutes later he left the party HQ and started walking at the side of the building towards where his car was parked. Within seconds a few of the hundreds of the citizens who had gathered in the shed and compound at Congress Place approached Haslyn and he stopped to talk to them. I watched as he quickly became surrounded by more and more citizens demanding an explanation of his role in giving validity to the election results. By this time I could not hear what Haslyn was saying to them but I heard what they were saying to him as he rapidly became engulfed by citizens who were gesticulating and hurling abuse at him. I distinctly heard words such as "traitor" and "you sell us out" punctuated by invectives that cannot be repeated here. At first I did not anticipate violence but by the time I realised Haslyn was in danger, it was impossible for me to penetrate the crowd to reach him. I then hurried into the main building to Mr Hoyte's office and told him what was happening outside the building. He immediately stopped what he was doing and gave instructions for Haslyn to be protected and escorted to safety.

As someone who spends several hours at Congress Place each day, I wish to place what happened in the context of events as they unfolded during and after the elections.

Roughly from the day elections were held there had been a steady build up of angry citizens within the 42 acres that make up Congress Place. On the actual day of the elections the vast majority of these angry people were voters who had been disenfranchised i.e., dislocated, had already been voted for, names did not appear on the list, were somehow prevented from voting etc., etc. I know this because I spoke to many of them myself. As these disenfranchised citizens poured into Congress Place most of the staff and officials at Congress Place busied themselves trying to resolve their problems. It soon became impossible for these officials to cope with the magnitude of the problem. I need to mention that the ethnic composition of the disenfranchised did not in any way reflect that of the population as a whole.

In the days that followed what may have been hundreds by mid morning on election day, swiftly grew into a much larger crowd mainly women. As someone who has visited and worked extensively in Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Tchad, Guinea (Conakry), Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Congo, Morocco and the Cameroon during times of difficulty, I recognise these manifestations of collective anger and what they mean.

I had not noticed Haslyn at Congress Place during this post election period so that he was probably unaware of the mood of many of the PNC/R supporters visiting Congress Place during and after elections. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I mentioned earlier in this letter, I spoke to many of the angry people at Congress Place about their obvious frustrations, anger and desperation. To a man/woman their responses were the same "...we cannot endure 5 more days of PPP/C governance given what we and our families have suffered for the last 8 years..." Their feeling was and still is that only the PNC/R can represent them and their concerns as follows:
* Their need for jobs to feed, house and clothe themselves and families.
* Their need to feel involved in governance rather than ignored and marginalised.
* Their need to feel that they will be allowed to share in Guyana's economic cake now and in the future.

The events that led to the attack on Haslyn Parris, other recent events on the east coast and in Georgetown as well as manifestations of anger yet to come can be characterised as cries for help. How the nation responds to these cries for help in the next few days or weeks will determine the future of this country for generations to come.

Yours faithfully,
F. Hamley Case