By Father Malcolm Rodrigues
April 19, 2000
IN another two days, Christians throughout the world will be observing Good Friday, the day in the Christian Calendar which commemorates the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One of the central themes of this event is that of reconciliation between God and humankind, and an invitation for human beings to be reconciled with each other. That the Good Friday event continues to inspire men of good will to work for reconciliation was powerfully witnessed in recent times in the setting up and the workings of the Truth Commission of South Africa and the proposal for the Reconciliation Law in El Salvador rather than a blanket amnesty which suppresses the truth.
Reconciliation must be rooted and grounded in the acceptance of the truth, an attitude of repentance for any denials of the truth, and a spirit of forgiveness for hurts arising out of denials of the truth. In the case of the Truth Commission of South Africa, this was a vehicle for persons to recognise and accept responsibility for their behaviour during the apartheid era, seeking forgiveness for such behaviour from those who are still alive after resisting apartheid, and thus to be reconciled with themselves and with their brothers and sisters, especially the victims of the oppressive apartheid system.
In El Salvador, the government passed a law which granted amnesty to all those military personnel who were either directly or indirectly involved in the atrocities of the ten-year civil war, thus suppressing the truth and thereby denying these very persons an occasion for reconciliation with their own selves and with their brothers and sisters. The proposal for the Reconciliation Law in place of the General Amnesty is precisely to offer an opportunity for the truth to emerge in relation to the many killings and brutalities perpetrated during the war, the acceptance and responsibility for this, the need for repentance for the national loss, both human and material, and the move to seek reconciliation with the survivors of the war. The General Amnesty does not and cannot lead to true reconciliation, whereas the proposed Reconciliation Law can set in motion the process which can lead to real national reconciliation.
Here in Guyana we can and must learn from these lessons from abroad since national reconciliation seems to elude us each time we think we are getting there. I listened to most of the debate in Parliament on the Constitution Amendment Bill, now Act, and I felt that what was lacking in the debate was a recognition of the truth of the genesis of some of the very changes which were being proposed in that section of the Constitution, for example, the change of the name Minority Leader to Leader of the Opposition. Are we prepared to recognise the truth behind the change in the 1966 Constitution which introduced the term Minority Leader in the 1980 Constitution, accept our mistake and seek forgiveness from those hurt by the change, and so enter into the path of reconciliation within the now emerging Constitution?
We get no way be denying the past, but we can stand to benefit immensely by accepting responsibility for the past. I would like to stress that what is being proposed on the question of national reconciliation has nothing to do with scoring points against perceived opponents. Rather it seeks to allow the truth to really set us free so that we can genuinely seek forgiveness for hurts of the past, and so begin to breathe the air of reconciliation. It would be a wonderful thing if in the year 2000, the Guyanese people can become a "Good Friday" people, positively disposed to accepting the truth, seeking forgiveness for hurts to the nation, and above all ready to enter into a process of national reconciliation in the interest of the common good.
A new Constitution, fair and free elections, attempts at inclusive governance will all fail in the long run unless there is a sense of reconciled unity within the nation, where our differences are not seen as threats but rather assets for real national development.
As we approach Good Friday 2000, I believe that our people want to be reconciled as a people, and I hope that our politicians can find the courage and conviction to take the initiative in the direction of national reconciliation. To quote the late Martin Carter, "all are involved, all will be consumed" unless we get the national enterprise right based on true reconciliation.