Descent into disorder

Guyana Chronicle
October 26, 2000

THE violence that erupted Tuesday around the standoff between a group of vendors and the City Constabulary had been lurking just beneath the surface for days.

The City Council has been adamant that the vendors would not be allowed to resume selling on the pavements of Regent Street in keeping with the court order it finally succeeded in getting earlier this month.

Some vendors were equally insistent that they wanted to go nowhere else but back to Regent Street, at least until the usual busy Christmas shopping season is over.

The cat and mouse game on Regent Street between the units of the City Constabulary and the sellers continued as the sellers awaited the hearing, scheduled for yesterday, of their court challenge to the judge's order giving the City Council the right to keep them off the pavements of the street.

The expectations of an amicable resolution of the row between the two sides at a meeting at the Office of the President with President Bharrat Jagdeo and several of his Cabinet Ministers did not materialise.

The City Council said the vendors had agreed to preserve the "sanctity" of Regent Street by no more vending there and to take up spots and stalls on a section of the Merriman's Mall and an area near the Bourda Market.

A spokesman for the vendors insisted they had agreed to no such thing and orderly protests on the streets gradually heated up into confrontations and near clashes.

As the temperature built last week, vendors opening began arming themselves with bottles, hammers and other objects and frequently traded insults with members of the City Constabulary they perceived standing between them and the pavements of Regent Street.

Some on Monday even tried a bit of obeah (voodoo) ritual to scare away the persistent constables.

It was clear to most people that the simmering dispute was going to flare up soon if the situation was not defused and it did Tuesday afternoon.

City Constables, including a female, were beaten. One male constable was badly stabbed and beaten and vendors claimed some of their numbers were assaulted too.

It was the descent into disorder that had been lurking just around the corner ever since the vendors began insisting they had a right to sell on the pavements of Regent Street.

At the first sign of trouble Tuesday, storeowners did the sensible thing - they shut up shop until the storm blew over.

At the back of their minds and bound to remain there for a long time, would have been the dark memories of the street troubles that scarred Georgetown when the main Opposition People's National Congress ({PNC) staged anti-government protests after the December 1997 general elections.

Unease on the streets of the commercial centre of Georgetown is not good for the soul and body of the country and the root cause of the troubles has to be treated.

As we have noted before, the bottom line has to be ensuring the rule of law.

And the rule of law was clearly being flouted by elements before the violence erupted Tuesday.

Everyone will blame the other for starting the bloody clashes but beating up women and stabbing officers of the law doing their duty cannot be accepted in an ordered society.

This descent into disorder cannot be tolerated and it is time for all the parties involved to get serious about finding a way out.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today