The street protests, roadblocks and fires

What the people say about... By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 16, 2001

This week we asked the man/woman-in-the-street to comment on the recent protests and fires in the city, the fiery blockades on the East Coast Public Road, and subsequent beatings and robberies following the March 19 General Elections. Their views follow:

Kumar Chatergan - private sector employee: 'The current protests resulting in fires in the city and roadblocks have come about because of discrimination. It is not because we have a race problem among the people themselves in Guyana. The race problem we have has come about by the politicians who have their own self-interest at heart and not the people's interests. For instance if we had a race problem among the people I would not have been sharing my views with you. The days of the Black Man and the Coolie Man are gone. We need unity, but we the people have to forge it somehow to show the politicians that they are the ones who are burning down and destroying our country because of discrimination, because of political affiliation and not because of race. Guyana is home to all of us. As far as I am concerned the protest should not be against one party or the party in government - it should be against all politicians who are trading on the race card. A party when elected to government is not meant to look after only those who voted for that party. All honest, hardworking Guyanese pay taxes and it is only right that the interests of all are looked after. The stage the protest has reached is madness. [The] attempt to burn down the St George's Cathedral is beyond comprehension.'

Christopher Harte - private sector employee: 'Everyone has the right to protest. They do it even in highly developed countries but the organisers need to ensure that the situation does not get out of hand. I think that the leaders of the country, both those elected to government and the opposition, are to take blame for what has happened in the city with the burning down of businesses, offices and residences, the loss of a life and the beating and robbing of people during the current protest. They both know that they need to meet in the interest of people they represent but they have waited too long to have dialogue at the highest level and the man-in-the-street became agitated and the result is the destruction of the city and the economy. It is not time to send emissaries. It is time for President Bharrat Jagdeo and former president, Desmond Hoyte to meet and get down to the business of developing this country. Mr Jagdeo should not believe that his party alone can do it nor should Mr Hoyte think the same. They have to find a way out of this for us and we are looking forward to them doing so. There has been numerous cases of discrimination and I have been a victim of it and after this period of protest I don't think that the government will get away with it. At least, I think good sense will prevail.'

Arjune Narine - mechanic: 'It is all right for people to protest but it must be done in a peaceful way. I have no problem with the blockades and delaying and inconveniencing people to some extent to get the message over but the problem arises when the protest gets out of hand resulting in injuries, loss of life and damage to private and public property. Then the law would have to be enforced. The fires, which have damaged property and have now left hundreds of people out of jobs, are not good for the country and the economy. There may be genuine grievances but there must be dialogue and compromises. I am looking forward to this very important process as I think it is the only way out of this morass. The survival of this country depends on this process. The protestors should come off the streets and let dialogue be the way forward. Cabinet is in place. The message, that there are serious socio-economic problems in the society, has been sent. Give them a chance to do what they have to do. The protest has definitely degenerated to being abusive and damaging. It gives the impression that we in Guyana do not know how to protest anymore.'

Shane Grant-Stuart - private sector employee/national rugby player: 'I think the period of protest has reached a peak and things should begin to iron themselves out. It will not be easy especially since people are agitated and anything untoward could cause another wave of protest. While the burning down of buildings, beating and robbing of innocent people during protest action must be condemned, I think that those in authority should be looking for urgent solutions to the problems. I don't think that leaders should be pitting strength against each other and await the return of peace to have dialogue. They should be meeting to find a way to end the protests. I think the problem lies with the politicians who need to look seriously at the issue of inclusiveness even if inclusiveness means power sharing. The recent protests are linked, first it was disenfranchisement, then it was the appointments of at least two persons to Cabinet positions which a large section of the Guyanese people are not comfortable with. I think much of the protest is not PNC inspired but the protests come from the people and the party only takes up their cause. Many people would like to speak out right now but they are afraid to do so because of victimisation and because it is a matter of bread and butter. I may be a victim for speaking as frankly as I do now.'

Allan Leow - private sector employee: 'As far as street and other forms of protest are peaceful I would support them. Protests, such as we have been witnessing, which engender violence and destruction to public and private property and endanger lives should stop and not be allowed to continue. As far as I am concerned the politicians have allowed things to get out of hand and the protests should be controlled or stopped completely as it is clear that the criminal elements have taken control. While protests at being disenfranchised, or against the appointment of Dr [Roger] Luncheon may be valid I don't see what makes the beating of Robert Corbin and Jerome Khan valid. You have to take this in the context of the kidnapping of PPP/Civic agents and them being beaten at Congress Place. Everyone is coming out against police brutality but people must protest beatings by political parties as well. On account of all of this I feel that a long-term solution is needed and that should take the form of governance which will include all parliamentary parties.'

Basdeo Mohan - businessman: `While protests may be necessary to get the message over the burning of buildings and beating and robbing people at blockades are not necessary. They only belittle the protest and those behind it. Those acts are uncalled for because in the long run not only one section of the society will suffer but all because we co-exist. What is needed to end this impasse is what people, the ordinary Guyanese like me have been calling for in our ways, dialogue between the two parties and inclusiveness in governance. Some time ago I shared the view with your newspaper that the government should have at the highest level discussions with the PNC before making major decisions as decisions will impact on a wide section of the PNC's constituency. The PPP/Civic government has to remember that the country is no longer governed by a dictatorship but by a democratically elected government, hence the difference in governance. It is a fact that the majority of Indians voted for the PPP/Civic and the majority of Blacks voted for the PNC REFORM but that does not give the government the authority to discriminate against anyone who did not vote them in. Right now we need an open transparent meeting between the leaders of the PNC REFORM and PPP/Civic with the media present so that no one accuses the other of stalling on talks. The people will be the witness to that.'

Storm Semple - self-employed: 'People have a right to peaceful protest but not burning down buildings and putting people out of jobs, homes and their livelihood, beating and robbing and even killing. That is defeating the purpose of the protest. That amounts to vandalism, hooliganism, robbery and murder. If people are not pleased with appointments there must be some way to address it. People who are not comfortable with an appointment for whatever reason look at the reasons given and ensure that it is valid before taking action. The reasons may be real and not perceived. Right now there is need to erase the hate which has led to so much destruction in recent days. The number one priority of the government and opposition is to talk and do so in a transparent manner so as to erase suspicions.'

Romeo McAdam - senior education official: 'The protest has somehow gotten out of hand and the effects are being felt. From the education point of view it has affected school children and the education system in some ways. The School's Systems Management Committee has had to postpone indefinitely its statutory meeting which was due to be held at Fort Wellington in Region Five because of the unrest and insecurity. To remedy this situation the two main political parties need to get down to the business of finding a way out of this problem and they need to expedite this process urgently in the interest of the nation. School will reopen next Tuesday and I expect it will affect children's attendance at school. Many children travel to the city to attend school and they travel unaccompanied. Parents will be uneasy with such a situation. My concern is that this whole question of race seems to be raising its head and I think it will be very difficult to get rid of it. However, the fact is that we cannot do without one another. Everyone is an expert in his own area and that should not be ignored.'

Leonard Westford - mechanic: 'The problem is on the coast and not in the hinterland. At the moment it is not affecting the Rupununi at least as the area is basically self-sufficient and what people cannot get from Georgetown they get from Brazil. However, I think that what I see in Georgetown is alarming and to bring back some semblance of order there needs to be talks among the two main parties. The issue of Dr Roger Luncheon's appointment I gather is the big thing now and I think some compromises could be reached especially if a wide cross section of people are not comfortable with him.'