More can be done to ease tensions

Stabroek News
May 14, 2001

Following the fifth round of talks on Friday between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte there is growing hope that dialogue is irreversibly entrenched as the preferred instrument for catalysing a rapprochement of the main political movements and their supporters.

An array of measures have been agreed on that should becalm the troubled waters of political upheaval as long as the varied committees and other enlisted persons get cracking on their tasks.

Any violence, brigandry, vandalism or act that contributes to communal tensions on the East Coast or anywhere else will detract from the journey that both President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte have agreed on and embarked upon. It is therefore in their shared interest that calm - especially on the troubled East Coast - prevails and whenever there is an eruption of ugliness that both leaders do their utmost to apply a healing balm.

In this respect, the May 2 unrest at Buxton was particularly troubling. It came on the same day that the leaders were continuing their productive dialogue and the cause of it was not as clear as some made it out to be. What was clear was that those who attacked and threw a `channa' bomb into a mini-bus injuring several people in what could have been a fatal attack must be afforded no cover whatsoever. Those who fired bullets at the police in a hair-raising standoff have no purchase in the halls of dialogue and argumentation. The ubiquitous road fires that have oppressed the citizens of east coast communities cannot be legitimate manifestations of people's concerns in an atmosphere of dialogue.

A clear signal needs to be sent to those who engaged in these acts at Buxton - regardless of their political leanings - that these acts in an already volatile situation are dangerous and deadly. This is why the PNC REFORM's (PNC/R) statement on the May 2 events was unhelpful. Though it included in the last third of its statement a general condemnation of acts of violence it did not address an admonition to those in and around Buxton who were responsible for these incidents which Buxtonians themselves condemned in the strongest terms when Stabroek News visited the community on May 3rd.

In the main, the PNC/R statement of May 3 evinced concern over what it described as provocative actions by the police directed at Buxtonians. It charged in the statement that the unrest was preceded by a police raid on the village in which a number of persons were arrested at random and went on to say that it was well known that hostility between the police and residents has its genesis in continual police harassment. It added "it is clear that the Police do not seem to realise how volatile the current political situation is and that any provocation on their part would probably generate reactions from those communities".

What the release did not say was that no amount of provocation by the police could excuse at all any attack on innocent travellers on the road. Alleged police excesses have to be protested in other ways. What the release also did not do was to unequivocally condemn those who were engaged in the disturbances of May 2. The PNC/R has to do more in its public utterances to condemn those who resort to violence - be it at Enterprise or Buxton.

Furthermore, the police did say that there had been no raid in the village as had been alleged by residents and the PNC/R and so the basis of the PNC/R criticism was misplaced.

Since both leaders in their inaugural meeting concurred that steps would be taken to ease tensions, the time is propitious for joint visits to troubled communities so that the villagers can follow their example and present their concerns and grouses in a framework within which they can be properly treated. This would serve to quell tensions and the two sides could probably organise the establishment of inter-community peace groups which would deal with the complaints and help to defuse any trouble that builds as it has from time to time. Joint visits to these areas would be the fullest expression of the leaders' intent on making dialogue the channel for progress. More needs to be done in this area.

The continuing vandalism of public infrastructure - the latest at Melanie - is another area where both leaders can appeal for good sense and enlist their supporters to be vigilant and help to safeguard the installations. In addition, communities like Enterprise, Buxton and Melanie have to denounce and turn over to the authorities those who break the law and are attempting to destabilise fraternal community relations.

Dialogue has the best chance of succeeding if the engagements between the leaders occur in a climate of calm and the troublemakers perceive that their efforts at disruption will not prevail.