Face to face

Stabroek News
January 18, 1998

The events of last Monday, like those of December 18th, diminished us as a nation. They will remain lodged in the memory for years to come, an obstacle to the reconciliation between the two main ethnic groups on which Guyana's future hinges. It is not just these two days which have been a source of pain to right-thinking Guyanese of all races and political persuasions; the situation in general as it evolved after December 15th has left many numb and confused.

However grim the situation might appear, everyone involved has to keep probing to search for pathways which might lead us to solutions of both a short-term and a long-term kind. Nothing, of course, will happen quickly, and there will be no miracles; no Nelson Mandela or Yitzhak Rabin will arise from the ranks of our politicians to make that grand, magnanimous gesture which would bond the two sides.

Advances will be of an incremental nature, but only by making such small advances will the current political reality be modified so that options for solutions can present themselves, and a retreat to the laager will become more difficult for both sides. With regard to the immediate crisis, rather than the underlying problem of Guyanese politics one or two tentative steps had already been taken last week.

Mr Hoyte, for instance, finally committed himself publicly in principle to a `forensic audit', and certainly if all sides can agree on the terms of such an audit, and bind themselves to its findings, a significant advance would have been made; a great deal is premised on that initial move.

The situation on the streets is a more complicated issue. The PNC has to take responsibility for the two days of mob rule and many days of indiscipline among its protestors, when it allowed them to intimidate ordinary citizens, interrupt work in government offices and indulge in all kinds of vulgarities. Only last Thursday's mammoth march met all the criteria of a peaceful protest.

Having said that, however, the PPP/Civic have made their own contributions to the tension, first by transgressing the rule of law, at least in spirit, on December 19, and then by making a series of misjudgements. Part of their problem has been the damage to their moral authority which the events of December 19 represented, a flaw which they have shown no inclination to admit. Certainly, they should have anticipated the response to their Monday night ban on protest marches and the like in the city, given Mr Hoyte's publicly stated views concerning the legality of the government.

Either, therefore, they made a mistake, or they decided to go for a confrontation - in itself a poor decision. As it is, with the PNC challenging the order in such huge numbers, the government has put itself in a situation where its authority is even further reduced. The cardinal error having been made, it was compounded on the Tuesday by bad handling of the situation on the part of the police, presumably on instructions from the government. The irony of it all is that the ban rejuvenated the marches.

In the end, the problem of the street protests cannot be solved by force. Similarly, the concerns of the PNC both about the elections, and the long-term future cannot be addressed on the streets. At some point both sides have to sit down and talk. The kind of talks we need, are not between party representatives, but directly between President Jagan and Mr Hoyte.

Dialogue conducted at any other level is too cumbersome, and will mean that any proposals will be subject to the interpretations and misinterpretations of intermediaries before they reach the two leaders.

At the time of writing it was not known whether or not the three Caribbean dignitaries had achieved any breakthroughs. Whatever the case, it is time Mr Hoyte and Mrs Jagan sat down together. Face to face. They owe it to the rest of us.