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Stabroek News’ editorial “Closed Eyes” on April 19 almost captures the current state of affairs in Guyana. I say almost, because the brilliant analysis has a few gaps and left a few questions unanswered.
(1) The editorial begins with the sentence “We are back in the world of unreality again.” That assertion assumes that at some point we deviated from unreality to reality. Yet, if one uses Stabroek News’ definition of unreality, I cannot think of any period since December 1997 when we left the world of unreality. The periods of calm during the last five years have merely been cooling off periods rather than instances of reality based on common sense. That is why April 2002 is nothing but a more intense replay of April 2001. Among other things, “common sense has been permanently buried under a mountain of political twaddle” since December 1997.
(2) I disagree with Stabroek News that “the issue of the capture of the bandits is not in essence a political one.” That statement would be true in a democracy without a large outstanding political problem. But in Guyana with its permanent crisis of governance, divided confidence in and loyalty to the government of the day, and a non-neutral state, every issue that includes the government and state is political. Capture of bandits involves police action by a police force that has been an openly political force. Civilian control of the military and police in Guyana has always meant party control.
(3) Stabroek News correctly points out that the government does not entertain any criticism of the police and the Target Special Squad, but does not bother to speculate or say why this is so. Well, it would be politically out of step with Caribbean political culture to do so. No incumbent government in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean has ever done so. The PNC, during its reign, never entertained criticism of the police or its version of the Black Clothes, which was called the Death Squad. It needed the police to prop up its rule and to contain and eliminate its opponents.
The PPP is in an even more compromising situation: it is an Indian government dealing with an African police force. It is instructive that during PNC reign, Indians were anti-police and under the PPP Africans are anti-police. PPP’s staunch defense of the police is part of a two-pronged strategy. First, it ensures that it does not antagonize the police. Second by defending African police killing and harassment of Africans, it scuttles the solidarity of “kith and kin” and minimizes the threat to its survival in office.
(4) The editorial quotes Dr. Luncheon’s threat to mobilize Civil Society and the international community against anti-police sentiments by the PNC and sections of the media, but does not stress the danger of that statement. This is not simply tough talk by Dr. Luncheon. Rather, it is an attempt to use the international political climate to marginalize and crush opponents. We have walked that road before. Mr. Burnham’s PNC used the ideological Cold War atmosphere to marginalize and immobilize the PPP. Now the PPP is about to use America’s anti-terrorism Cold War to do the same to the PNC and other opposition. History repeats itself? Tit for Tat? “The more we change, rearrange, everything remains the same,” sings David Rudder.
(5) The editorial says “we are now paddling in dangerous waters again” and urges the two major parties to step back and take stock. The truth is that every time these parties step back and take stock, they resume the “unreality” with more vengeance. The time for stocktaking is long past, simply because we have run out of stocks. Since 1955, Guyana has been paddling in dangerous waters without any sustained effort to permanently calm the waters. The waters of a racially polarized society are never easy to calm, but it is not an impossible task if we get to the source of the problem. Trying to deal with the individual waves in isolation only worsens the problem.
(6) The editorial’s recommendations to the PPP, PNC, and the police are in order. But we are dealing with Guyana. I agree that the Shaka Blair matter should be pursued in court; test the courts on this matter of the right to life and due process. But that should not be the sole approach, there has to be a movement aimed at solving the root problem.
(7) Buxtonians, a people with a history of sound political instincts, must realize the nature of the politics in which they are engaged. Any “struggle” must have a plan and a desired result. Last year it was marginalization; this year it’s police brutality; next year it will be something else-we are all over the place. Justice has to have concrete meaning or your struggle will degenerate into hate. Aren’t you tired of struggling and achieving nothing?
The question that must be answered is: what do you want? The overthrow of the government and the installation of the PNC to office? That is a non-starter. Defeat the police? That is craziness. Beat up Indians? That is wrong and fruitless. Short-term solutions like last year’s payout in the form of money for depressed communities? Money is no substitute for justice.
Do you want your representatives to have a real say in making decisions about the police, jobs, contracts, education and other things that affect your life, so that the Shaka Blairs can have a chance to live? That is straightforward, legitimate, and achievable.
Finally, I must reiterate that the “phases” referred to by the SN editorial are part of a larger problem that cries out for a political solution. As I watch the political station in the Middle East unfold, with everyone but the Palestinians ducking the fundamental issue - the Israeli occupation, I wonder about Guyana. We continue to duck the fundamental issue-each of the major race groups has tasted rulership by the opposite side and don’t like it. Is there a solution? We tried one-side rule and ended up with dictatorships. We tried dialogue and have ended up with a more stubborn one-side rule. We tried violence and it has left a trail of bitterness and hate.
I predicted with some degree of accuracy a year ago that the dialogue as it was constituted would only lead to a more intense conflict. I hope that when we decide to try some common sense, it is not too late.