Harsh crime fight decisions need to be made - trade union leaders Stabroek News
June 12, 2002

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Leaders of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) are fearful the society would degenerate into further lawlessness thus creating a platform for additional atrocities where they (the leaders) could be targeted.

At a press conference hosted by the GTUC yesterday, vice presidents Grantley Culbard, Norris Witter, and general secretary, Lincoln Lewis called for a national approach to be taken to address the upsurge in criminal activity throughout the country. Extra-judicial killings by the police also needed to be addressed, they said.

"Anyone who condones the breaking of the law to uphold the law is contributing to the lawlessness that pervades the society," Culbard said. "Anyone who has information on criminal activities in the society and fails to give that information to the competent authority is aiding and abetting crime in this society."

Lewis said the GTUCís position was one of opposition to lawlessness of any type, from any source. He added that the GTUC would support the police in bringing the perpetrators to justice. However, the GTUC did not support summary executions by the police.

"Why is it that we canít see the police embarking upon negotiations with a criminal at a scene? It seems the police prepare themselves to bring back a dead body whenever they go out there," Lewis said.

Witter recalled that the GTUC had signed an agreement with the government in March 2000, for issues including the deteriorating relations between the police and communities to be discussed and addressed. "A number of issues would have been taken on board to avert what is taking place today," he said. "But government has reneged on the agreement and the situation has escalated."

Witter recalled, too, that the GTUC had written to President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte in April this year - when policeman Leon Fraser and Buxtonian Shaka Blair were killed - proposing a national forum be convened to discuss the rise in criminal activity in the society.

He said the record would show that Hoyte responded and expressed his support for such an initiative but there was no response from President Jagdeo.

Witter said the ruling PPP/Civic and opposition PNC/R needed to get away from the blame game and sit together with other concerned groups to tackle the issues seriously. He declared that there was a lot of rhetoric, particularly from government, on how to deal with the issues.

Lewis argued that the establishment of a new squad in the police force and the provision of more financial resources were not adequate measures to deal with the situation.

He noted that these pronouncements were being made by politicians and not by the technical personnel qualified to make recommendations and pronouncements.

Lewis said the March 2000 agreement with the government showed the GTUC was well ahead of the situation but it never got off the ground because of a lack of action on governmentís part. He posited that the escalation in the degeneration of society was preparing the platform for an environment where trade union leaders could be harmed. He likened the local situation to that of Colombia some years ago when union leaders were targeted leading up to the anarchy pervading the South American nation today.

Culbard said the bottom line to finding a solution to the problem was dialogue involving all the influential sectors of society in mature discussions.

Lewis said others had to become involved because it was apparent that the solution to the problem might be outside the competence of the government.

Alluding to the governmentís recent menu of measures to deal with the situation, Witter said that the commitment to implement them would be severely tested. He declared that the GTUC was committed to finding a solution to the problem and had "no skeletons in the closet, so letís get together and discuss the situation and let the chips fall where they may."

He said some degree of fear was pervading the society and if the situation degenerated it would be the GTUCís constituency that would suffer the major casualties so it was the labour movementís responsibility to ensure it was addressed.

Lewis said the morals of society should not be broken down by a few who held the reins of power. He said the time had come for harsh decisions to be made even though "friends" might be hurt in the process.

Culbard added: "We are trying to avoid a total breakdown of our society. Trade unionsí leaders are in danger. It is a similar situation to Latin American countries where trade unionsí leaders continue to disappear. There is lawlessness pervading our society and there is an apparent impotence by government to address it.

We donít want the situation to take more root to serve as a platform for other atrocities."