Guyana on road to `lawless’ republic By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
July 28, 2002

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JAMAICA, which this Friday marks its 40th independence anniversary, has earned the unenviable reputation, largely from narco-trafficking and its related gun-running trade, as the `murder capital’ of the Western Hemisphere, if not the world, on a per capita basis.

But among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states, it is Guyana that seems to be heading for the damning profile of a "lawless republic".

It is the country where the politics of destabilisation, orchestrated by the main opposition People's National Congress, have seemingly converged with the agendas of criminals now on the rampage across the tortured society. The PNC is on record as declaring its intention to make the "country ungovernable". Why? Any number of allegations against a government in Georgetown that, it says, is disadvantaging its supporters. Racial and political discrimination, and more. The allegations come easily. Specific evidence is hard to come by.

Even when the government buys advertisements to show how the dialogue process between President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte had achieved much progress, and challenges the PNC to disagree, with facts, the opposition party finds excuses to shy away.

The frightening phenomenon of a mix of destabilisation politics and sophisticated, orchestrated criminal activities in Guyana has no known parallel within CARICOM, even in the worst periods of political and criminal violence in Jamaica. Or, indeed, the killings, kidnappings and armed robberies in Trinidad and Tobago.

The terror unleashed by the criminals and their political collaborators, has brought Guyana "at the crossroads" - as grimly noted last week by former US President Jimmy Carter.

The American President had played a key role in 1992 for the restoration of electoral democracy in Guyana, where the PNC, first under the late Forbes Burnham and subsequently Desmond Hoyte, the party's current leader, had played "ole mas" with free and fair elections for 24 years.

Addressing Guyanese in an `Open Letter’ published in the local media last week, Carter, who has worked in 65 nations around the world in the promotion of human rights, good governance and democracy, said that the Guyanese people have a special place in his heart.

Carter's point of reference in appealing to the country's political leaders and civil society representatives to avoid "the path of self-destruction", was the unprecedented invasion of July 3 by protesters of an anti-government illegal march that had all the marks of those who have previously vowed to make the country "ungovernable".

But even as his `Open Letter’ was appearing in the Guyana newspapers with reference to the tragedies of July 3 - day of the ceremonial opening of CARICOM'S 23rd regular summit in Georgetown, criminal activities with very disturbing political overtones were occurring in the Corentyne region.

If the invasion, occupation and damages at the Office of the President were intended to highlight the political lunacy of those who have no respect for the rule of law, or governance based on the free expression of an electorate in a multi-party democracy, then by the early hours of Monday, July 22, the nation had another shocker coming:

Heavily armed men were to unleash a state of siege in the town of Rose Hall in the Corentyne, in the vicinity from where the governing People's Progressive Party had earlier concluded its 27th biennial congress, but where delegates were feting.

They killed two policemen, sprayed the vehicle of a young PPP activist with their bullets, killing him in their shooting spree; a 72-year-old man suffered a heart attack and died, as the criminals made good their escape by sea with their stolen booty, including several guns.

It was a well-organised and concentrated attack that the police, suffering from what Commissioner Floyd McDonald was to later admit, as "necessary intelligence", was unable to prevent.

What is emerging is an unflattering record in lack of achievements by the security forces - police and army - ever since five ruthless and armed prisoners shot their way out of the Georgetown Prison on February 23, leaving behind them a tragic tale of killings, vicious armed robberies and violence.

By last Wednesday, the Stabroek News was reporting that, according to information reaching officials of the Guyana Defence Force, it may have been more the instinct of two fishermen to divert the armed bandits away from the direction where PPP delegates were having a post-conference fete.

The fishermen said they became suspicious about the inquiries and behaviour of the men and pointed them in a direction away from the PPP's post-conference fete, fearing evidently, what they may have done to delegates enjoying themselves and unaware of the nefarious plans of the armed criminals.

The governing PPP was to quickly lay the blame squarely at the feet of its rival for power, the PNC, whose comrades in arms had organised the illegal march of July 3. One has since been charged with treason while another remains on the run, also wanted for treason.

Consistently, and not surprisingly, the PNC has denied any involvement with criminal elements or in any way sanctioning the horrors that have been systematically occurring since the five fugitives from justice started to kill, maim and rob.

One of the fugitives, Andrew Douglas, had the audacity, supported undoubtedly by his political collaborators, to appear in a videotape on local anti-government TV broadcasts, dressed in stolen army fatigues, cradling an AK-47 and threatening the police and the government.

To date, eight policemen have been murdered by armed bandits within months of each other for this year. It has never before happened in the long 163-year history of the Guyana Police Force. The criminals and their collaborators seem to be at war with the police force, the majority of whose members have traditionally been supporters of the PNC.

Only in Jamaica, and to a lesser extent Trinidad and Tobago, have there been more killings and wounding of cops and security guards than in Guyana. But only in Guyana is there reason for an objective conclusion of a mixture of raw criminal activities with that of a political agenda to achieve what a government's opponents have so far failed to peacefully and legitimately achieve at the polls.

Guyana is at "the crossroads" indeed, President Carter. The CARICOM leaders could perhaps bear witness to this after their own experience of the political madness that resulted in the tragedies of July 3 in Georgetown.

The question is, as President Carter rightly posed, whether Guyanese leaders "will step back from the edge of the abyss, and together, write the next positive chapter of Guyana's hard won democratic history..."

Will they?

President Jagdeo has repeatedly demonstrated his anxiety for a resumption of the high-level dialogue suspended by the PNC's leader. Hoyte, in turn, has been consistent in rejecting as "useless" the dialogue process. What then is the alternative for the way forward?

Jagdeo, of course, is facing a dilemma of his own. With the police and army yet to prove their capability in effectively countering the terrorism being unleashed weekly in towns and villages, as well as in the capital city, the government is increasingly appearing as weak and lacking the will to come up with a radical response to the challenge from the criminal underworld and their political conspirators.

Although faced with their own enormous criminal and social problems, neither in Trinidad and Tobago nor in Jamaica is there the unflattering profile, as in Guyana's case, of lack of adequate and positive responses to those who are repeatedly making a mockery of the rule of law in what Anglican Bishop Randolph George had previously warned of a society degenerating into a "lawless state".

The uncomfortable truth is that the government of Guyana, while sensibly holding the line on the need for dialogue, is yet to demonstrate that it has the political will to curb the nefarious activities of the criminals.

Is there, for instance, a system in place, or have efforts to have a joint rapid response force of the police and army? It is, after all, Guyana's national interest at stake. The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Lester Bird, had called, during the recent CARICOM Summit in Georgetown, for the creation of a regional anti-crime rapid response force. Perhaps Guyana should begin by having a national mechanism of that nature involving the army and police.

Secondly, initiatives should be taken by the security forces and the Attorney General's Ministry to benefit from the efforts of other CARICOM states, Barbados for example, in relation to new laws arrangements to combat gun-related crimes.

Jamaica, in its own hour of desperation to combat the criminals, had to turn to Britain's Scotland Yard for help. The British have since made a positive response. The Ministers of National Security and Attorneys General in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are noticeably quite pro-active.

Guyana, more than either Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, or any other CARICOM state for that matter, stands in greater need today of all the expertise on police intelligence gathering and anti-crime techniques that can be quickly mobilised to assist a very stressed-out local police force, whose members are increasingly becoming victims of today's criminal/political activities.

For their part, the Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice need to be more focused on whether or not magistrates and judges are in fact playing their part in the sentencing of offenders to help the society from slipping down the road of a lawless republic.