We must beware the manipulation VIEWPOINT
by Dr. Dale Bisnauth, Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security
Guyana Chronicle
October 9, 2002

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ON THE day that the city car-dealer was kidnapped, news reached the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security that two children also had been kidnapped - one allegedly the grandson of a prominent city businessman; the other, a pupil at the Marian Academy.

Panic ensued. Anxious persons called home to ascertain that all was well with their children; others began to plan for their children to be taken home from schools. None doubted the authenticity of the news.

Feelings over the possible fate of the car-dealer dissipated proportionally as feeling over the kidnapped children mounted. And understandably so.

Because we have children or grandchildren of our own, and are almost always concerned over their well being, we react with strong instinctive, gut feelings when we hear of some atrocity committed against children, although we may not know them personally.

As it turned out, the school children had not been kidnapped.

But our sighs of relief only served to establish the fact that humans, thankfully enough, have strong feelings for their offspring; and we do not need Sigmund Freud to tell us why.

Unfortunately, these feelings can sometimes be manipulated by others for self-serving ends, which may not be beneficial for either children or adults.

Let me illustrate from a page of our history.

The period of 1961 to 1964 was marked by unprecedented racial violence and turmoil in Guyana.

At the end of it all, 176 persons were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands were uprooted from their homes and forced to settle elsewhere. The violence was politically motivated.

The objective was to oust the government from office.

Trouble began in 1962 when the opposition parties in parliament took to the streets in Georgetown to protest the PPP government budget prepared by Nicholas Kaldor, even before the parliamentary process available to them to contest the budget, was exhausted.

Problems were to continue into the following years.

In March 1963, a general strike was called by the Trades Union Congress in violation of the negotiation process. It lasted for 80 days.

It was supported by the Civil Service Association and financed through the American Institute for Free Labour Development.

The business and commercial sectors, strong supporters of one of the opposition parties in parliament, shut out their workers from factories and business premises, so that they could demonstrate in the streets of Georgetown.

Violence erupted on February 16, 1962. On that day, five men were killed and 80 persons injured.

It began when an opposition party leader announced to an excited Georgetown crowd that a child had been killed.

The announcement of the killing of the child infuriated the crowd which began to attack the Electricity Corporation building in the vicinity of which the child was supposed to have been killed.

The news was totally false. No child had been killed.

But the flame had been kindled.

The political leader refused to correct the mistake he had made when asked to do so by the governor.

He refused as well to appeal to the rioters to desist from violence, although that violence was beginning to consume business premises.

Maybe he wanted to make the point to the imperial authorities that Independence was not in the best interest of Guyana since, as he stated it:

"...the recent budget makes it clear that the PPP government intends to expropriate all private property by oppressive taxation, keep out foreign capital investment, resulting in mass unemployment and starvation, leading to riots and bloodshed."

The charges were grossly excessive to say the least; but the riots were to spread beyond Georgetown.

And to pour gasoline on that fire, a well known church weekly newspaper announced on May 27, 1964, in bold, banner headlines: "Child Murder Shocks Country".

The paper - a church paper mind you - proceeded to state that the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), a union affiliated to the PPP, had bombed a school packed with children. This greatly incensed people.

But the story was false, totally fabricated, but calculated to play on the emotions of people.

It was as false as the declaration made on February 16, 1963 that a child had been killed - the spark that ignited the tinder in Georgetown and left in its ashes 176 persons dead.

I believe that every atrocity alleged to be committed on a child-abduction, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping should be investigated.

But we must beware the manipulation of the natural, instinctive, gut feeling for children, for self-serving ends.