PNC/R must come to grips with reality
July 9, 2002
With the continued outpouring of condemnation of Wednesday’s attack on the Office of the President from a broad spectrum across Guyana including PNC/R members - see letter by PNC/R member Peter Ramsaroop in yesterday’s edition - one would have hoped that the PNC/R would have accepted responsibility for the role it played. As Mr Ramsaroop put it, “We (PNC/R) are allowing a minority of our supporters who like the streets and violence to speak for the majority of law-abiding citizens. It is time more of us speak out against the lack of focus by our leaders on both sides.”
Unfortunately, judging by Saturday’s press release from Congress Place and reported in yesterday’s edition, the party is still unwilling to come to grips with reality. Congress Place’s response was more concerned about the flashing of police bulletins of Phillip Bynoe on TV than addressing the tragedy of Wednesday’s attack and proposing a way forward out of this tension-riddled atmosphere.
No one will dispute the PNC/R’s position that the police must go about questioning Mr Bynoe in an appropriate manner without infringing his fundamental rights. No one will doubt that the flashing of his photograph on TV when no charge has been laid against him could have the effect of sullying his name. But this is only one part of the major concerns that Guyanese have about Wednesday’s calamity and want the PNC/R to answer to and take responsibility for.
Did Mr Bynoe lead the splinter group that eventually breached the Office of the President (OP) Compound? What was his role in directing those who gathered outside OP? What were the roles of other PNC/R officials in the demonstration and subsequent splinter protest? Did these officials try to quell what was happening at OP on learning of the confrontation? In the wider disturbances on Regent Street, did Congress Place officials attempt to help restore order since some of its officials were in the original main march? Did Mr Bynoe report to the PNC/R what had transpired that Wednesday and has the party asked for an account from him? Does the PNC/R endorse the activities being pursued by Mr Bynoe to “remove” (his word) the government? Those are only some of the questions that the average Guyanese person and PNC/R supporter doubtlessly wants answered. Otherwise, the message to be gleaned from Saturday’s press release is that the PNC/R is ambivalent about violence spawned by its acts of disobedience and is only moved by perceived infringements of the rights of its members.
The party, in the press release, admits to two things. First that Mr Bynoe recently resumed membership of the PNC/R and that it encouraged its members to participate in the march because it fully supported the issues that were being raised. By conceding these two points, the PNC/R must therefore accept responsibility for Bynoe’s actions since he was agitating for a cause it supported and because the party encouraged its members to participate. As we have said before, it was the PNC/R that was the force in the march not the nebulous PSM which Bynoe recently said he formed.
In contextualising Wednesday’s events, one also has to look at previous PNC/R-organised events to assess intent and to look at patterns. Two of these stand out. The first is the April 9, 2001 display outside the very Office of the President that was violated last week. In last year’s ruckus, top PNC/R officials lay down in front of the gates of OP and refused to move. Riot police then arrived and used force to remove the PNC/R officials and fired pellets at some of the protesters. It was agreed that the police had handled the situation badly and allowed it to escalate. Nevertheless, there was no justification for what followed. The protesters rampaged through the streets and eventually fire was set to the Kissoon’s building in much the same way it happened last Wednesday at Payless Store.
On April 19, 2001, during the funeral for Donna McKinnon, who had been shot during the disturbances on April 9, those in the march stoned the PPP headquarters and also pelted the then presidential residence on Forshaw Street. Barriers were pushed aside in the latter case and presidential guards were taunted. Warning shots eventually had to be fired in the air to disperse the crowd. The point is that the president’s office and his residence have been targets before for this kind of violence and protests. Mr Bynoe and his supporters also pitched a tent outside of the PM’s residence last month and this was allowed to remain there for weeks.
There were numerous other PNC/R inspired protests that degenerated into violence. The pattern is there. The party has to face it and be accountable. Wednesday’s mayhem provides a timely opportunity to make a clean breast of it and put an end to these destructive displays. As Mr Ramsaroop said, the time has come for practical solutions to be put on the table for negotiations between the PNC/R and other stakeholders. This is what the PNC/R should focus its protest energies on now.