The message of the Chesters attack Editorial
Stabroek News
August 12, 2002

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Besides shaming the country, Wednesday morning’s horrifying attack on the Chester family in Friendship made a number of things crystal clear.

The first is that the Buxton/Friendship area has truly become a haven for rogues, attempted murderers, trigger-happy gunmen and citizens who have lost all perspective on what their patriotic and civic duties are. Ever since the February 23 turning point, the evidence has mounted that the Buxton and Friendship villages have become willing hosts to criminals and launching pads for all kinds of criminal activity. As militant and defiant as the villages have become over a period longer than that from February 23, it is inconceivable that those who committed their insidious attack on Edris Chester and her family could have come from anywhere but within the precincts of the area, the same area within which they slunk away after committing their cowardly assault. People in Buxton/Friendship know these attackers - there is little doubt about that. This event must be added to the innumerable where criminals have returned to safety there, abandoned hijacked cars or engineered crimes from that area.

Those citizens who actively support these activities, including the attack on the Chester family, or turn a blind eye to it are failing in their obligations as Guyanese. They have become blind to the common cause that binds all citizens of the country and are allowing criminals to vote violently for them in an enterprise that has no place in a law-abiding society.

Secondly, Wednesday’s murderous attack on the Chester family represents a chilling attempt to cow any expression of support for lawfulness and ultimately to ensure the continuing safety of this band of criminals in the Buxton/Friendship area and nearby villages. The targeting of Edris Chester’s family dates back to her attempt to ensure that justice was done and that those who had robbed an Indo-Guyanese living near to her returned what they had stolen. Ever since, she and her family have been targeted, not because they aided the police and the army but because they were unwilling to ignore the crimes being committed around them like other villagers are doing. For trying to be upstanding Guyanese they came within a whisker of losing their lives, all nine of them. The torching of their houses and the firing at them was not enough. They have since been driven from the village where they lived for many years and were an integral part of its community life. It is the criminal’s version of Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing. If you are law abiding and you won’t tolerate outlawry go while you have a chance to live. That is the message of Wednesday’s event. That is the dilemma that other law-abiding citizens in Buxton/Friendship and other areas face.

It is incomprehensible that the PNC/R, which counts Buxton/Friendship as one of its strongholds, could show so little concern for the Chester family and the other residents there. The party remains completely obsessed with the actions of the police. Two Sundays ago following the funeral of the man who was killed in the shootout with the police on the University of Guyana road, rumours flew fast and furiously from the PNC/R camp that police had shot a number of children following the funeral. The rumours even caused senior PNC/R functionaries to rush to the hospital in search of these persons. Needless to say these reports were completely unfounded. The dilemma of the Chesters has not evinced a similar level of concern from the party. While it should be legitimately concerned over the actions of the police, to fulfil the mandate of being a responsible opposition party it must also demonstrate similar outrage over the criminal rampage and do this publicly. It can blame the government all it wants for failing to get a grip on crime - this is indeed a signal failure of the government - however, it cannot escape the obligation of helping to secure the rights of the Chesters to live where they were born. It also cannot escape the responsibility of helping to lift the siege the criminals have placed Buxton/Friendship and the country under. Its upcoming Congress needs to address this issue comprehensively. If Mr Blair from the Buxton/Foulis NDC has arrived at a position on the attack on the Chesters it is time he, too, be heard from. Perhaps the Association of Concerned Buxtonians from the neighbouring village should also be heard from on it.

As an aside, it should be noted that residents of Buxton continue to seek confrontations with the law enforcement authorities. The continuous lighting and hurling of firecrackers is clear evidence of this. In the hours after the attack on the Chesters, firecrackers were also being let off in Friendship. The sole intent is to provoke and cause the law enforcement authorities to make a mistake. It is a very dangerous game.

Thirdly, it is clear that the country cannot afford to tolerate the lawlessness that rules Buxton/Friendship. The gauntlet was thrown down a long time ago by the criminals. The Guyana Police Force because of a pattern of heavy-handed action in the area is incapable of bringing the situation under control on its own. The army has provided general support and patrols Buxton/Friendship but has not been fully engaged in the process. As far as the Chesters are concerned the army did not respond the way it should have to their plight last Wednesday.

It is unclear what the apparently somnolescent security advisors and state agencies have planned or are even planning to bring the situation under control. Now that the President has returned from Jamaica he should tell the nation what he intends to do about the crime. And please, no more of the drivel that all countries have similar crime levels. What Guyana has witnessed since February 23 is of a quality that is in a league of its own and threatens the very existence of the state. Eight policemen have been killed, numerous others wounded, a siege laid to one of the country’s towns and a whole family has been banished from a village among other outrages. This is not ordinary. Trinidad has now seen the need for expert overseas help to take on the kidnapping spree. Maybe one or two experts to assist the local law enforcers would be a good idea.

In the meanwhile, the entire country needs to come together for the Chesters and to provide them with a chance to put their lives back together in a more civilised and saner Guyana.