Guyana's deadly sea of troubles
By Ian McDonald
September 15, 2002
In Canada, where I was recently for a few weeks, Guyana is viewed by a large number of Guyanese as being in a state of dissolution. There is a network of listening posts and reporting points which receive, elaborate and relay a stream of stories made up of authentic news, rumours and suppositions about what is going on. And what is reported as going on is not good, to say the least. Daily (it seems) killings and robberies and hijacking of cars; fearless, brutal and well-armed bandits running amok without let or hindrance; businessmen and their families at the mercy of ruthless gunmen; Buxton an independent and criminal fiefdom threatening its neighbours and all those who dare trespass; East Coast and East Bank travelers preyed upon; airport passengers only safe at night in convoys or with security escorts; criminal deportees continuing to flood in to raise higher the tidal wave of crime; the police blundering and ineffective and under merciless attack; the army aloof and some, who knows, linked with the bandits; the Government quiescent, Panglossian and unequal to the task; the Opposition determined to make trouble and bring the Government down at any cost; and all this with the economy sinking and unemployment growing and people psychologically devastated even when not directly affected and in large numbers emigrating or planning to emigrate.
How true is this picture? Is this what life is like in the old and precious homeland? Obviously it is not the whole truth since the whole truth can only be the sum of the experiences of everyone and by no means everyone experiences what is reported by the network. But, then, how much truth is there in this dismal and even frightening picture? And here one immediately runs into a universal problem: what agency is to supply an accurate, impartial, to-be-relied-upon account? There is no such agency. The BBC News is said to be completely impartial. The New York Times paper is said to be comprehensive in its courage of all the news and all the views. Well, maybe, but the BBC and the New York Times do not exactly focus on our situation so they cannot be of help to us.
I will avoid discussing the value or worthlessness of our media, particularly since my view that Stabroek News is by some way the most objective and most complete supplier of news and views in Guyana will not be seen as anything other than partial. However, I do have one general comment to make in respect of those who declare that reports in the media are exaggerated and selective and that the situation is not anything like as bad as the headlines suggest. The response to this has to be that even if it is true that a minority are actually affected by the troubles, it is just as true, and much more relevant, that the vast majority are most certainly affected vicariously - in their hearts and souls - by outright fear and anxiety and suspicion and lack of confidence in the future. And that is the way a nation withers into self-doubt, depression and decline. So I believe efforts to minimize the current troubles are vastly misguided and attempts to downplay the traumatic effects on the psyche of the nation disturbingly obtuse.
What, then, can we expect from our political leaders by way of information and guidance in current circumstances? Sadly, the Government and Opposition seem locked again in all-out conflict so there is every chance that both will seek to pick the seams of the balls they bowl in the power match they have been playing against each other for so long.
The spin they give us is not at all likely to be within the rules of accuracy. In this respect it must be said that the Government, having much more information available than any other agency and having umpiring as well as playing responsibilities in the game, should try its utmost to differentiate its governing party spin from its public information stance. Such a differentiation, to some degree at least, might have been one good outcome from a continuing and strengthening dialogue. As it is, we will have to go on taking what we are told by both Government and Opposition with great, heaping spoonsful of salt.
This is a pity because the Government in particular stands to gain by giving all the facts, unfavourable as well as favourable, and by admitting weaknesses and failures as well as trumpeting strengths and successes. This is so because no prize is greater in the battle for the minds and morale of a nation than credibility. And nothing leads to greater loss of credibility, even among supporters, than one-sided reporting and consistently self-serving commentary.
This has been a depressing column to write, as indeed the present condition of Guyana is distressing to experience. I would rather end with a brighter vein of thought. After all, the condition of the world is surely like each of our lives. For most of us life is often sad and there are always tragedies to bear. But that is never the whole truth. Life is also full, on a daily basis if we care to realize it, of what is beautiful and of people of great worth and the utmost fascination and of happenings that excite the mind and warm the heart and of events that lead us to believe we are nearer to the gods than to the brutes. Our time on this earth cannot possibly be always out of joint. So let us not fall into continual lamentation and when good things happen let us take thankful note.