Saving the state Editorial
Stabroek News
September 27, 2002

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We crossed the line on Wednesday. We have crossed several lines since February 23, but the events of the evening of September 25 have finally brought us to the vale of the shadow of death. This time no robbery was intended; the gunmen went to Natoo's liquor store with the sole purpose of killing. Furthermore, that killing had a political dimension. Natoo's was targeted either because the assailants knew that Director of Public Prosecutions Denis Hanomansingh was there, and/or because they were aware that it was sometimes patronised by other establishment figures.

This is not the time to mince words. We are looking at the possible disintegration of the state and an ethnic war. Never mind how we got there; that analysis is either for the historians of the future, or a luxury to be indulged in by armchair analysts living elsewhere. At this point for Guyanese living in Guyana, the only thing to be considered is what the possibilities are for taking the society into reverse gear.

One can understand what has paralysed the Government for so long; one understands their fears, their history, their lack of confidence in the security forces, their justified suspicion of the PNC and all the other things that have made their period in government so fraught with problems; but all of that notwithstanding, posterity and the nation will not forgive them if they do not do what is necessary for our salvation at this final crossroads.

And what is necessary is not the expeditious passage of four anti-crime bills, which, for all the Government's good intentions do contain problems, and some of the provisions of which could be subject to a constitutional challenge somewhere down the road. After what happened at Natoo's does the administration seriously believe that introducing the offence of the commission of a terrorist act into our legislation is really going to deter perpetrators who seem to have taken Al Capone's Chicago of the 1930s as their model, rather than modern-day Guyana?

First the gunmen have to be caught and charged before the law can come into play, and on that front the record of the police leaves a great deal to be desired. Furthermore, even if they were caught, under the provisions of our current laws they would be charged with the capital offence of murder. If that has not deterred them, why should the administration delude itself into thinking that the proposed amendment to the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, which also involves the death penalty, will do so?

No, what we are talking about here is raw pragmatism to save the state. The administration has to swallow its pride and go against nature and invite the PNC/R for discussions on what is immediately necessary to contain, and ultimately reverse, a situation which has no exact parallel in our history. We are not talking about discussions on shared governance here. That is for some future date. If we don't have a state, there simply won't be anything to share. We are talking about agreement on practical measures dealing possibly (although not exclusively) with the declaration of a limited state of emergency, and more effective use of the army. In return, concessions - possibly on issues such as the status of the Target Special Squad, or the anti-crime bills - will have to be made. The Government must not haggle on every detail. It must make the concessions. If it does not do so it will take down not just its own party, but the PNC/R and all the rest of us too.

There is no time to waste. Let the governing party find a mediator who can go quietly to the main opposition party to sound out its leader on the topic of immediate discussions. Forget about the dialogue framework for the moment; we are well past that stage. And don't bother either about public encounters which by their very nature create situations where everyone's face is on the line. No citizen is interested in public image right now; the only thing that matters is results. Furthermore, those who negotiate on behalf of the party cannot be the ones espousing the most hard-line approach; it is in flexibility that salvation lies.

And if the Government does approach the PNC/R, let that party too accept the burden which has been placed upon it, and help the PPP/C to rescue the state from its immediate peril. If the administration does decide to cross the divide at last, and the PNC/R rebuffs it, the government will have to act alone, whatever this takes. If the PNC/R refuses to cooperate and blood-letting eventually follows, the party will be condemned by history and it too will go under.

Up until this point the Government has appeared to take a line that if it does nothing - or at least, if it does nothing very meaningful - the problem will eventually go away. Surely the killings on Wednesday have roused it from its slumber. The nightmare is already upon us, and no one can doubt that members of the governing party themselves may eventually come into the gunsights of the trigger-men.

We ask those who manage the affairs of the PPP/C as much as those who manage the affairs of the PNC/R to put aside history, to put aside ancient resentments, to put aside pride and to put aside pettiness. We ask them to come together to save us all.