Writing in the Boston Globe last Friday in a column captioned 'Rumour and gridlock seize Venezuela,' H.D.S. Greenway quoted the historian, Hugh Thomas. The quotation, in fact, related to the origins of the Spanish Civil War, but Greenway saw parallels between early twentieth century Spain, and the current situation in Venezuela. Spain, said Thomas, was a country of "searing quarrels... There were no habits of organization, compromise, or even articulation respected, or even sought." With respect to Venezuelan politics, Greenway wrote: "... here in oil-rich but increasingly impoverished Venezuela the political polarization has become so complete that any kind of constructive dialogue between the supporters of President Hugo Chavez and those who oppose him seems beyond reach or even hope."
If we substituted the word 'Guyana' for Venezuela (omitting the 'oil-rich'), would these observations have relevance? Of course the first thing that has to be said is that the context in which the local political divide is located is different from that of our neighbour. Crime is now oppressing us all - no one excepted. You could be anyone, you could be anywhere, it could be any time of day, and you could find yourself a target. At the moment, the only law that appears to be in effect is the law of the AK47. What is at issue, therefore, is the response of the political forces to this extraordinary crisis.
Like early twentieth-century Spain, this is a land of "searing quarrels" which lacks the 'habit of compromise.' But to revert to the question we asked earlier, do we really have to say of Guyana, as Greenway did of Venezuela that "constructive dialogue" between the the supporters of the opposing sides "seems beyond reach or even hope"? Is the ordinary man or woman so imbued with hatred of the PNC or PPP as the case may be, that they want no compromise at this time? Surely not. The problem is primarily with the politicians, not with ordinary citizens.
And the politicians seem to think that the ordinary citizens are fools. Take the one side, for example, which goes rabbiting on about how the swift passage of some controversial bills is essential to arrest the crime situation. Can you imagine a bandit who has just mown down 13 people in a bar with an automatic weapon, nervously shuffling his Clarks-booted feet and saying to his companion, "Man, the game is all up for us; the Government has just passed the Criminal Law (Offences) Act"? (Insert the appropriate argot.) Does the administration seriously believe that ordinary people are so mentally incapacitated that they will not notice that the police are not catching anyone, never mind charging them and bringing them to trial under any statute whatsoever - amended or unamended?
And then we have the other side rabbiting on sanctimoniously about how since the Government has rushed through some flawed anti-crime bills, they will now withdraw from the Social Partners encounter, the only forum at which the two sides were actually speaking to each other. Does the opposition seriously believe that ordinary people are so stupid that they won't understand that there are problems with the bills unless the PNC/R refuses to do the one thing which could possibly save the nation in the current circumstances, and incidentally, possibly get the offending legislation further amended?
On Friday we published a crie-de-coeur from Ms Andrea Rolehr-McAdam in our letters column. "Living in Guyana is hell on earth," she wrote, "and I am sick of everything." She said she was fed up of the "excuses" and tired of the "political hogwash." There can be little doubt that she was speaking for far more people than just herself. The ordinary citizens of Guyana no longer care about the ins and outs of the dialogue, the national consultations on crime, who is trying to frustrate anti-crime efforts, or who is acquiring dictatorial powers, etc, etc, etc. They are tired of all of that, and recognize only too well that the charges and counter-charges have all the significance of a cricket's chirp at this point in our history.
The people don't have to be told that there is only one fact of relevance in the present situation, and that is the banditry. And they don't have to be told either that in an emergency of these dimensions, ancient animosities have to be laid aside in order to achieve a national consensus on how to proceed on the security front. (And by a national consensus we mean an agreement between the PNC/R and the PPP/C, because once you have that, everyone else will fall into line.)
So whether you hate or love the PPP/C, and whether you hate or love the PNC/R, let every citizen who has a voice or a pen take up the cry of Ms Rolehr-McAdam and tell the politicians you are fed up.
If you have a little money, put an ad on the TV or in the press about being fed up, like the one in our edition yesterday. If you have a pen, write a letter to the newspapers saying you are fed up; if you have a phone, call the talk-show hosts belonging to both sides and say you are fed up; if you know a politician from either of the main parties, corner him or her, or phone him or her, or write him or her and say you are fed up. If you belong to an organization, meet to sign a declaration saying you are fed up; if you are young, get together with your friends and write as a group to say you are fed up; if you are bold enough, put a sticker on your car reading 'Fed-up,' or wear a T-shirt marked 'Fed-up.'
Let the ordinary citizens of this nation create a trumpet blast so loud, that it will penetrate the mental defences of Freedom House and Congress Place, so that like the walls of Jericho, they will come tumbling down. Only then, perhaps, will the politicians who lurk in the shadows of those headquarters and spew such piffle on a daily basis, listen for a change to what it is that ordinary citizens want.