UG to act as facilitator in Buxton crises
Residents point to host of problems
Acknowledge criminals being harboured By Miranda La Rose

Stabroek News
October 28, 2002

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A recommendation that the University of Guyana act as a facilitator in dealing with the crime-related unrest in Buxton/Friendship was made and accepted at a conflict resolution workshop on Saturday.

This recommendation, residents feel, could lead to the revival of the village economy which is at present regressing.

The recommendation was one of several which came out of a workshop/consultation organised by the Committee of Management for the University of Guyana/Clark Atlanta University collaborative project `Democratisation and Conflict Resolution in Guyana'. It was held at the Buxton Community Centre in Friendship.

The facilitators at the workshop were Barbara Thomas-Holder, Dr Michael Scott and Dr Mark Kirton of the University of Guyana. In closing remarks Dr Kirton assured participants that finding a solution to the conflict situation was not a one-shot effort by the collaborative project.

The recommendation was agreed to after a lively debate in which, at first, there appeared to have been some reservations from the floor.

It was felt that third party intervention was needed to help bring about some healing between residents of Buxton living north of the Railway Embankment Road and those living south of the road; to promote and mend relations between Buxton, other communities and the authorities; and to help youths in Buxton in trying to assert themselves.

Since the chilling crime wave started earlier this year, a number of criminal elements have been known to take refuge in parts of the south of Buxton, in the Buxton Backdam and in an area called `Buxghanistan' where even a Buxtonian has to properly identify himself or herself to gain entry.

Buxton/Friendship has been the scene of clashes between the police and mainly young people and criminal elements operating from within the community since general elections were held in March last year. A number of people have been beaten, robbed and killed or found dead in the area and many hijacked vehicles were damaged or recovered there as well.

Generally, participants at the workshop, which attracted much discussion from the floor, identified a number of causes of the current conflict situation in Buxton.

One of the leading causes they felt was the police force and they added that they have lost confidence in it. They felt that the authorities need to disband the Target Special Squad aka the Black Clothes Police and improve relations between the police and the contiguous communities.

They said that children including toddlers have been traumatised by the force's actions, which included the death of Buxtonian Shaka Blair and the brutal beating of a number of young men by the `Black Clothes Police'. They see the TSS as an execution squad. They saw the need for assistance in counselling or guiding these children who perceive the police as an enemy and not as a force which could offer help.

They said that for every young man killed in the community whether it was by the police or because of the hostile situation that now exists some four or more children become fatherless.

They noted, too, that many children in some parts of Buxton/Friendship growing up in a situation in which criminals are known to give children a pocket-piece and send then to school would tend to see the criminal with the AK-47 as a role model especially in a situation where unemployment was rampant.

They said that this could be compared to the Palestinian youths who see their suicide bombers, the ghetto youths and the South African apartheid youths fighting for their rights through violent means, as heroes. This prompted a participant to quip `one person's villain is another's hero'.

The residents identified poverty, unemployment, discrimination and marginalisation as issues which have also led to the conflict situation in Buxton. These problems, they said, did not start in 1992 with the change in government but they had been allowed to continue with the change of government. Because of the decline in the village economy and moral decadence in recent times, they felt there would be need for remedial education and training in technical and vocational skills as well as in academics.

A youth participant noted that since "the problems which had been festering over the years at Buxton and which erupted last year" the elders or leaders in the community have not called them together and given them any guidance. Instead, he said that the elders only blame them for all the social ills that have been occurring.

The participants saw the need for strong leadership at the village level which they felt was lacking. They said that third party intervention could help to strengthen the leadership. It was felt through the discussions that some persons holding leadership positions in the community have been sheltering the criminal elements who have been plaguing the community.

They agreed that there needs to be a united effort to chase out criminals seeking refuge in the community but as no recommendation was made as to how this could be achieved the question as to `Who will bell the cat?' remained hanging.

In a role play in seeking solutions to the crime situation and the presence of criminal elements in Buxton, one participant was vocal in saying that the criminals "burn down the Chesters, but they can't bun down the whole of Buxton." The Chester family was forced to flee Friendship after their houses were burnt down by armed men. It was believed that the gunmen did this because a member of the Chester family had spoken out against a crime that had been committed in the area. Members of the family were in the houses at the time the fire was set.

Some residents felt that Buxton was paying a heavy price for crimes committed in the area by non-residents. They contend that the police, too, had contributed to this situation saying that because of their failure to apprehend the bandits all the blame has been heaped on Buxton.

In seeking solutions to the conflict in the community, some residents felt that they were being used as pawns by the two major political parties, the PPP/C and the PNCR. Some felt that unless the PPP/C and the PNCR resolve their differences, their problems will filter down to Buxton which is seen as a stronghold of the opposition PNCR. Some felt that if the PNCR and the PPP/C could not solve their differences they could at least manage them.

They felt very strongly that the national political leadership manipulated the local leadership at Buxton and this has led to the politically volatile situation in the area. One summed up the political influence in Buxton by adapting Walter Rodney's `How Europe Under-developed Africa' to `How Politics Under-developed Buxton'.

In spite of this, they still felt the need to look to the political leadership for solutions to their problems. However, they feel that in dealing with their conflicts the political leadership need to look at the issues and not at personalities, which they felt is a source of the current political problem at the national level.