A living hell Editorial

Stabroek News
October 31, 2002

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A few weeks ago after the young racing driver Gavin Naraine was killed in a merciless armed attack in a bar Ms Andrea Rohlehr Mc Adam wrote to the press stating that life in Guyana had become a living hell. She was right. We have lived with political instability for a long time and that was sufficiently depressing. But for the last eight months the continuing criminal attacks, murders, kidnappings and robberies have made life in some parts of Guyana a nightmare in which ordinary people live in fear for their lives. Criminals strike at will and often with a quality of weaponry never before seen in Guyana. It is profoundly disturbing.

There seem to be several elements in the crime wave. First, there were the five escaped criminals subsequently described in a pamphlet as freedom fighters who with their associates were presumably responsible for the subsequent execution of a number of policemen, the attack at Rose Hall, and some of the other crimes. Three of these escapees are now dead. Then there is a drug war involving feuds between gangs. Finally, the ordinary criminal has felt empowered by the prevailing climate and unlike the situation even two years ago is now usually armed with guns that have been purchased or hired, making ordinary burglaries and other crimes much more deadly than they used to be.

It all adds up to a crime wave of unparalleled dimensions, an alarming scenario that the disciplined services have so far proved unable to deal with. The average citizen has altered his or her lifestyle in various ways though even during the day and at home they have not been safe. The effect of this terror on the health and general well being of the people, particularly older ones, is incalculable. The effect on business and thus sooner rather than later on employment and wages does not need to be spelt out. More people will lose their jobs as businesses close or reduce their operations and salaries will reflect the stringent financial conditions.

The bottom line is clear. Many, even the most patriotic, of those who have a choice will not continue to endure this horror. Businessmen will close shop and emigrate, skilled and experienced persons will get on the plane to Canada where they are being welcomed with open arms and the already serious problem of a lack of vital human resources will become critical. And there can be no political advantage in this scenario to either side as a check with the embassies will show that persons from all ethnic groups are going. The country as a whole will merely sink to a lower level economically and in other ways.

The way forward is increasingly difficult to see. The most pessimistic who have lost all hope see the future as a combination of political and ethnic strife and criminal warlordism as in Colombia. The more balanced still pin their hopes on dialogue and an attempt to craft a rational solution though they increasingly despair at the level of the political culture which seems to thrive only on scoring cheap points and backbiting and to be incapable of seeing the broad picture (do politicians have any idea of how fed up people are with their endless bickering?). But even the most optimistic feel that our fragile society is more threatened now than it has ever been by the combination of political instability and unbridled criminality.