Tolerance, not hatred is our sacred challenge
January 26, 2004
Dear Mr. Rickford Burke:
Your letter to Mr. P. J. Patterson, in his capacity as Chairman of CARICOM, concerning the existence of a so-called death squad in Guyana was brought to my attention by a student. Among the explosive allegations you have leveled against the Minister of Home Affairs and the Guyana government are: (1) an execution squad was secretly established by the Guyana Government; (2) it constitutes civilian supporters of the PPP; (3) over 400 young African men have been mysteriously executed; (4) over 95 percent of these murders are unsolved; (5) evidence indicates that these murders were committed by the government death squad; (6) the death squad functions under the direction and control of Guyana's Minister of Home Affairs; (7) there is significant evidence that the phantom squad was established by the government to conduct targeted executions; (8) masked members of the squad conduct surgical killings using police and military paraphernalia; (9) President Bharrat Jagdeo is no less culpable than his Minister of Home Affairs; (10) Minister Gajraj has confessed to having been in contact with some members of the death squad; (11) there is evidence that the "gang" is financed by named businessmen who are supporters of the ruling PPP; and (12) Mr. George Bacchus admitted that he helped to finance the operations of the death squad.
Given the damning nature of these allegations, and the obvious need to prevent a further erosion of confidence, as well as, instability in our country, I feel compelled to respond to these charges, as a Guyanese, who also has a vested interest in our country.
As head of the Guyana Institute for Democracy (GID) and as a Guyanese, you are entitled to express your "concerns" and opinions over developments in Guyana. As someone who supposedly understands the enduring values of democracy, you have an obligation not only to report excesses or abuses, but also, to ensure that there is strong evidence in this regard before making public pronouncements to the contrary. One just cannot talk about democratic values and norms, and avoid walking on this path, something lawyers refer to as "due process."
The allegations made against Mr Ronald Gajraj, Minister of Home Affairs and the Guyana government, by one, Mr George Bacchus, are significant enough for him (Mr Bacchus) to turn himself into the nearest police station along with his lawyer if he so desires, and make a statement confirming or denying these charges. To date, Mr Bacchus has failed to do the right thing. Guyana Bar Association's comments on this matter is appropriate. "It was a serious breach of the law to condemn a high government official without verification and scrutiny of the allegations made against him." Even the Guyana Human Rights Association cautiously notes: "the PNC/R chose to focus predominantly on the Minister rather than mobilizng around the issue."
The law enforcement agencies can only proceed with this matter on the basis of a sworn statement made by the accuser, Mr George Bacchus. Why was Mr Bacchus willing to tell his story to the US Embassy, the local media, and Human Rights organizations, including Amnesty International, and not prepared to make such a statement to the proper authorities?
Does this overt breach of judicial protocol trouble you, as a lover of democratic ideals? Unless you want to argue that Mr Bacchus has no faith in the police force! Wasn't this the same police force that helped sustain the PNC government in power for over 28 years? Why the sudden breach in faith? Last election results (2001) show that the armed forces voted overwhelmingly (90%) for the PNC/R. Sometimes I want to share the pessimism of others, that the PPP has very little real control over the armed forces.
Was this apparent lack of confidence in the police that caused Mr Bacchus to lodge his report at the US Embassy and other organizations?
What caused him to deviate from established due process rules in this case? Was it fear? Or some other insidious activity?
Mr Burke, why are you willing to accord credibility to Mr Bacchus, and none to the Minister of Home Affairs, a man who also served with distinction in the Army before being fired by the PNC? Not to mention his dedicated service to our country at an extremely difficult time in our history. You exalt the words of a "felon" onto the pinnacle, but cast those of a government Minister into a cesspool. "His (Gajraj) statements lack integrity...He is unfit for public office." How do you know this?
I must say that available evidence paints a different picture. I understand that no lie detector test was administered on Mr Bacchus, and if this is true, his credibility is still suspect. I am very careful not to malign anyone. But a published report indicates that the "whistle blower" was also an alleged murderer. Again, if this is true, it further compounds the issue. Given these uncertainties, a lover of democracy must walk cautiously, and desist from making sensational statements designed to excite and agitate.
Mr Burke, your figure of 400 Afro-Guyanese men having "been mysteriously and brutally executed with impunity within recent time" is blatantly false. I am tempted to say, it's a colossal exaggeration. It defies logic and rationality. I do concede, however, that if there is any credible evidence implicating the state, then this should be vigorously investigated. But to claim that all murders had been extra-judicial killings is disingenuous. Why do you want to exonerate criminals for their predominant role in spreading fear and death in Guyana, and pin the blame wholly on the Minister of Home Affairs?
Why would you want to score cheap political points on a delicate and sensitive issue as this? Who started the killing spree in Guyana in 2002? Who were the perpetrators of the Buxton mayhem? Who had become the victims of the self-styled freedom fighters? Are you aware that the perpetrators' only agenda was to rob, kill, and instill fear into peace loving Guyanese? We don't have figures to indicate the ethnic breakdown of those who had perished. But I can tell you categorically that both Afros and Indos had been the victims of such dastardly acts. To say that the Minister must be held accountable for acts of murder against Afros is certainly an abrupt departure from the democratic rules that you zealously seem to embrace. Who will be held responsible for the deaths of Indos?
I want to believe that both, you and I, agree that violence (whether murder, kidnapping, or otherwise), is abominable, and should be categorically denounced. Murder cannot be condoned in any civilized society. My heart goes out to those victims and their families who were innocently slaughtered, whether Afros, Indos, or others.
Can I ask you this question? What was really going through your mind when Indos were being killed with impunity, robbed, and degraded especially at Buxton? Buxton was once a proud village that produced some of the best minds of Guyana. Sadly, it's image has been tarnished by criminals who didn't hesitate to call themselves "freedom fighters."
One of them even went on national TV to make this assertion. When some of these criminals met their demise in unusual circumstances, the PNC was willing to drape them in the Guyana flag. Wouldn't you consider that debased behaviour?
I had challenged Afro intellectuals in particular to break their silence on those ethnic-based attacks, warning that this type of violence would soon become convoluted, that is, begin to feed from within. I recall that Eusi Kwayana and Dr David Hinds were the only ones to speak out at that time. Others came on board too late to stop thehaemorrhage. A relative of mine lives just outside of Buxton, and she said that during the day, they cannot relax, and during the night, it's
worse, they cannot close their eyes. Many people believe that the fear of criminal victimization stalks the land. Good police work, good ethnic security, and good governance, can ease our fears considerably. But Guyana's salvation depends on much more. It requires the goodwill of all Guyanese.
The Minister of Home Affairs was appointed to his position, as part of a PPP/Civic administration, that won the last general elections (2001),
that was certified as "fair and free" by the Carter Center. Thus, the government is duly responsible for upholding the law and to provide security to the citizens. When there is a breakdown of law, any
government has to resort to some tough measures, including the setting up of special unit(s) within the law enforcement agencies to deal with mob violence, arson, anarchy, etc. Sometimes, habeas corpus rights have to be suspended, too. Rules of engagement are worked out for such units.
These are reviewed by lawyers for constitutionality. But this shouldn't be a revelation to you or anyone. The PNC had been adept at using such a unit when they were in government. And throughout the Caribbean, governing parties have resorted to these measures especially wheneverthere was an imminent threat to national security. Here is a hypothetical question for any probe: "if there is a special squad, was excessive force used by it to apprehend criminals?"
And now, Mr Burke, as a new disciple of democracy, why were you so quick to approach CARICOM to intervene in Guyana's domestic affairs on
the basis, so far, of unsubstantiated evidence? You wrote Mr P.J.Patterson laying out serious charges (probably, even libellous in nature)
against the Guyana government and Minister Gajraj. First, how can you ask CARICOM to interfere in Guyana's domestic affairs? I know you will argue that CARICOM had intervened in the past (leading to the Hermandson Accord) and there is no reason why it can't try again. Must I remind you that no country wants its sovereignty to be compromised. But you should have been less hasty.
How could you ask the Prime Minister of a country that has one of the highest murder rates in the western hemisphere to intervene in Guyana affairs? Did you at anytime in the past, ever thought of inviting any Group or Caribbean political leader outside of Jamaica to enquire into the escalation of lethal violence there? Do you think that Jamaica will welcome such a move? Which are the other countries of CARICOM? The incidence of murder and kidnapping in Trinidad & Tobago for 2003 was higher than that of Guyana. About 80 percent of the kidnap victims were Indos.
Worse yet, only a few of these cases had been solved. Only a few days ago, criminals killed a handicapped Indo girl despite impassioned pleas from relatives. On whose side do you want to be? The hardened, callous criminals or the law abiding citizens? As you know, Patrick Manning has set up a special unit to deal with the escalation of kidnapping and murder there. Governments have no choice, but to act decisively when the national security is threatened. Just check with Manning and he will fill you in with the details!
It's bad enough that you and others have failed to speak out against the vicious attacks on Indo-Guyanese, let alone the relentless attacks on Indo-Trinidadians. Why the silence? You seem to have a special relationship with T&T since you were able to identify its leader, Mr Patrick Manning, and confer upon him a GID Democracy prize in December 2003. Did you ever consider that Manning was presiding over a society that had one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world? And the murder rate is not too far behind! Not to mention, an escalation in ethnic insecurity!
Under democratic rules and conventions, I will say that the judicial process must begin with an investigation if Mr George Bacchus is able To provide credible evidence to the Guyana Police. PNC operatives like Robert Corbin and Stanley Moore know how Commissions of Inquiry/Investigations work. Let the Commission produce a public report.
If there is incriminating evidence against Mr Gajraj or others, then the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should determine whether a prima facie case has been made. If there is no evidence of incrimination, then we must accept the innocence of the Minister (and others). And from then onwards, let's adhere to the rule of law and due process.
Finally, I want to comment on your assertion that Jagdeo is actively promoting an "Indian Axis." What's the point you are making here? I can sense the sinister motive that you impute onto the President's visit to India. Mr Jagdeo went to India to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas(which I and most Guyanese strongly supported), where he was bestowed with India's highest PBD honour. The move was also a strategic one.
India has been one of the biggest donors of aid to Guyana. It has recently increased the number of scholarships to Guyana by over 30 percent. India is also building a new cricket stadium for Guyana. You are smart enough to know that the "Summit of the Americas" was just a "kodak moment," and a time for leaders and their delegations to exchange notes and phone numbers, according to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I am confident that if Mr Jagdeo is invited somewhere else, say to a country in Africa, he would favourably consider such a request. You cannot deny us (Indos) our history, anymore than we, the Indos, can deny you (Afros), yours.
My friend, we need to work together to bring the state of violence and lawlessness to an end in Guyana. We need to recognize that a duly elected government is running Guyana. Their level of competence is a
matter for discussion elsewhere. Suffice it to say, that there are prescribed ways in handling allegations of this nature. If we consistently apply democratic rules and norms, these matters would be satisfactorily resolved. You are uniquely placed to help in this process. WE DO NOT NEED CONFRONTATION, BUT RATHER RECONCILIATION. WE DO NOT WANT INSECURITY, BUT SECURITY. WE DO NOT WANT ANARCHY BUT STABILITY.
WE DO NOT WANT HATRED, BUT TOLERANCE. AND YES, WE NEED TO FOSTER RESPECT FOR ONE ANOTHER. We know that decades of racism will not make the realization of these goals any more easier. But we are smart enough to mobilize our physical and intellectual resources to work for the upliftment of our country. This is our sacred challenge. Let's not abandon it, for history will never forgive us! And yes, I couldn't agree with you more, Guyana belongs to all Guyanese.
Dr Tara Singh