The resort to death squads is a dangerous failure in policy
Stabroek News
January 20, 2004

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Dear Editor,

Those who support the use of the local death squads tell us that ends justify means, that "a greater good" has been served by state-sanctioned violence. This greater good, we are asked to believe, is the return of peace and stability to our society in the wake of the post-February 2002 crime wave. We are a better society, it seems, since the advent of death squads in our midst. Sadly, our sense of social justice moves along two paths, depending on whether our own self-interests, and only our own, are affected or not.

Arguments and sentiments in favour of death squads must be rejected. We need only remind ourselves that under the cloak of serving "a greater cause", the Germans exterminated millions of Jews in World War II, terrorists blow up planes and shopping centres, and ethnic cleansing has become a preferred option in settling civil conflicts around the world. Plainly, one man's greater good is another man's nightmare. And this raises the question: whose greater good? That of one part of society, that of a political party pursuing its own narrow political agenda and deformed view of governance, or the whole society's?

Gajraj sympathisers must also be reminded that the use of death squads was instigated by a colossal failure of government policy. This failure was at three levels: the refusal and inability to deal with the root causes of crime in our society (joblessness, narco-trafficking, arms smuggling, hopelessness, etc); secondly, the paranoid reluctance to build up the crime fighting capacity of our police force; and thirdly, the earlier use of the Black Clothes as an instrument of terror, leading to the destruction of police-community relations and to the radicalization of communities. It was therefore predictable that government ineptitude would soon put its citizens at great risk. With the February jailbreak, the chickens came home to roost. And before we knew it, several communities on the lower East Coast were under siege by violent criminals. But jailbreak or no jailbreak, we were (and still are) sitting on a powder keg. With the February jailbreak, it blew up in our faces sooner and more explosively than imagined. But bad governance had already lit the fuse.

It is the nature of political decision-making in Guyana that instead of eliminating fear and insecurity altogether, we merely transfer it to other ethnic groups and communities. In seeking to reduce fear in one section, we build it up in the others. The PPP/C has long replaced concepts such as "the national good" and "common destiny" with narrow ethnic calculations. Need we ask had the crime wave terrorized mostly Black communities, to what extent our "high officials" would have gone to offer protection?

The use of death squads puts the country in all sorts of peril. Those who can't see this are unsighted. Firstly, a new service industry of hitmen has been created and is becoming institutionalised. There is every possibility, and indications already, that the market can expand to include regular citizens both as victims and customers. If we do not stop this cancer in its tracks, settling disputes over such things as family land and love triangles would take on added dangerous dimensions. True, many of us might not yet be able to afford the high fees charged for a killing. But who knows if the industry will introduce installment payment schemes.

Secondly, suffer no illusion: the agenda of the paymasters of the death squads can easily slip over from so-called "crime fighting" into the political arena. Bacchus warned of this when he spoke of plans to use the squads in election season. I must confess, however, that because my mind works within the sanity range, I am yet to figure out what possible shape this plan could take.

Lastly, those who call on the President to quickly deal with the matter lest his entire party gets besmirched are making a crucial point. If perception hardens that this operation went beyond a maverick minister but had active endorsement from the collective, then the government's right to rule would be further challenged. Such a situation could have all sorts of consequences.

More than ever, Guyana needs a new beginning.

Yours faithfully,

Sherwood Lowe