The Government must not wait for formal reports to the police
Stabroek News
January 24, 2004

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Dear Editor,

There are still people in Guyana who deny that racial insecurity and racism (not the same thing) helped produce the violence that has consumed the coastal strip of Guyana over nearly two years and has in turn worsened racial insecurity and racism. There are two groups of citizens who justifiably feel utterly without legal protection in Guyana:

1. Given the violence that has been directed against Indo-Guyanese, one group is Indo-Guyanese of all classes;

2. Given the violence that has been directed against mainly working class Afro-Guyanese men by elements of the police and by phantom or death squads, the other group is working class Afro-Guyanese.

In these circumstances the response of many individuals to extra-judicial killing is completely predictable: anyone who sees the squad/s as having provided their only protection and justice is for them. Thus, there have been a number of letters to the press by Indo-Guyanese making the obvious point that the "phantom squad" protected Indo-Guyanese as the regular security forces did not, and applauding its work.

But the story of Rasville vendor Rodwell Ogle confirms what we all know: the activities of death squads have nothing to do with bringing justice. That is why they move easily from hitting the targets they are paid to hit (and these, for a variety of reasons), to hitting whoever gets in their way. Rodwell Ogle was killed in August 2002 in full sight of witnesses by alleged death squad member Axel Williams, a man known to the community where the killing took place, because that man did not want to pay Ogle the full price for a box of food he had purchased from him. The case had nothing whatsoever to do with the protection of victims of violence. Mr Ogle was just another example of the "collateral damage" that violence and militarisation breed.

While we don't know who in turn killed Axel Williams in December 2003, Rodwell Ogle's relatives apparently neither know nor care: a recent report in one newspaper quoted the relatives as saying that the extra-judicial killing of Axel Williams meant that while man did not give them justice (ie, through the police), God did (ie, through whoever killed him). What we have here is the same response to extra-judicial killing by members of the squad and of members of the squad.

In an open letter to Guyanese women and men dated May 2, 2003 entitled "A time to break silence", Red Thread said "If the Minister of Home Affairs continues to be unable or unwilling to do his job, he must go..." Now Red Thread joins with citizens in other organizations to demand that the Minister step aside while an independent investigation be made not only into the allegations by George Bacchus (George Bacchus is not the issue here, and should not be made the issue), but into the Minister's failure - through acts of omission or commission - to protect the citizens of Guyana.

The two signatories to this letter, unlike many others in Red Thread, used to be members of a political party which worked closely with members of the PPP to "restore democracy" in Guyana. Now it is increasingly clear that the PPP had few objections in principle to the anti-democratic practices of the PNC in government, including the work of what now seem smaller and less virulent death squads, but only to the fact that it was the PNC which carried out these practices. It is as though they believe that winning a majority in an election is a license to be as unaccountable as they please.

There is no need to wait for anyone to make reports to the police. Walk among Guyanese, especially those who are not protected by money or patronage, and listen to how little confidence they have in the protection of the police. It would not be surprising if most people with evidence to provide of wrongdoing by any Minister or other powerful figure would be afraid to provide that information to the police. The government should be concerned with clearing its name and that of its Ministers, even without formal reports to the police.

There are many disagreements over the role the PPP has played in Guyana's history. But most of us would say that at least sometimes, that role has been an honourable one. The present behaviour of that party is anything but honourable.

Yours faithfully,

Andaiye, Karen de Souza

For Red Thread