DIPLOMATIC ARROGANCE IN 'DEATH SQUAD' AFFAIR
Let the 'evidence' be provided
RICKEY SINGH COLUMN
February 1, 2004
TODAY, I wish to revisit the controversy surrounding Guyana's Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj about his alleged involvement with a phantom `death squad' and demands for his resignation by the political opposition:
Since my column in this newspaper of January 18 on `Death Squad Politics Row' - in which I suggested that Minister Gajraj should offer his resignation to President Bharrat Jagdeo, while all relevant investigations are thoroughly pursued - there have been some strange developments.
First, disclosure last week of the sudden revocation by Canada of the Home Affairs Minister's Canadian diplomatic visa - without any prior communication with him, or since the matter reached the public domain
Secondly, the related issue of the main opposition People's National Congress/Reform hailing, with supporting placards in a demonstration this past week, Canada's visa revocation decision. It came as the party's extended demands for Gajraj's resignation, and more than implies that the revocation decision supports its own position.
Thirdly, there remains the baffling failure by the police to locate the self-confessed informant to the death squad, George Bacchus, who has since disappeared from public view.
Fourthly, the failure by Bacchus's lawyer to help produce him to the police for a statement in support of his allegations; and the refusal by the PNC/R leader, Robert Corbin, to provide "information/intelligence" to the police he claims to have in connection with the existence of `death squads' and Gajraj's alleged involvement.
It seems essential to any transparent probe that those with claimed "information" in relation to death squad allegations, as made by Bacchus and Corbin make such information available to the police who are the ones to carry out investigations into criminal offences and work in cooperation with the Director of Public Prosecutions. This course cannot and should not be avoided much longer.
But outgoing acting Police Commissioner McDonald got a tongue-lashing from the PNC leader for the letter inviting his cooperation in the pursuit of the death squads allegations.
Instead, Corbin slammed the Commissioner for pursuing the "political agenda of your masters", but held out no hope of sharing the information he claims to possess.
At the same time, the governing PPP/C was calling on Corbin to either produce to the police information to back up his allegations, or to shut up.
Bacchus's own criminal record would certainly not place him in the category of a saint. But he could be helpful to the cause of justice by showing up with his lawyer to give a statement to the police, in support of his allegations.
This would be the appropriate thing to do, given the very serious nature of his allegations, the puzzling behaviour of diplomatic missions in Georgetown, and knowing, as even his own lawyer (s) would be aware, of the fundamental difference between due process and condemnation without trial.
There is also the related issue about whether the privately-owned Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company may be involved in a breach of confidentiality over the claimed specific telephone calls, as published in the media.
The company has denied involvement in providing such information, as it would be unlawful. It, however, recognises that it could be made to do so by a court order.
For now, therefore, there would rightly be questions about the accuracy of the claimed telephone conversations by Bacchus - as reported in the local media - until appropriately verified.
Such factors would, I think, support my own view that Minister Gajraj, who remains dismissive of the allegations against him, should proceed on vacation - if he is not yet ready to offer his resignation, and allow a transparent probe to take place.
At the same time, neither Bacchus nor Corbin should be excused for not helping the course of due process by providing the Police Commissioner or the DPP, "information" they claim to have in support of their respective death squad allegations and links to Minister Gajraj.
It is relevant to recall here that the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had already authorised an inquest into the killing of a man, Axel Williams, shot to death last December 10, as a victim of a "death squad" and, according to Bacchus, one of the links to Minister Gajraj.
Such an inquest could itself prove helpful to Gajraj's rejection of any culpability with a phantom death squad, and expose his accuser Bacchus to the glare of media and public scrutiny.
Right now Bacchus's accusations are being used as political fodder for intensified anti-government crusading by the main opposition PNC, while Gajraj himself concurs that an inquest into Williams's death should take place.
In all of this, the action by the Canadian High Commission in revoking Gajraj's visa - an unprecedented action in the post-independence history of the English-speaking Caribbean - is quite startling. Particularly as it leads to speculations about a possible connection with the Bacchus allegations.
The sudden visa revocation and reference to the media about Canadian privacy laws, instead of offering a forthright explanation, smacks of more than arrogance, and a judgement, without trial, on the part of the Canadian authorities.
Not to mention, of course, the public perception of taking sides in a highly sensitive, and far from resolved national issue by a foreign diplomatic mission.
The same mission, incidentally, whose country had previously violated Guyana's airspace when it chose to fly in a group of Guyana-born criminal deportees, without first alerting the relevant authorities in Georgetown. It subsequently apologised for the incident.
Whatever may be his own errors of omission or commission, Minister Gajraj has made it clear that having had no direct communication from the Canadian High Commission, he, nevertheless, would welcome the public disclosure of ANY information that would have led to the very surprising sudden revocation of his diplomatic visa.
The ball is, therefore, in the court of the Canadian High Commission. In the interest of continuing "friendly" Canada-Guyana relations, it should desist from referring the local media to the Canadian High Commission in Port-of-Spain for information about "privacy laws".
Why should an officer in the Port-of-Spain Canadian High Commission have to explain or justify the sudden revocation of the diplomatic visa of a senior Guyanese cabinet minister - without any explanation, even to him, the affected minister, in the face of escalating partisan politicking?
Is new Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin paying any attention to what's going on in the name of Canada's diplomatic relations with Guyana?
Rohee's US visa
There may be no official coordination involving the diplomatic missions of Canada, United Kingdom and the USA in this escalating controversy.
Nevertheless, it is more than passing strange that the US Embassy in Georgetown which, like the British High Commission, has signalled its interest in a transparent investigation into the allegations against Minister Gajraj, had not, up to the time of writing late last week, considered it appropriate to communicate with the Guyana Government about the "information"/ allegations it had been provided by Bacchus.
It so happens that this is the other diplomatic mission in Georgetown which has been stunningly silent over the past month on media reports about its failure to renew a US visa for Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Clement Rohee - and with no connection to the so-called `death squad' affair.
Why the delay and silence over renewal of the minister's US visa? Is this the way to foster good relations between two "friendly" countries and their governments?
Is the American embassy so unmindful of the implications of its attitude towards a long standing senior cabinet minister of successive legitimate governments in Guyana? Or is this another case of diplomatic arrogance?
If Rohee, as a senior cabinet minister could be so shabbily treated, think of the contempt to which ordinary Guyanese, across the society, may have suffered in seeking the relevant visa for visits to the "land of the free and home of the brave"!!
No amount of diplomatic language, involving either the Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the US Embassy in Georgetown, or both, to minimise the damage, can justify the embarrassment caused to Minister Rohee who has refused to speculate on what he regards as "this surprising issue".
On top of this came Canada's revocation last week of Minister Gajraj's visa, even before Bacchus could be found to provide a statement to the police about his allegations.
There seems a tremendous rush to judgement by the PNC/R and some diplomatic missions on one hand, and, on the other, the reluctance by Minister Gajraj to at least take a vacation while investigations are being pursued into the allegations against him. I say again, if there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear.
Governments and people in the rest of CARICOM would be wise to follow closely this case of death squad allegations against a Guyanese cabinet minister and the perplexing behaviour exhibited by the Canadian High Commission, as well as that of the USA in relation to information received from Bacchus and the long delay in renewing the visa for Foreign Trade and International Cooperation Minister, Rohee.