Communal conflict looms if death squad charges not addressed
-warns Dr Thomas
Stabroek News
March 18, 2004

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Economics Professor, Dr Clive Thomas says there would be no way forward for Guyana if the allegations of death squad killings are not addressed. And he warns that the situation could lead to communal conflict.

He spoke at a forum under the theme, 'Guyana: A nation in crisis - The way forward', held at City Hall on Tuesday. The group hosting the meeting was the People's Movement for Justice (PMJ), which was formed out of a meeting on January 20 at the same venue. The PMJ comprises 17 groups, inclusive of political parties, social groups and associations. A number of organisations are yet to respond to invitations to become part of the group.

Among the organisations at that January forum were the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), the Guyana Manufacturers' Association (GMA), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Working People's Alliance (WPA), the Joint Initiative for Human Advancement and Dignity (JIHAD), the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the Pan African Movement, the Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers (UAAW), the Guyana Postal Workers' Union (GPWU) and the PNCR.

There appeared to be a unanimous position at the Tuesday forum that the Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj should demit office for his alleged contacts with members of the squad.

Thomas was one of a panel of speakers which included Violet Jean-Baptiste, Public Relations Officer of ACDA; Vic Puran, attorney-at-law and Ravi Dev, Leader of Rise, Organise and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR).

Thomas, who is the Director of the Institute of Development Studies, told the gathering that Guyanese should act on the country's spiral into crisis before life as they know it changes.

He stressed that people cannot sit idly by and allow the instrument placed to protect citizens to become the instrument of their demise.

He said too that when the state becomes involved in systematic murder, as it is alleged, there is no way forward for the country. "We can't permit the state to be involved in the systematic murder of our citizens."

He stated that some view the crises as a test for the government, but it could be viewed as a test for all Guyanese. He warned that if the situation continues unabated, it could degenerate into communal conflict. Thomas suggested that the crisis is so severe that it warrants the intervention of the regional and international community.

While making his contribution, attorney Vic Puran reminded the floor that two years ago, President Bharrat Jagdeo had told the members of the Guyana Defence Force that Guyana was in a crisis. Puran suggested this crisis had stemmed from 50 years of PPP and PNC rule: "We are refusing to make the causal link between the crisis and the two major parties." He said alienation in the political process is the primary cause of the crisis and that if the parties obtain political power by race it is left to be seen how that government will govern nationally.

He said that shared governance is only talked about by the party in opposition and that neither the PPP nor the PNC is the answer for the crisis being felt in Guyana.

He said that while the people are moving towards a new consciousness, their political leaders are not doing the same thing. "It is time that we cease to be polite and tell them where to get off," he said. "Those who do not see Guyana for Guyanese must pack up and go."

Representing ACDA, Violet Jean-Baptiste said that all the indications of a crisis are evident. "ACDA calls for a thorough forensic investigation [into the Gajraj affair]," she said. According to Jean-Baptiste, the Ethnic Relations Commission has to deal with the challenges of ethnic fundamentalism.

Ravi Dev told the gathering that the problems in the country are mere symptoms of deeper underlying issues. "We practise smart-man politics, [as] the solutions put forward are advantageous for one group." Dev said also that much of the conflict comes out of cultural underpinnings and if persons are being oppressed along racial lines then they would mobilise along racial lines. He said that the cultural questions need not be swept under the carpet. "It is no contradiction to be Guyanese and have cultural values," he said, making the point that people should not be made to jettison their culture in the name of nationalism.

Dr Peter deGroot, head of the Private Sector Commis-sion (PSC) of Guyana was unable to make his presentation due to a prior engagement.

Moderator of the forum, Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram said that the absence of the PSC was unfortunate, as the private sector would have an important role to play and has an interest in good governance.

In a comment to Stabroek News yesterday, Chairman of PMJ Desmond Trotman said that another meeting would be held today to discuss the road ahead. He said that a statement from the group would be read at the 'Rule of Law' march to take place on Saturday.