Corbin sends wake up call over death squad
-warns of further protests
Stabroek News
March 21, 2004

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Some of the marchers shortly after they left Parliament Buildings on Saturday afternoon (Ken Moore photo)

"A luta continua...The struggle continues," declared PNCR leader Robert Corbin yesterday while warning that if the government refuses to address the death squad allegations, the country would grind to a halt.

Corbin was speaking at the Square of the Revolution at the end of a day of protest as part of the Rule of Law March and Rally which attracted substantial if not spectacular crowds. The event was organised by a committee comprising a number of civil society groupings and political parties.

In a speech that lasted well over an hour and by its end saw supporters wandering away, he said if there is no sign of action, a similar event would be held before the end of the week, "by which time we hope that [President Bharrat Jagdeo] wakes up."

"We must either have a change in the process of governance or a change in the government itself... If government could treat the constitutional right to life as a tiny issue then we are unworthy of our salt."

He said that there must be an amnesty for those who contributed financially to the death squad and its members given that he is more interested in those who controlled them. "If it is that they have nothing to hide, then why the reluctance to discuss the issue?" he asked, alluding to the refusal of the Speaker of the National Assembly to allow discussion in Parliament on Friday.

He said Jagdeo had resisted every effort to deal with the matter and was denying the allegations despite evidence implicating Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj. "I challenge the police to produce George Bacchus' first statement to the Police. Let us have an independent inquiry so that all of the evidence in the matter could be collected."

Corbin said that this was the kind of event that sent shivers to the establishment of the state and said that the administration made attempts to derail it by cutting power to the area and putting out propaganda through the state media.

And he said he did not want to hear one morning that the government had put together a Commission of Inquiry comprising of Clement Rohee and other government officials. He said a commission must have the presence of persons from the international community, whether they are from Caricom or farther afield.

Also speaking at the event was Professor Dr Clive Thomas, who warned that time was not on Guyana's side and that the international community is already taking steps, citing the revocation of visas by missions in Guyana. "We have to be sure that we go forward with unity...On behalf of the Working People's Alliance (WPA), I see this [rally] as an important [phase] in restoring the Rule of Law in Guyana."

Violet Jean-Baptiste of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) said that an investigation is necessary to the restore the good name of the African Guyanese. "The Minister of Home Affairs must step down. ACDA will settle for nothing less."

Also speaking was Vice-President of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) Norris Witter.

Marches kick off day

The crowd was made up of incident-free processions that had set off hours earlier from three different points and had meandered through city wards, eventually funneling into the square.

At Congress Place, the headquarters of the PNCR, the protestors moved off at 3.25 pm.

Among them were the staunch party supporters who come out for every march, some even in wheelchairs. But this time there was a large number of younger marchers many mobilised from the regions along with members of the party's Youth and Student Movement. All in all about 1000 protestors left Congress Place with perhaps another 500 joining along the route.

They were led by Central Executive Committee members and party leader Robert Corbin, all donned in the now familiar protest aprons with various slogans such as "Guyana is Bleeding" and "Stop the Killing". Escorted by a police outrider they set off in rows of four into Second Street until they made their way to the junction with Sheriff Street. There, startled motorists, had to reverse to avoid a long wait as a stream of banners and placards passed echoing the party's call for an independent investigation of death squad allegations. In the middle of the procession was a small open back pick-up with a coffin in its tray. Some of the marchers also carried an effigy of Gajraj that was continually pelted

From Sheriff Street, the marchers snaked their way into Campbell Avenue and eventually Thomas Lands. At the Alberttown Police Station, the marchers paid tribute to the policeman who was slain in front of the station in 2002. They continued until they came to Brickdam, where they joined with the marchers who had come from the Public Buildings and the South Ruimveldt Shopping Plaza.

From Parliament...

Around 400 marchers set off from Parliament Buildings at around 3:15 pm with marshals designated by their black scarves assisting in keeping order. Noticeable among the contingent were representatives from the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the African Cultural Development Association (ACDA).

The crowd proceeded down Smyth Street and then turned east into Sussex imploring residents to come out. At some points along the route the names of people who were allegedly killed by death squads were read out while the protesters chanted "dead" after each name.

From Sussex, the marchers turned north into Adelaide Street, then east into Norton and north into Louisa Row. Approaching D'Urban Street, an impatient minibus driver tried to break through the line but was rounded upon by the women who made sure he waited until the procession had past.

The marchers waited a few minutes on Brickdam so as to allow the processions from South Ruimveldt and Sophia to get closer, with organisers calling each other on their cell phones. Vendors tagged along making some quick money from the thirsty protestors.

From South Ruimvedlt...

Just under a thousand persons, mostly women dressed in red and white, took off from the Shopping Plaza tarmac in South Ruimveldt at around 3.30 pm. The procession was preceded by a brief sermon from Apostle Williams and a group prayer.

Ranks from the Guyana Police Force led and brought up the rear of the group while PNCR marshals kept the parade in order.

The route from Aubrey Barker Street led the marchers into Mandela Avenue before turning north into Cemetery Road and them east into Princes Street.

From there the group proceeded to Victor Street, Lodge into which they turned north before crossing over the Norton Street carriageway and later west into Joseph Pollydore Street. As the procession passed through the various wards residents looked on from balconies and stairs occasionally joining in the chants.

After a quick north turn into Haley Street and west into Hadfield Street the marchers paused at the intersection of Brickdam and Magot Place to await the other groups.

Several banners and placards denounced Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj while others including one from the Full Gospel Fellowship appealed for the rule of law to prevail. The procession went silent through the cemetery in observance of those buried there who were killed under suspicious circumstances.

But a special chant erupted as the procession passed A&D Funeral Home, whose owner is now in jail on murder charges: "Talk Bacchus talk, yah bin deh," the crowd shouted.