The attacks at Lusignan
March 29, 2004
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If one were to sift through the robberies that have battered and bewildered householders of East Coast Demerara over the last few years a certain modus operandi could be gleaned as well as a profile of the victim. The bandits have operated in small groups - three to four - are usually armed with a variety of powerful guns and the occasional knife. They have cased their victims' and generally know how many people dwell in the house they target, the occupation of the householders and the likelihood of them having cash and jewellery. Mostly masked, they then burst into the dwelling at night exuding the visage of terror. One serves as a lookout while the others with intimidation, menace, violence - gun-butting, fists and threats of, and sexual violence - break down their victims and gather as much booty as they can. They then flee on foot or sometimes on bicycles in the general direction of Buxton, sometimes letting off a few warning bullets for good measure and to dissuade any brave attempt at pursuit. In a good number of cases, murders have been committed for no apparent reason. In all, the bandits aim to spend 10-15 minutes at the most committing the robbery and often less than that.
Their victims are never very poor neither are they well off. They would be what we describe as middle-class in terms of earnings in Guyana's context but in actuality earning and spending far less than true middle-class. The victims might have valuable appliances, trinkets and jewellery acquired over a significant period and some cash as this economy continues to be highly cash-based.
The customary method of robbery and the profile of the victim are important in the context of what happened at Lusignan two Friday nights ago. In that attack, two families, who did not fit the description of "middle-class" were robbed, brutalised and humiliated. The robbers did snatch some money, the odd appliance and other items including a blood sugar testing machine - hardly worth the exertions invested that night. Also puzzling was the length of the intrusion. In total, close to two hours were spent in the assault on the families - quite unusual when typically the bandits would be in and out in around 15 minutes. Also jarring was the size of the attacking party - estimated at around 15 men. It was evidently a show of force but why would 15 men be required for what was a fairly routine operation as banditry goes?
And the attackers weren't only content on plunder. They came with a message and were bent on grossly embarrassing and humiliating the families. The robbers said they were replenishing an armoury that had been depleted in anti-crime attacks. Despicably, indecent assaults were also carried out and in an outrageous act a young man was forced to drink from a bottle of liquor to the point of vomiting. Not content with this, a slice of pine was forced on him as a chaser.
So what conclusions are to be drawn from this hideous attack and what facts are important? It seems that there remains a significant reservoir of criminal talent on the East Coast. Let's say at least seven households - allowing two from each home or in the worst case scenario 15 households. How do 15 men just get together and decide on a criminal foray into a village some distance away? How many others haven't heard of their plans and seen the mobilisation? Where are the people that these men make homes with? Didn't they or don't they notice anything. What about the ill-gotten riches - mind you, not a lot from this particular raid - suddenly appearing or their menfolk missing during the period when the robbery occurred, a robbery which they undoubtedly know about now.
Buxton and other villages continue to be safe havens for criminals as Buxtonians and other villagers continue to turn a blind eye to these outrages, actively assist these criminals and could not care less about the consequences.
Can the police really be doing their job if 15 men can form a raiding party and spend two hours committing these exceptionable acts without fear of the police interrupting them? Could the police really have had their ears to the ground and their finger on the violently throbbing pulse of crime in these villages? Not one person has yet been charged as far as we know in this matter.
The message of the attackers of restocking their armoury is clearly meant to instill fear in the East Coast and to provoke the kind of unrest that has since resurrected terror, despair, resignation and flight.
There is also an important co-incidence of events. There is a correlation between these criminal acts and the state of political relations between the two major parties. Whenever serious tension afflicts the relationship between the PPP/C and the PNCR as is the case now, the violence and robbery follows like clockwork. The Lusignan raid with its extravagant indecency came the night before the Rule of Law march, which though co-sponsored by a variety of groups was primarily the work and toil of the PNCR. While the march went off peacefully, it is not far-fetched that the mobilisation by the PNCR unwittingly sends particular messages to the less responsible members of its constituency. It has become ingrained that in the main the attackers are drawn from Buxton/Friendship.
These villages vote solidly for the PNCR and the PNCR remains the only political organisation that can tour these places and mobilise without hindrance or active opposition. No other political group or other organisation for that matter can do this. It is therefore not inconceivable that when the PNCR mobilises the recalcitrants become seized with a fervour to aid and abet that cause by attacking and terrorising the perceived constituency of the ruling party while at the same time enriching themselves.
It is, indeed, plausible. Which is why we have consistently urged the PNCR to play a more responsible and determined role in helping to defeat crime. Otherwise its consternation at the renewed crime as voiced at Thursday's party press conference rings hollow and drips like crocodile tears.
There is no denying that in 2002-2003 the government failed comprehensively to guarantee the security of East Coast communities and it was this abdication of responsibility that provided fertile ground for the death squads and drug lords to eke out their fiefdoms and pay tribute with bullet-riddled bodies. It is this reign of death which has now sunk the country in a bog of unceasing allegations and dangerous passions. The government now has another opportunity to meet the criminal challenge head on and to get it right this time.
There is also no denying that the police force was utterly unable to do its duty in 2002-3 and became irrelevant in the fight against crime when it was most needed. Police Commissioner Felix will have the briefest of honeymoons unless he can assert the lawful authority of the police force on the East Coast to counter the renewed eruption of crime.
There is also no disputing that in 2002-3 the PNCR lay in wait for political concessions from the government and hardly lifted a finger to help to restrain and dismantle the criminality that radiated from Buxton/Friendship. It, too, has a second chance now. Not to gnash its teeth and rail at crime from afar. But to take the fight against crime to its own constituents and demand that they not become a crucible for further acts of unspeakable violence and shame.
While ultimately the government and the police have the constitutional responsibility for arresting crime, the PNCR is similarly obligated on different grounds to play its part and to visibly do so.
The attributes of the Lusignan attack portend frightening scenarios which each of us including the ordinary Buxtonian and Annandalian and everyone in between must take serious note of.