Cowardice is always Ugly
May 16, 2004
This weekend, in her Mirror column captioned, “Occupation is always ugly”, Janet Jagan commented on the facial expression of President Bush as he attempted to explain to an Arab audience, the US abuses of Iraqi prisoners. She noted that that, “The usual smirk…on (Bush’s) face, for once was absent.” Occupation is always ugly.” I had just read her assessment when I saw President Jagdeo, announcing to the country over the T.V., that he was appointing a Commission to inquire into the Gajraj affaire. I thought how apropos Mrs. Jagan’s comments were in reference to the President she had created right here in Guyana. President Jagdeo hadn’t just lost his smirk; he looked like he’d thrown up and lost his lunch. Cowardice is ugly. Using Mrs. Jagan’s words, it seemed to me that the President realised that, “his carefully prepared cautious remarks…didn’t work.” He refused to take questions from the media present.
Listening to what the President actually said, one could understand his queasiness and his refusal to take questions. I mean, how can President Jagdeo appoint a commission to investigate allegations about his Minister of Home Affairs involvement with Death Squads and not include within its terms of reference, at a minimum, the violence on the East Coast? I suspect that what added to His Excellency’s discomfiture was the fact that the entire Opposition had already agreed to a wider investigation in a letter to the Secretary General of the UN. How is the President and the rest of his cohorts in the PPP going to explain to their primarily Indian constituency that while the PNC had declared, “we expect that the inquiry will also be extended to include the examination of the violence that has engulfed the country since the jail break of 2002 February 23, Buxton and other manifestations of communal violence”– they, the PPP, had backed down and whittled down the Inquiry only to Gajraj? Cowardice is ugly.
Last week I wrote, “ROAR hopes that the President and the PPP will not once again fall prey to the pusillanimity that has characterised their regime since 1992, and will insist on this broader inquiry. The PPP has been “throwing talk” that they have all sorts of evidence of the involvement of the PNC’s involvement in the violence. Now is the time for them to step up to the wicket and bowl.” The insistence of the President and the PPP to confine the Inquiry only to “allegations of criminal misconduct” against Minister Gajraj, only reinforces my earlier contention that “PPP” actually means the “Pusillanimous Peoples Party”.
ROAR’s contention was that the Inquiry should not be seen as a witch-hunt against Gajraj – he was merely the instrumentality of the PPP’s group think. If we were to get anything positive out of the Inquiry, we would have to allow the process to follow the trail wherever it may lead. The terms of reference, such as they are, while they are silent about every conceivable stipulation that would help to make the Inquiry “independent and impartial”, are at great pains to confine the investigation to Gajraj’s culpability. It would appear that he is to be the sacrificial lamb. However, even though Mr. Gajraj may concededly be a rather large lamb, if the allegations against him have any basis in fact, then the Commission would have to be given the authority to bring home his shepherd. Or shepherdess.
We return to the point that many, especially Indians, do not want to accept. If Guyana is to survive we must have a viable state. Arguably, the great innovation of the West that has been the cornerstone of their progress beyond every other civilisation in terms of material wealth, has been their development of this institution called “the state”. In the modern world we will get nowhere if we do not have professionally run civil services, police, armies, judiciaries etc. that work for the welfare of all their citizenry. Whatever reservations we may have about any of these bodies, the Government of the day has to have the patriotism to be willing to do the right thing and professionalize the operations of state institutions.
In ROAR’s estimation, the PPP in 1992 had severe reservations about the political loyalty of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force. But rather than doing the right - albeit more difficult – thing and address their own concerns directly, the PPP chose to work around the Forces. I have publicly declared that I will defend the right of any citizen to defend their lives by whatever means necessary. But when those vested with authority to direct the state institutions use them outside the law – even to achieve a purported “good” - then this is a most dangerous development, since it undermines the very foundation that was meant to support us all. The Death Squads are simply the dénouement of the PPP’s pusillanimity. Cowardice is ugly.
The Death Squads may have wiped out some criminals and protected some citizens today – but who will protect your children and grandchildren tomorrow. Are we going to always depend on death squads? The Inquiry must be broadened to uncover those within the Government and those without who have conspired, or worked, to bring our country to the sorry state we have found ourselves. The PPP’s refusal to have a wider Inquiry will leave us with more questions than answers and certainly more divided. Once again we exhort the PPP to show some grit, rise to the occasion and do what’s best for Guyana. Hold an Inquiry that incorporates the wider societal violence in which the Gajraj affaire is embedded. No one is fooled by the fig-leaf that a wider inquiry may be initiated at some later time. You can’t cash the same check twice. The President’s announcement, (with which we have other objections which will be detailed later) only reveals the ugliness of cowardice.
Then again, is the refusal by the PPP for a wider Inquiry due to some more sinister reason? Is the PPP worried about the truth of the jailbreak coming out? Why is it they do not want those who created mayhem on the East Coast to be exposed? Are they stonewalling because, as is now widely believed, they actually benefit from communal violence on their expectation that Indians will then find it harder to “split the vote” since they’re normally on the receiving end? Whatever the answers may be to the above questions, to paraphrase Mrs. Jagan, “however you slice it (cowardice and pusillanimity) are always ugly; always wrong.” Those who have ears, let them hear.