Invasion on Brickdam The Freddie Kissoon column
Kaieteur News
June 27, 2004

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In my weekend column yesterday, I voiced doubt that the police will solve the murder of George Bacchus. It wasn’t based on any particular emotion but stemmed from the scientific fact that the police have not come even close to being on top of 95 per cent of the heinous killings this country has seen since 2002.

The Bacchus killing is another vicious act, this time one that is bound to generate fear and concern throughout the society, and you look back at how unchanging Guyana has been and unchanging it is and you can only be pessimistic about the future.

But is Guyana really unchanging? Let’s us not rush to judgement but first argue it out. We will do this by looking at Friday’s compulsory closing of stores on Regent Street by two small groups of protestors operating at different points in the city.

At around 9.00 hours, I was jogging on Vlissengen Road going in a southern direction. When I passed Water Works, I saw a small band of people numbering about forty on the North Road mall opposite Water Works. They were mostly women who had the Muslim head-wear on, and they had a small wooden coffin next to them.

I jogged home since I don’t live too far from this junction. I immediately called Glenn Lall, publisher of the Kaieteur News to tell him what I had seen. An hour after, while having my breakfast, the phone rang and a friend informed me that a small band of protestors on Regent Street was forcing store owners to close their businesses.

When I reached Regent Street, one group had succeeded in shutting down Alim Shah store. This band consisted of mostly women and among them was a female Member of Parliament from the PNC/R who it appeared to me was answering questions from Colin Smith who is the local correspondent for the BBC.

Store-owner Ryhaan Shah appeared incensed at what was going on and quickly passed her way into the store after refusing to give Colin an interview. But she loudly muttered that she was fed up with what was going because there was a small gathering of fifteen persons forcing their way into private businesses, threatening and intimidating the owners in full view of the police.

When you saw what happened on Friday, you can only conclude that indeed Guyana is unchanging.

Another group moved onto Camp Street and enforced the closure demand. It was this group that had succeeded in shutting down Bourda market about twenty minutes earlier. A stall-holder claimed that while the enforcement order was executed at Bourda market, some shoppers on Regent Street were robbed. I have not been able to confirm this but I did see shoppers rushing out of the market as if they were fleeing for their lives. Events turned nasty on Camp Street. The small clan moved onto Demerara Bank but that bank had already closed. The next target was New Thriving Restaurant on Brickdam. The protestors invaded the place and ordered the management to shut the doors. Patrons dining in the restaurants hurried out in a frenzy but a few stayed their ground. And that is when the threat of violence became real.

One man was physically manhandled while a youth pushed his hands into the meal of another customer. In all of this, a solitary figure defied the angry assembly and insisted he would be completing his meal that he said he paid for.

A male waiter who came to the protection of his employers was quickly dispatched by the tiny band with the classification of him being a Chinese slave. Two of the protestors shouted to the Chinese manager that “Chinee people come to Guyana fuh disrespect Guyanese.” That exclamation had a hilarious side and a sordid twist to it.

First, the Chinese manager is a born Guyanese who has never been to China. Secondly, on whose behalf was this group speaking when it yelled out its racist remark? Which Guyanese were the Chinese disrespecting when they refused to comply with an illegal order of a small faction of marauding protestors?

So how unchanging is Guyana? Would anyone have believed that after what we saw in 1997, 1998 and 2001 and after a high-level judicial inquiry into the disciplined forces, members of the Police Force on official duty would stand unmoved while a tiny gathering of protestors forcefully closed business premises in downtown Georgetown?

And when the managers and owners refused to adhere to their violent threats they invaded the stores and shut the doors themselves. This illegal and violent behaviour took place in full view of the police.

Sadly once more, the people who pay the heaviest price for political instability in Guyana represent the business class. This is the class, the community, the group of people that virtually keep the wheels of the economy going. Yet look the price that they are always forced to pay whenever political civility breaks down.

Friday afternoon shopping is a lucrative time for downtown store owners but it turned sour last Friday. Many of the stores opened up after the protestors had left for the Square of The Revolution. I went to the New Thriving to interview the manager for this article and it was open but almost empty. But many other businesses had closed for the day out of fear. No doubt they lost valuable income.

What was totally unacceptable about this latest episode of Regent Street protest was the smallness of the crowds yet the police refused to act. On previous occasions, the intimidating size of the crowds made police control of them literally impossible but on Friday, the group that closed down some of the stores numbered fifteen. Why then didn’t the police act?

It would be interesting to listen to what explanation Commissioner Felix has to offer, and he should offer one.

Sadly again, the PNC/R has played its card wrong and in so doing has played into the hands of the PPP/C. How Friday’s misbehavior will help the electoral chances of the PNC/R is a question that is so easy to answer. But on another matter – will we hear from the GHRA, Red Thread and the other women groups who were emotionally traumatized about what had happened to a 13-year-old girl, about Friday’s invasion?

That night, my wife and I went alfresco dining at Popeye’s. The place was over-filled and management ordered more chairs. If the protestors had come, I wasn’t leaving the food I paid for. Imaging dying for a plate of food, or is it the principle?