A failed strategy Editorial
Stabroek News
June 28, 2004

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If Friday's performance by the protesters associated with the People's Movement for Justice (PMJ) and the PNCR was meant to be some type of evolution of their campaign over the death squad then it shows just how morally bankrupt and bereft of ideas their organisers are.

It is disappointing to say the least that the PMJ Convenor Desmond Trotman hailed the actions of those protesters who in the crudest ways sought to force businesses in the city to close. Perhaps if the protesters were to descend on whichever place he earns his livelihood and menaced him, banged on his doors, uttered threats and behaved loutishly he and the people he works with might have an entirely different view of the protesters.

Let us be clear here. The strategy of invading the business streets of the city and engaging in psychological terrorism is a failed one inaugurated by the PNCR under its late leader Desmond Hoyte. This strategy caused Mr Hoyte and his party to lose the support and goodwill of many and it only further destabilised the country and deepened divisions.

There is no room today for this type of behaviour. The business community should not be targeted because the PMJ and the PNCR have a grouse with the government as they do in relation to the setting up of the Commission of Inquiry into the death squad allegations and over the murder of George Bacchus.

There is another troubling aspect of Friday's display by the protesters. From the very inception of the PMJ and its marches valid concerns were expressed that the PMJ organisers - heavily supported by the PNCR - would lose control of the more radical elements of their supporters as time went by and the momentum towards getting results disappeared. A perfect example of this was Friday's display. The organisers wanted one thing and the protesters insisted on something else. This resulted in bands of protesters breaking away from the route prescribed in the permission granted by the police and intimidating and threatening store owners and employees. At the same time, many citizens who would normally pack the city centre on a busy Friday kept away out of fear.

With rumours burgeoning left and right and tension filling the city in the aftermath of Bacchus's murder it wouldn't have taken much for the situation to escalate into violence etc. This was evidently recognised by some battle-weary businessmen who quickly pulled out shutters from their storage places and nailed them in place or simply closed up and called it a day. It would have been anarchy of the type that the PMJ organisers would have been unable to call off particularly since in the first place they did not exercise their authority on Friday by insisting that the protesters stick to the game plan. The PMJ is now on notice that the public has taken note of the laxity of its organisers last Friday and of the boorish displays of its adherents. This must not be allowed to continue.

To the police, we say that the public accepts that the force faces many challenges particularly in light of the slaying of Bacchus. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the police to ensure that the residents of the city of Georgetown are allowed to go about their day-to-day business without any hindrance. Any protester who violates the laws governing marches and peaceful protests must be charged. Persuading them to leave and trying to placate them is not good enough. Where they invade stores and engage in threatening behaviour and prevent the conduct of business the full force of the law should be applied to them. Let the police be aware that the public will not tolerate the chaos and fear that protesters have traditionally wrought at the car parks and municipal markets during their rampages. The police must be on full alert and prepared for any eventuality.

To the government we say that they shouldn't let obstinacy, obdurateness and sloth get in the way of alleviating tensions. There is genuine anger over the killing of George Bacchus and how this might impact on getting to the bottom of the allegations that a death squad operated with the full knowledge of the Minister of Home Affairs. The government must show that it is mature enough and open-minded to construct a solution that is acceptable to all.

In the meanwhile, the city and its residents should be allowed to thrive.