Ghost in the Machine
Past Editorial

Humans are, by nature, corruptible. And no more is this best dramatized these days than in Guyana, where many citizens fumble over the choice of right over wrong, justice over injustice—especially when the right to security comes under threat. Security can mean many things in many places, but in Guyana, it’s meaning at best, is translated in political terms. That is, to have security is to have power—political power.

It has often been said and, arguably, believed, that poor people have more sincerely in their bones than those with wealth. But it needs to be said also, that sincerely is often of little use to one that is not wealthy. The poor in Guyana have no forum from which they can adequately be the recipients of right over wrong or justice instead of injustice. And this makes the Republic dysfunctional at best and anarchic at worse. The advent of the “phantom” group exemplifies this anarchy which has been, to paraphrase William Butler Yates, “let loose” upon Guyana.

Of course, this is not the first time that Guyana has been witness to “death squads.” But unlike the goon units that flourished under the reign of the PNC, the “phantom” groups have originated, arguably, in the pockets of the Indian business class, whose security had become severely threatened. And, with the alleged support of a government official, the “phantom” assumed the role of the police in confronting this threat, it being criminal. It is this involvement or alleged involvement by a minister of a majority-elected government, which translated the “security” issue into political terms. It does not seek to highlight but protect the hold of the government on its power; when Black militants or so-called “freedom fighters” and half a dozen other well-armed Black men descended on Rose Hall town in search of the congress held by the ruling PPP party, this band of wanted men gave rise to the need for the order of mercenaries. Or so the PPP party felt, having escaped by the wits of two unknown fishermen.

Ever since, this “phantom” had become the primary “order” in society, eliminating criminals bent of destabilizing the country, and whose work preceding the “phantoms” suited the complains of the main opposition, PNC. The PNC had made a public declaration that its “business” was to “depose” the government and to make Guyana “ungovernable.” The resurgence of resistance by Indian business against organized crime began on October 28, 2002, with the escape of Nandalall, and the subsequent killing of at least 8 criminals. And the presence of a certain laptop capable of tracing phone calls, and on which supposedly was a list of names eyed for hit-killings, brought a new and unprecedented dimension of fear that overlapped the crime haven of Buxton into the halls of Congress Place. Politics in Guyana had, with the “phantom,” been altered.

Having been the recipient of decades of criminal activities emitting from the Black community, Indians naturally greeted the phantom reprisals with relief. It is this historical labor of being crime victims that makes it difficult and almost unreasonable to expect Indians to not applaud. For them, mercenary action against the criminals is justified not because mercenaries are illegal, but because the criminals gave birth to the mercenaries. But this does not explain or justify in-fighting between mercenaries, as is happening and which has spun outwards into the very community the mercenaries are supposed to protect, even if indirectly. And, one crime cannot outmatch another without violating the canon of right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is what happened when a state official got involved. It made the interest of entrepreneurs superior to the business of the constitution and moreover, it forced the credibility of the national police into irrelevancy.

The poor civilian, with his sincerity that is of little or no value, will not survive if the national police is without value—because this is his only means of combating anarchy in his villages and streets. Though he has had a few moments of relief—his picture has been removed from the obituary front-pages of the newspaper, he knows in his bones that the “phantom” is wrong simply because he cannot afford it, financially or realistically. He must stop his applause even if thinks he is honoring his fallen comrades, victims of crime, for there is only one rule under which he wants his children to come of age under—that is, the rule of right over wrong and justice over injustice, especially when their security comes under threat. And this cannot be if his government does not insist on having a well equipped and disciple national police. Anything else however applaudable, is only a ghost in the state machine.


January 20, 2004
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