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Articles by Ravi Dev

Centre Force
Across the Divide
Rule of Law

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Death Squad
A Crisis in Government
The Peope Must Assert Themselves




Death Squads

The allegations by George Bacchus that the Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj is implicated in the operations of a “Death Squad” has brought us in Guyana to another critical juncture in the development (or death) of our State. The need for us to have a state that serves the interests of all Guyanese, to be beholden to no partisan interest, to be staffed by Guyanese who see themselves as a “Universal Class” is a point that ROAR has been pushing from our inception. It’s a point that doesn’t seem to be appreciated by the PPP and the PNC – and to be frank – apparently by most Guyanese. Guyanese have stood by and seen those who control the state use the organs of the state and extra-state organisations to pursue narrow partisan interests for so long that apparently they feel this is the way things ought to be. “It’s our turn to do what we want to do,” seems to be the dominant (and nihilistic) sentiment, in each of the two major ethnic groups.

‘60’s Death Squad

This is a fatal mistake. If we cannot wake up to the absolute necessity for a neutral state, then we’d better pack up our bags and all leave. The Guyanese state was launched at Independence after massive ethnic violence wrought by Death Squads formed by both the PNC and PPP between 1962-64. The PNC received massive covert support from elements of the Police and Volunteer Forces in that pre-independence struggle and it set a precedent for using those forces for partisan interests. We didn’t seem to have learnt our lesson. Between 1964 and 1992 it has been well documented by numerous credible sources (notably by Professor Ken Danns in his book, “Power and Domination in Guyana”) that the Security Forces more or less became arms of the PNC. There were also outside forces such as the House of Israel and the Kick-down-the-door bandits that were used by the PNC to keep opposition forces cowed. Let us not forget that Dr. Walter Rodney, by all accounts, was assassinated by a member of the
Guyana Defence Force. We still didn’t learn our lesson.

So today we have the PPP accused of creating its own Death Squad to go after individuals fingered as “criminals”. The reports contend that many of these “criminals” were tortured before being killed. ROAR’s position, expressed over a week ago, was that the Minister of Home Affairs should recuse himself while an independent Inquiry is conducted into the allegations. We have the word of the Minister that he had conversations with several individuals now charged with the murder of Bacchus’ brother. The question arises as to why would the Minister, in charge of the Security Forces of the country, resort to dealing with individuals, each of whom had brushes with the law?

Ethnic Insecurities

One explanation, in fact, harks back to the fundamental reason for the political impasse in Guyana – ethnic insecurities. The PPP is a party with deep historical memories. The role of the Disciplined Forces personnel on behalf on the PNC, before and after Independence, could not be brushed aside. The PPP did not have faith on the Disciplined forces to act professionally, from the moment they took office in 1992. However, rather than doing the right thing and work to install that professionalism at all cost into those Forces, the PPP pretended that everything was hunky dory and that there were no changes necessary. The irony was that those Forces themselves expected that changes were necessary to return their professionalism after the excesses of the PNC’s regime.

The main reason that the PPP did not act was that they did not have the courage to accept that the fundamental factor underlying Guyana’s politics was race. The Forces’ lack of professionalism was underscored by the fact that the PNC had exacerbated the British divide and rule policy by not only increasing the dominance of its African support base within the Forces but also exponentially increasing their numbers. In an article in 1993, The Anatomy of Power in Guyana, I pointed out the need to reform the Forces among other institutions. Later that same year I predicted that there would be anti-Indian violence. At the time, my old buddy Freddy criticised me for making this prediction.

On January 12th 1998, when anti-Indian violence did break out – the PPP was caught with their pants down in terms of providing protection for their supporters. Shown that the Emperor PPP had no clothes, it was not surprising that the violence against Indians intensified. During 1998, dozens of Indians, primarily businessmen, were murdered. In fact ROAR was launched on Jan 17th 1999 at a rally against crime where it issued a detailed proposal for the reform and professionalisation of the Forces. I pointed out then that Africans who were silent about the lack of effort of the Force to apprehend the murderers were “creating a Frankestein that would come back to haunt them.” The PPP lambasted ROAR, deeming us “racists” and reiterated their support for the Forces.

It is apparent now that the PPP, after refusing to professionalise the state institution that was legally responsible for dealing with security – the Police Force – turned to elements of the Black Clothes to take on those who were preying on Indians. We argued at the time that this approach would backfire. Lo and behold, we witnessed the inevitable excesses of the squad and their dismemberment by their opponents – especially after the infamous 2002 Mash jailbreak. By now the political-criminal enterprise had become enmeshed with drug elements and we witnessed two responses – both outside the official State avenue - on which everyone seemed to have given up. These were the “Phantom Squad”, apparently sponsored by businessmen who had faced the brunt of the attacks, and a “Death Squad” that had an official, if illegal, imprimature.

It is this latter group that appears to have been fingered and for which Minister Gajraj is being blamed. ROAR’s contention is that while the depredations against the innocent, especially as we witnessed last year against Indians on the East Coast, had to be dealt with, it serves none of us, even Indians, for that exigency to be handled outside the official State apparatus. This will inevitably come back to haunt all of us.

The way only forward is to conduct an official Inquiry into the allegations before us and simultaneously professionalise our Disciplined Forces as ROAR has been demanding since its formation. We propose a panel of three ex-Chancellors, who are fortunately still around, for the former task. We fortunately have a Disciplined Forces Commission already functioning, to help us with the latter.

A Crisis of Governance

(part one) 12/28/03

“Guyana’s contemporary crisis is in a profound sense, a crisis of governance.” If these words were uttered by a politician or even an ordinary citizen, one may be forgiven for dismissing it as typical anti-government hyperbole. But when we hear that it is the considered judgement of no less a staid and “outside” observer than the World Bank, we should sit up and take notice. Banks, by and large, are not noted for maligning their clients in public…after all, they’re kept in business by those same clients coming back for more “business”. So when the “banker to the world” issues such a report as the one that the government of Guyana fought tooth and nail to suppress, we should know that, at the very least, something is radically wrong in the land.

We all know what a fuss the Government and its apologists have kicked up against those who even dared whisper that Guyana may have a crisis. Men with multitudes of doctorates strained mightily to produce all sorts of textual hermeneutics and exegeses to show that such a condition just couldn’t possibly exist in Guyana! We await from these learned men, the Government’s response to the World Bank’s bold and unequivocal contention. One thing the PPP Government can’t possibly claim is that the World Bank doesn’t know about crises in general and the one in particular in Guyana. The PPP, after all, regularly reminds us that the PNC had brought Guyana to such a deep and pervasive crises in all areas of national life that it had to return to the World Bank 1989 to bail it out. Empty Rice Pots (ERP) and all that. Guyana had originally gone on to a World Bank/IMF program a decade before but had been suspended when Burnham refused to swallow their medicine. It is the World Bank and
the IMF that have kept Guyana going on a lifeline that was initiated with the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) of the PNC under Mr. Hoyte. Now if it’s one thing that the World Bank does we is that it conducts studies! If the PNC had owed US$2 billion and the PPP (as Mr. Jagdeo informed us) borrowed US$900 million, you can be sure that a good 20% or some US$600 million went to consultants to study us and produce reports! The World Bank knows of what it speaks when it comes to descriptions of Guyana.

In this “Development Policy Review” report (which can be downloaded from the World Bank focuses on “The Challenges of Governance and Growth. In this article I will deal with the governance aspects. What are some of the characteristics of “Guyana’s contemporary crisis” according the World Bank? The central problem, as ROAR has been saying, stems from the ethnic competition. We can do no better than to quote sections of the report: “Prior to and following Independence, the two largest ethnic communities jostled for economic, social and political power. Each group wanted to be “on top” and to gain advantage and maintain paramountcy. Ethnic security was deemed an imperative, seemingly even more important than economic well being.”

The report describes the Ethnic Security Dilemma, originally enunciated by ROAR back in 1988, rather succinctly: “Despite the fact that the ruling party (PPP) enjoys majority control of the legislative and executive branches, the political system has been characterizes by deadlock. This is in part due to the fact that the Afro Guyanese, who are the main supporters of the opposition PNC, are dominant in the public sector generally, and in the police and defence forces in particular. By virtue of its control of the capital city Georgetown, the Opposition also frequently paralyses the city to further its political agenda.”

The gridlock extends especially to the functioning of the Executive since, “decision making is highly centralised, with most decisions, which could be expected to be made at lower levels (individual minister or departments) being instead made by the Presidency.” With the confluence of these factors, “policy decisions are thus routinely delayed or deferred, and the Government is regarded by supporters and detractors alike as being irresolute.” As ROAR said in 2001, the PPP is the epitome of weak leadership that, in the words of the World Bank, “has frequently complained that it lacks effective political space.” The point, of course, is that the weakness of the PPP to create its own “political space” inevitably led to the collapse of law and order.”

“Perhaps nowhere is the crisis of governance more evident than in the area of security for life and property…Each group (Indians and Africans) views the crime problem through ethnic or political lenses…(it) has served to destabilize the society and the political system in general, and the economy in particular. It generates fear and anxiety, fuels migration, discourages long gestation investment needed to reinvigorate the economy, and severely compromise good governance.”

The report talks about addressing the political impasse in words also redolent of ROAR’s oft stated position: “First and foremost, (there has to be a) resolution of the political and ethnic divide.” In other words a political problem demands a political solution. However, while the report mentions the PPP’s “inclusive governance” and the PNC’s “shared governance” proposals, it observes that in the opinion of some, “the PPP fears that concessions to the PNC would be regarded by its supporters as appeasement and a sign of weakness.” As if the PPP’s actions during the past five years of crisis have been signs of bravery and sticking to principles!

The World Bank notes that there are advocates who see that, “Guyana’s chance of achieving stability and good governance will only come when all groups in the society feel that they are equitably represented in the power relations of the state…For this group, the alternative to power sharing is persistent conflict, state failure, and political collapse.” These are the very words of ROAR. The World Bank advises that “the measures (contained in the May 2003 Communique between the President and Leader of the Opposition) should be given a chance to work before any further instalments of power sharing are contemplated.” ROAR’s position has been that while the incremental steps being taken are necessary, they are nor sufficient for stability and progress.

A chasm cannot be crossed by several timid hops – we have to have the courage to take one mighty leap.


The People Must Assert Themselves

The other foot has dropped. For months we have been warning that the criminality sweeping the country was not just a matter of a few good ‘ole’ boys playing at being Robin Hood, as the PPP would have it. These are domestic terrorists who had a political point to make. To wit, that African Guyanese were being marginalised and they would rectify that sad state of affairs pronto by removing the government. The mob that invaded the Presidential compound are cut from that same cloth - the overt leaders, Philip Bynoe and Mark Benschop (who are now wanted for sedition) have been openly advocating the same solution as declared by the terrorists, for a long time now. Many persons have reported that the terrorists were amongst the marchers. Some have said that ROAR was too tough on the PPP but we were simply trying to tell them that power inevitably expands to fill a vacuum. Power is something that if you don’t use it you’ll lose it. As the man in the street says, “If you lapse, you collapse.”

This is what has happened. If treason was being advocated openly for so long why was no action taken? The government will answer that under the present laws they couldn’t do anything. But why have they not introduced the anti-terrorism bill with broad powers of arrest and detention (among other powers) that ROAR has been advocating, which would have allowed them to act more swiftly? We await an answer. In the meantime, the county is traumatised by the PNC’s protest march, which from reports reaching us, un-leashed far more widespread violence against Indians than on January 12, 1998 and culminated in a storming of the Presidential compound.

Once again we have the public apologists trotting out the standard excuses: not only Indians were beaten (as if that excuses the atrocities, and as if one raindrop makes a storm), criminals infiltrated the marches (as if the whole march was not criminal from the moment they started molesting Indians on the East Coast), and the shootings at the Presidential compound aggravated the mob (I guess the Presidential Guards were derelict in their duties when they didn’t offer tea to their ‘visitors’). The PNC has also said that it wasn’t involved even though they have accepted that they mobilized for the march and even though the Chairman of the party, Mr Robert Corbin and executive member, Mr James McAllister were present in the march.

The police were most derelict in their duties and their claims of being stretched thin by their duties during the Caricom summit do not hold water. The police led the march from the East Coast and must have known about the robberies, vandalism and assaults while the protesters were on their way to the city. After such a beginning, in light of our recent history of protest marches, what did the police think would happen in Georgetown, a garden party?

The march should have been stopped on the East Coast, plain and simple. Why has the police not even been slapped on the wrist for this lapse? What were the standing orders for the Presidential Guard at the Presidential compound if the compound were to be invaded? There are none? How did the security forces think the terrorists were going to ‘overthrow’ the government? By a letter requesting that the President should step down? Reports of a probable coup attempt were discussed over every fora in the last month. How come the protesters got inside the compound? Why is the Home Affairs Minister still at his job after this fiasco?

We have come a long way since 1998 in one detail: no one can pussyfoot around the issue and not accept that Indians were the primary targets of these protest-related attacks and it is Africans who perpetrated the attacks. Even the Stabroek News, the PPP and the PNC have had to use the dreaded, and previously taboo word, ‘Indian.’ The question now is when will they move on and ask why these vicious unprovoked attacks occur and what ought to be done to stop them. It was not a question of money. The owner of Payless said that he offered the mob that burnt down his store $250,000 (a sad index of how life in Guyana goes on is that this money was specially kept aside to offer bandits to spare employees from harm) but this was refused. His store was still torched. An Indian store had to be burnt to put fear into the Indian business class. It’s a political thing.

A Commission of Inquiry must be established to determine who was responsible for these latest attacks. Charges have to be laid. Indians cannot be beaten like dogs in the streets and not a man be charged. Today many Africans have denounced these racist attacks; this is progress. Yet even today there are those who deny that widespread attacks against Indians occurred against Indians on January 12, 1998. We must prevent this myopia from remaining. The businesses that were burnt down must be rebuilt at government expense since it was their abdication of responsibility, through the lapse of their security forces, that caused the losses. All citizens who were violated must be acknowledged and compensated. We call upon citizens who suffered losses to file charges against the police and government for dereliction of duty. Please contact ROAR and we will assist with the charges.

All Guyanese, and not just Indians must now accept that the security forces as presently constituted cannot offer them the security they know they need. We have to agitate for a balanced force but immediately Indians must take whatever means necessary to defend their families and their properties. We have to look at measures such as federalism, which will share power in this country and offer security for all. All of this can only occur if Indians reject the weak PPP and select leaders that can deal firmly but fairly with the PNC. We have always said that the PNC has shown throughout its history that it will do whatever it has to do to represent its supporters—African Guyanese.

But Africans will have to accept that the PNC’s type of representation gets them nowhere. The PPP has proven itself weak and cowardly and cannot command the respect needed to deal with the PNC. The PPP, incredibly, even today insists that it represents African Guyanese. Does it represent those who stormed the Presidential Compound? ROAR’s strong leadership and blueprint for a United Federal Guyana, a united balanced disciplined force, and a United Front Government (for one or two terms) makes sense even more today. We, the people, must assert ourselves: the fire still isn’t out.

March 25, 2004
© 2001