Why did Hoyte Lie?

[PRELUDE: We post this letter here because in the aftermath of the 2001 elections, the PNC forced the PPP to bargain at the table (i.e., "Dialogue"). The PNC's leader, Mr. Hoyte wrote this letter in the press in May in response to an editorial by Stabroek News. Much of what he said may be argued to and fro, but what cannot be disputed is a few claims made by Mr. Hoyte, which were not true. One is that water was being diverfted from Buxton to predominantly Indian villages like Annandale and Lusignan. This was refuted both by the Guyana Water Authority and the PPP. That Mr. Hoyte would say such a crass thing was, we believe, an unusual position for this ex-president. Was he merely misinformed by his subordinates or did he knowingly lie to the public? See response by PPP minister, Dale Bisnauth also.]


Resentment in East Coast villages springs from justifiable causes

Dear Editor,

Your editorial (Sunday Stabroek May 6, 2001) captioned, 'The Buxton Violence', requires a response. It is tendentious, simplistic and dangerously naive. I had hoped that someone else would have challenged it long ago.

In the first place, the writer seeks to isolate the incident of Wednesday May 2, 2001 from the wider ongoing protests which erupted at Buxton since Thursday March 22, 2001. Obviously, this is untenable. Second, to conclude that the incident was deliberately staged (a) to '(sabotage) the talks between President Jagdeo and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Desmond Hoyte', (b) to drive out the government by force (the 'grab for power' thesis) and (c) to promote ethnic confrontation, is nonsensical and utterly wide of the mark.

It is nothing short of tragic that your organ should peddle such facile notions about the nature of the manifestations we are witnessing. The problems are too serious to be dismissed with such superficial analysis. Unless we have the good sense to acknowledge their existence, the patience to uncover their root causes, and the courage to address them in an honest and forthright manner, we will talk in vain about lowering tensions and creating stability in our country.

Admittedly, there have been some wholly undesirable side-effects of the protests. A few miscreants have used them, opportunistically, to pursue their own criminal and other anti-social agenda; but to conceive of the protests, in their entirety, as being organised by 'criminal elements' or 'racists' is to indulge in willful obscurantism. Unfortunately, some media have (conspiratorially?) tended to suppress the fact that the protests were not confined to Buxton but were widespread along the Coast. After the initial disturbances in that village, there was a domino effect that involved communities as far west as Plaisance and as far east as Belladrum. The same outburst of anger seen at Buxton appeared sporadically and in varying forms of intensity in these communities. The anger was pervasive; it still persists and shows no sign of abatement. Why this is so should be a matter of national concern and serious thought.

If the writer of the editorial would take the trouble to visit the villages and talk with the residents, he/she would be better able to understand what their real concerns are and the reasons for their deep-seated anger.

Within recent years, they have witnessed with alarm and anguish the progressive decay of their village infrastructure, their economic circumstances and their quality of life. In these circumstances, as they became increasingly resentful of their marginalised state, breaking point was bound to come sooner or later. Regrettably, the PPP regime cynically denies that these villages are marginalised and that there is justifiable cause for their frustration and feelings of injustice. The regime has therefore paid little or no attention to their grievances and complaints. Ineluctably, the anger has mounted; and the regime and its apologists seemed, albeit transiently, to have found comfort in the vain hope that the resulting protests could be extinguished by police (and military) force. There has even been inane prattle about "pacifying" Buxton. The reasons why the protests extended well beyond Buxton are simple: their root causes are endemic in all of the marginalised communities. They cannot be wished away by pious talk or brute force.
What are the economic and social realities in these villages?

These villages are traditionally farming communities whose backlands in the past yielded large volumes of vegetables, fruits and other agricultural produce. This was their economic base. Today, whether by accident or design (the villagers infer the latter), the regime has successfully struck at and destroyed their economic base. Their drainage and irrigation systems have been neglected and allowed to go to wrack and ruin. Consequently, in no instance are they able to farm their backlands in any reasonable way and a principal source of their family income has vanished.

But it is not only drainage and irrigation systems that have been neglected; little or no attention has been paid to all basic infrastructure such as roads, potable water supply, electricity, education and health and recreational facilities.

At Buxton, the children are herded into a building that used to be a market where fish, vegetables and other commodities were sold; the nursery section is in the part where fish was vended. The entire building is low, dark and filthy and completely unfit for human habitation. How the Ministry of Education and the Public Health authorities could permit a school to be housed in such conditions passes all understanding.

The delivery of basic health services, too, is also a bitter cause of complaint. The Health Centre at Buxton opens on week days from 8.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., a period that is far too short to cope with the demand for the services, given the susceptibility of the residents, particularly children, to maladies deriving from public health inadequacies and economic woes. Their exasperation can be readily understood when it is observed that in neighbouring villages, such as Enterprise and Enmore, there are resident Medexes and services are accessible to these communities on a 24 hours basis.

Moreover, the regime shows a remarkable solicitude for the welfare of favoured neighbouring communities at the expense of these marginalised communities. For example, potable water supply at Buxton is insufficient to meet the needs of the village but, despite this fact, the regime diverts water from Buxton to supplement the supply at Annandale!

To compound these problems, there is an unacceptably high incidence of unemployment among young people. With no backlands to farm and in the absence of recreational and cultural facilities, they float about the village and become easy targets for anti-social influences. In short, these marginalised villages suffer from grossly inadequate and often non-existent basic infrastructure. The nub of the problem, then is this: they see favoured neighbouring villages enjoying the benefits of basic infrastructure - water, electricity, schools, community health and recreational facilities, telephone services, roads, drainage and irrigation - while they are left out in the cold to suffer. Who can blame them if they attribute their condition to a studied, deliberate policy of the regime?

Two other causes of persistent tension in these depressed communities need to be noted.

The first stems from continual Police provocation and harassment. The Police have developed a practice of swooping down on these villages, arresting young men by the droves and charging them with loitering, and often with some 'bonus' offences, such as resisting arrest or assaulting a Police Officer, thrown in for good measure. Thus, these young people are unjustifiably criminalized and their prospects blighted.
The other derives from the perception of being threatened by neighbouring villages. The village of Enmore offers a prime case study of such an armed community. Villagers embody themselves into a so-called community policing group; dress in a black uniform in imitation of the notorious Target Squad of the regular Police Force; describe themselves as 'vigilantes'; and are perceived to be a constant source of menace.

I referred to this problem in a letter dated 7th March, 1996, when I wrote as follows:
"... It is a disturbing fact that the Ministry of Home Affairs records show that the PPP regime, during the past three years, has issued five times the number of firearms licences as issued during 1990-1992 under the previous PNC Administration . . ."

The situation has got even worse. In a written answer to a question in the National Assembly, the Minister of Home Affairs admitted that between the date of PPP accession to governmental office to December 1998, some 30,000 firearm licences have been issued - an amazing 5,000 licences per year! Recently, a Senior Police Officer expressed a very deep concern to me. According to him, he estimated that in the months prior to the March 19, 2001 elections, firearm licences were being issued at a rate of 1,000 per month!

Yet, the writer of the aforementioned editorial feigns surprise that some residents of the marginalised villages appear to be armed!

The prevailing manifestations of resentment, frustration and deep anger spring from justifiable causes that cannot be dismissed as being specious or irrelevant. They have to be honestly confronted and courageously addressed. We have to grapple with them in good faith. This is the only way in which conditions that could reasonably be described as being 'normal' would emerge. There is no other way.
The quicker we begin the process, the better it will be for the security, development and progress of our country. 

Yours faithfully,
H. D. Hoyte

Charges of marginalisation are without substance

(The following is a response by Dr. Dale Bisnauth, Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security to a letter headed: `Resentment in East Coast villages springs from justifiable causes' by Mr. Desmond Hoyte published in the Stabroek News of May 27, 2001.)

THE examples of "marginalisation" provided by Mr. Hoyte (SN: 27/5/01) give me the opportunity to show that these claims that have consistently been utilised by the PNC/R to abuse the democratic process in this country are without substance.

Indeed, over the years, the PNC/R has manufactured this and similar positions to help secure its traditional support. What differentiates the PPP/C from others is its capacity to provide responsible leadership.

In our delicate situation leadership with concepts of "slow fire; more fire" is destructive. The people of Guyana recognise that the PPP/C has moved our country forward: every village has benefited.

Given the decrepit state of the country we inherited; there is still much more to be done. However, the rebuilding process cannot take place in an environment where acts of violence, destruction, disruption, robbery and general disrespect for law and order are encouraged.

The PPP/C has been and will continue to be a responsible political party, rooted in the working class but committed to all our people. Our history and record of achievements require that we vigorously defend ourselves against Mr. Hoyte's insidious campaign to portray the Government as racist and insensitive to the needs of ordinary working people.

Mr. Hoyte's attempt to blame the PPP/C for the economic destruction of the village backlands is his most outlandish. By the time Mr. Hoyte came to office the economic viability of the backland of most of these villages was history.

A thriving pig-rearing industry died under his tenure. However, during the past several years, these communities have again become major suppliers of cash crops and ground provisions. The claim that "drainage and irrigation systems have been neglected and allowed to go to wrack and ruin" is an accurate description of what existed before 1992.

Today, the situation has improved significantly that farmers have returned to lands that had been abandoned for decades and others have expanded their farming activities. A mobile pump, established in January 2000, now drains the main drainage system in Buxton and its adjoining villages.

The maintenance of secondary drainage falls under the Regional and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, which have been in PNC control over the past eight years. Central government has been most responsive to requests from these councils.

For example, for the single year March 2000 to March 2001, $9M helped the Buxton/Foulis NDC to grade and shape 6,594 rods of access dams in the Buxton/Friendship farmlands; weed, clean and excavate about 25,900 rods of drains in Buxton, Friendship, Melanie, Bachelor's Adventure, Enterprise and Paradise; and to rehabilitate kokers at Company and Pond dams.

Mr. Hoyte also claimed that the children of Buxton were "being herded in a building that used to be a market where fish, vegetables, and other commodities were sold; the nursery section is in the part where fish was vended." What he omitted to mention was the fact that the use of the market at Buxton was a temporary measure employed by the Ministry of Education to facilitate the construction of a new and modern primary school for children of the Buxton community.

The choice of the market was made in consultation with parents; it was not an imposition on the community. Recourse by the Ministry of Education to buildings not designed for education purposes is common and is not limited to any particular communities. For example, at Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast children were decanted at five locations including a discarded Industrial Arts Building.

A similar situation obtained at Taymouth Manor, Essequibo where four bottom-houses were used. The Overwinning Market Centre was utilised to facilitate the construction of the new Overwinning Primary School. The ministry's ongoing capital programme will of necessity result in less than ideal temporary dislocations.

Under the PNC, health centres for the East Coast of Demerara were only established in communities from which it drew significant support: Plaisance, Beterverwagting, Buxton, Melanie, Nabacalis, Victoria, Ann's Grove, Mahaica, etc. That is now being corrected to provide equitable access to health care for residents.

In addition to establishing other facilities, a number of health centres, including the one at Buxton, was rehabilitated and now has adequate medical supplies. Regarding the opening hours for the clinic, the Region Four Democratic Council, which the PNC controls, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of that clinic.

For the record, Enmore and Enterprise do not have government health centres. These are Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) dispensaries, which are accessible only to GUYSUCO employees.

The Guyana Water Authority (GUYWA) has already corrected the false impression that water is being diverted from Buxton to other communities. I must point out that the PPP/C Government has spent $47M to install and repair pipelines as well as to refurbish the pumps at Buxton and Friendship. The residents of Buxton can testify to better water supply.

Mr. Hoyte's constant harping on "police provocation and harassment" is intended to demoralise the hardworking law enforcement ranks. Instead, he should have commended them for their professionalism in face of provocation and other distractions. The government does not and will not condone police excesses.

However, Mr. Hoyte must appreciate that the Police Force must be allowed to use such force as may be necessary for it to efficiently and effective discharge its responsibility. With reference to the activities of the security forces in Buxton and other areas during the post-election unrest, it is regrettable that Mr. Hoyte did not provide facts.

The police only act on information or after the prevalence of criminal activities in the specified areas. This has been so from time immemorial. Mr. Hoyte, as a former Minister of Home Affairs, knows this.

He also knows of the hundreds of unwarranted politically motivated raids against PPP and other opposition supporters and leaders.

On the issue of distribution of firearm licences, there are laid down criteria, which are followed by the Guyana Police Force before a recommendation is made. The claim that 1,000 licences are distributed a month is preposterous and a figment of Mr. Hoyte's imagination.

The Government supports the formation of Policing Groups in all communities and probably Mr. Hoyte may want to encourage other communities to organise such groups. A policing group may help to address the concerns of the residents of Buxton about the presence of drug camps aback their village.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Hoyte did not care to say what he did for the communities, he now so violently defends, during his Presidency. Let me remind him: roadways in the villages were neglected; no major drainage and irrigation work was done to help the farmers of the backlands; economic activities slowed to a stop; extension services to farmers ceased; the rate of poverty spiraled to 85% across the nation; thousands of public servants, many from those communities, were laid off; local democracy was hijacked with the last local government elections being held in 1970; the overall socio-economic decline took its toll on every community.

The political stance of the PNC/R has led to violence against innocent law-abiding citizens and to blatant breaches of the law. Sadly, Mr. Hoyte seems unrepentant about the scores of Guyanese, mainly persons of Indian descent and PPP supporters of African descent, who were beaten, robbed and their properties destroyed: not to mention his party's callous disruption of the nation's social and economic life. All Guyanese are and will continue to pay the price of this disruption.

Further, the report of the Joint Committee on depressed communities should be instructive.







May 2001
© 2001