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by Raphael Trotman
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Saving Private Ryan Thompson

In the award-winning movie Saving Private Ryan, the viewer is taken through the gory battle-scenes of World War I being fought from trench to trench in Europe, as every effort is made to find and save the life of an American GI. Thankfully, the end finds the private safe in the arms of his family but not before every horror of war threatens him and his compatriots.

On Saturday 23rd November, 2002, Private Ryan Thompson of the Guyana Defence Force was shot in the head by a bullet fired from someone's gun. To date no one knows what happened and why it happened, except to say that a man believed to be a foreigner and clad in military fatigues was also discovered dead from multiple gun-shot wounds. Rumours of several others who met a similar fate are rife. These rumours will no doubt continue because of the reluctance of the authorities to supply honest answers. It was most disappointing from a national security point of view to hear recent government statements to the effect that there is a possible "phantom force" operating and killing people. No Government should make a public announcement that there are forces at work over, and about whom, there is no intelligence or control. It is an open admission of abdication, failure and inability to manage. The one positive outcome of this sordid affair was contained in the good news we received that our Private Ryan is receiving overseas medical treatment as a result of the good relations existing between the militaries of Brazil and Guyana. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

Private Ryan Thompson has to be considered as being representative of every non- commissioned and commissioned rank of the GDF and our disciplined services, and this is why the fact that he was shot and injured has to be regarded as a very serious matter. A young man who volunteers to serve in the army, who undergoes training in skill-at-arms and jungle warfare etc. finds himself shot in a village-setting on the East Coast of Demerara. He is caught in the crossfire as phantoms wage battle against each other. It is time to stop, take stock, and reassess the role and involvement of the military in crime-fighting. The average soldier is definitely not prepared for this new and evolving role, and in a sense, it is not what he or she signs on for. Fighting to protect and preserve territorial integrity, drug interdiction on the high seas and civil defense responses, are what our military should be geared to; not fighting cousins and countrymen in cane fields, streets and dams.

Our Private Ryan and all of his colleagues have to be preserved and saved from the ravages of backdam conflict, which is emerging in Guyana. Maybe it is time to develop a corps within the GDF to deal especially with these matters, as for example Trinidad and Tobago has done. Right now a significant portion of the army's resources is taken up in various operations to curb crime. As reported in the press, since February of this year the GDF has launched operations: Plaster of Paris, Safe Guard, Tourniquet and Saline Solution, all of which have had measured results. The stark reality is that the function being carried out by our men and women in green is really that of the civilian authority - The Guyana Police Force. We Guyanese are not cowards who faint and falter easily, we expect soldiers to die by the bullet but it must be done for country and not for village.

It is imperative that a comprehensive programme be worked out to address the plight of all depressed communities, vis-à-vis crime fighting, so that our limited military resources can be optimally deployed. In fact, there are recent reports of calls being made by some confused and contemptuous persons abroad for the re-possessing of the New River Triangle as our defence forces appear to be consumed with internal crime fighting! I am by no means suggesting that the job of formulating this comprehensive programme is that of the Government alone and I reiterate that the management of the affairs of Guyana must be on a bilateral or multilateral basis where the various centres of gravity have an input. Even Trinidad and Tobago, in obvious recognition of this fact, has established a Joint Select Committee of Parliament to review a raft of legislation meant to bring reform and modernization to the Police Force. This is certainly an idea that can be considered here as we slowly but surely return to normalcy.

As things stand, the scenario taking shape is one where the crime problem is obviously going to continue which in turn means a continuing involvement of the military as the police force is still incapable of encircling and suppressing the problem. Secondly, the emergence of a third force, armed and dangerous, is giving credence to the belief that we are heading into a state of anarchy. In such an atmosphere, death and destruction will become commonplace as fighting-gangs attempt to control geographic locations and warlordism appears to be the new order. Thirdly, there is an obvious inability, and/or refusal, and/or reluctance of the government to address the socio-economic and etiological causes of crime in Guyana. The recently concluded public consultations on crime, even if well intended, cannot replace the need for an expert review of criminality in Guyana with some projections as to where it is heading and its likely effects.

At year's end there is always an irresistible urge to make assessments of past events and to make predictions for the new year which are always really a reflection of one's deep desires for the future, and I will give in to the urge by mentioning a few matters I would like to see addressed. Before giving an outline of my own sanguine wishes, I must say something of my disappointments of 2002.

Major disappointments of 2002

1. The breakdown of trust and credibility in the political dialogue between the President and Leader of the Opposition, which led to its eventual collapse.

2. The imminent closure of the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic that has been in operation for nearly a decade. The Government and donor agencies must have some funds available to keep this valuable service going. There has simply been too much investment in keeping it running to turn our backs on it now. Much mention need not be made of countless numbers who have benefited and are poised to benefit from its services.

3. The rising electricity rates at a time when people are stretched beyond all physical limits and, simply put, can pay no more.

4. That fact that almost 90% of all murders and serious crimes remains unsolved and the numbers are skyrocketing.

5. The refusal of the relevant authority to grant permission for the Universal Airlines flight to give 100 special children the treat of their lives. The look of disappointment on the faces of those children was enough to tell a tale. What is amazing is that the Ministry of Education was pivotal in the identifying of the children when at the same time another government department says no way. Does the right hand not know what the left is doing? Keep at it Universal as the surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed.

The year 2002 can only be described as an annus horribilis. This has been the worst year in recent memory, and we should pray that we have a better future. My hopes and wishes for 2003 are many and all add up to a desire for us all to see the good life, but, in summary, I expect:

1. That the work of the Social Partners and the Commonwealth Secretariat would bear fruit and hopefully the process of political dialogue would recommence leading to a wholesome discussion on long-term problem-solving by critically examining the winner-take-all form of governance which seems to be the mother of all our problems.

2. That a nationally acceptable poverty-reduction strategy could be found and implemented.

3. That the police force will be able to rid itself of the image of being a demoralized and incapable institution and begin to restore confidence in itself by not only capturing offenders, but also by renewing its community ties.

4. That the legal and penal systems will aid the police force in its hard job in restoring normalcy and the rule of law in Guyana.

5. That there will be a break-through in dialogue on the joint exploration of oil in the Guiana Basin.

6. That public servants, teachers, and all other categories of employees could earn a livable wage.

7. That good sense prevails on all sides thus preventing a war in the Middle East.

In closing, I wish to commend the executive of the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club and those involved in the investigation into the accident in November for taking timely action and providing answers to the public promptly. These acts have restored the confidence of many that there are people who are capable of holding enquiries and giving answers.

Merry Christmas and a happy and blessed 2003 to all.

Editor's Note: Taken from Stabroek News;


© 2001