When the police locked you away for a long time for a crime you never committed; when you were dismissed by your employer for a theft you weren’t guilty of; when you were jailed by a dictatorial government for speaking out against abuses; when the courts were reduced to a cowboy ranch and you lost your property; then you experienced the loss of freedom.
It galvanizes you to action. You want to ensure that such things never happen again. You want to make sure another innocent victim does not have to suffer the way you did.
You then have a deep sense of how valuable freedom is and you want to create structures that would make the police accountable, the courts run properly, government behave democratically and employers adhere to industrial relations laws. Such thinking is natural in a human being after enduring the loss of liberty.
Transport that feeling to a country and you have the case of Guyana, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, Pakistan and so many others where dictatorships came about and citizens suffer the horrible consequences of authoritarian rule.
Few people would deny that we didn’t have our moments of repression, suppression, oppression and depression under the domination of President Burnham. I don’t need to read books on that period. I don’t have to listen to those who were mistreated in those times. I lived under the Burnham regime. I saw what absolute power did to a nation. Guyana, unlike the rest of the Anglo-phone West Indies, except perhaps Grenada under Eric Gairy, went through a dictatorial government. Rights were trampled upon. People were dismissed by the thousands. Some prominent citizens were murdered. Elections were rigged. A nation was stepped upon.
When freedom comes to such a country, you would not even stop to think how the new government would act, what innovative institutions it would invent to forever stop another dictatorship from emerging. You simply know that the new people would make sure “it never happens again.”
Almost a hundred percent of the rights activists that struggled with the PPP from 1968 to 1992 believed deep inside their souls that the PPP would change Guyana so more freedom, more justice, more rights would be enjoyed. In other words, Guyana should have been a phenomenal example of a free and democratic country.
Last week, an announcement in the Caribbean media went unnoticed in Guyana. It says that Barbados will be having a Freedom of Information Act.
This means that Barbados will join Belize, Jamaica, Antigua, and Trinidad as providing its people with greater access to the information to which they are entitled.
No need to mention that Chile, Brazil and Argentina have such legislation. No need to explain why; they endured dictatorship. The Caribbean country you would have expected to be the first nation to pass the Freedom of Information Act would have been Guyana.
Here comes the tragic part. There is a Freedom of Information Bill tabled in Parliament by Raphael Trotman based on the ones in places like India and the US. The PPP as a party and the PPP Government have refused to accept it.
I have nothing personal against the people I criticize in these columns like Rickey Singh, Dr. David Dabydeen, Dr. Randy Persaud and others. It is just that I fail to understand how educated men and women could speak positively of the government in this land when you look at where Guyana has been in the seventies and eighties and look how reluctant are our leaders to take us to greater heights.
John Mair in his Bill Cotton column mentioned that I refused to shake Dr. Dabydeen’s hand. It is true. It happened on the occasion of the ceremony to honour Yesu Persaud for his award of an honorary doctorate from Warwick University.
I did the same when we had unelected dictatorship in Guyana under the PNC. I was disappointed that such a learned man could support such an ordinary, jejune regime in Georgetown that has shown no interest in greater freedoms.
Maybe it was a mistake. And I did shake his hand later in the evening. But the chagrin remains in me and in countless other Guyanese.
We suffered terribly since 1968 and look where we are today – a government that refuses to acknowledge that the Freedom of Information Act is an enhancement of democracy; a government that refuses to grant radio licenses. How could any citizen that believes in freedom support the PPP Government?
The most irritating thing I have read for the year, 2008, is Mrs. Jagan’s support for Barack Obama. She sees him as a man that would bring more freedom for the American people. What about Bharrat Jagdeo in Guyana?
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