Nov 23, 2008 Editorial
Guyana’s roller-coaster confrontation with criminal violence since 2001 has been recalled in an article entitled Where Phantoms Live, published in MacLean’s of November 17, 2008.
The catchy title is no doubt intended to highlight that aspect of the confrontation which is most appealing to readers who may not be familiar with the situation in Guyana and are thus vulnerable to the wiles of those who wish to accuse the government of complicity in extra-judicial killings.
Unfortunately, the writer of the article, Tristram Korten, has himself become a victim of this thinly disguised and orchestrated campaign engineered by those who wish to use this most tragic period in Guyana’s history for their own narrow and selfish political agendas.
One of the central underlying themes of the feature article, hardly diluted by the extensive narrative, is the accusation that the government was complicit in the existence of death squads.
These squads, described as phantoms, we are told, went about killing criminal elements, and did so on behalf of the government.
This is not the first time that this accusation has been made.
It first emerged after a very questionable character, bitter over the killing of his brother and disappointed over the response of the authorities, came forward with a colourful story about a death squad and a link to a certain Government Minister.
This so-called informant was duly discredited in the commission of inquiry that the government subsequently launched to determine whether there were any links between this alleged death squad and the minister. The findings of that commission of inquiry were conclusive and definitive.
These findings are now part of the public record and it is disappointing that Mr. Korten did not delve more deeply into these findings so as to disabuse himself of any notion that there was official complicity in extra judicial killings.
The findings of that report indicated that the so-called informant, who became an overnight hero to anti-government groups in Guyana and abroad, lacked credibility.
An examination of the Minister’s telephone records showed that he made no call from his home at the time when the informant claimed that he was with the Minister and overheard him giving instructions to eliminate suspected criminals.
The Commission of Inquiry exonerated the minister of any wrong doing and debunked the theory that he had any links with extra-judicial killings.
Despite this, anti-government provocateurs have desperately clung to the lie that there exists complicity between the government and phantom squads, a lie for which has been repeated to a very gullible Mr. Tristram Korten.
It is unfortunate that an investigative reporter of such quality failed to explore other factors relating to the crime wave. For one, his failure to feature the comments of the law enforcement community raises serious questions about his professionalism.
He failed also to examine the charges which have been made in government circles about the role of opposition elements in the crime wave, the excellent and detailed assessment by Eusi Kwayana, himself a member of the besieged community of Buxton, who argued quite persuasively that persons close to the main opposition were involved with the criminals who found safe haven in his village.
He fails to highlight the coincidence of the crime wave to political unrest in the country.
While some of the suspected members of the criminal terror network were killed by persons unknown (phantoms), had Mr. Korten been more meticulous in his research, he would have uncovered that the vast majority of the criminals were killed in confrontations with the Joint Services who themselves were not immune from losses. Certainly also, there is no evidence that hundreds of persons have been killed by death squads as his article seeks to point out.
Further, some of the facts and opinions outlined in the article are questionable. One glaring example is related to the reasons given for the decline in the crime wave. It was not, as stated, the arrest of businessman Roger Khan that led to the decline of violence in Guyana.
At the time of Khan’s arrest, the crime wave had long abated. Rather, it was the dismantling of the criminal networks in Buxton that precipitated an ease in criminal violence.
In fact, since Khan’s arrest, there have been heinous acts of terror committed by the Buxton gang, three of which constituted mass murders in which more than thirty persons were slaughtered.
Fortunately, the security forces have made significant inroads into the terror network and are at the point of eliminating its remnants.
There still remain other threats from other gangs and no doubt the security forces will be unrelenting in going after them. Most Guyanese are confident that eventually the violence will totally subside.
Not likely to disappear though are those unpatriotic and wicked elements who use this violence as an opportunity for political fodder and misrepresentation of the realities of Guyana.
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