The crime situation today has its genesis way back in February 1962. However, the recent dossier compiled by the joint opposition, begins only from 1993. This is highly unsatisfactory as it requires a far wider and comprehensive survey if the problems are to be dealt with effectively.
In February 1962, as part of an effort to force the then PPP Government’s resignation there was a threat to shut down the electricity corporation in Kingston.
The late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the then Premier, called me, Mackie Hamid, Alan Lee, and some others, and enquired if we knew of anything that could prevent this.
I contacted an apprentice of mine at the corporation, Satyanand Mohan Ram, who gave me the assurance that they would keep the corporation running, but that they needed extra hands to assist in keeping the cooling system clear of barnacles.
We then organised volunteers and were successful in our efforts.
This did not go down well with the United Force, which was in opposition at the time.
On the morning of February 16th (Black Friday), Peter D’Aguiar led a mob to the electricity corporation that began pelting the building and hurling abuse at the workers.
I was coming out of the building on my bicycle in order to inform Freedom House of what was happening when someone doused me with a bucket of gasoline.
Immediately, a woman, a resident of Kingston, (who was anticipating police teargas) with a bucket of water and a towel, threw the water on me to prevent me from being burnt.
The police under the command of Superintendent D. G. McCleod subsequently did try to restore order using teargas.
A woman then emerged with a child affected by the teargas in her arms. Cleveland Charran, the then secretary of the MPCA saw this.
He had a loudspeaker on his blue Volkswagen and proceeded to follow me on my way to Freedom House and I heard him announcing behind me that the police had killed two children and that violence will now start.
The child of course did not die. The fired up mob from Kingston was then led by Bonnie Limpy down Wellington Street and into Robb Street to Freedom House. Bullets began to fly around Freedom House, and a former Parliamentarian (now deceased) asked Dr. Jagan for guns in order to return fire, but Dr. Jagan retorted that these are members of the working class being misled, and that slingshots should be used instead.
Superintendent McCleod subsequently lost his life that same day outside Farm Fresh on Robb Street. Despite his death, the police did not do enough to contain the mobs at the time and this was the pattern of things to come.
Later that year on the 8th and 9th of June, as recorded in the Guiana Graphic, Guiana Chronicle, The Daily Argosy, and The Evening Post, I gave evidence to the Wynn-Parry Commission and was cross-examined by Lionel Luckhoo and J. I. Ramphal. Luckhoo represented the United Force and Ramphal, the MPCA.
Luckhoo asked me if I was a member of the Progressive Youth Organisation. I replied, “Yes.” Luckhoo then wanted to know what they teach in the PYO. I replied, “They teach me to be honest.”
He then queried, “Do they teach you to use firearms?” I answered, “No”. Luchoo further asked, “Do you have a firearm?” I answered “Yes, I have a licensed firearm”. He continued his questioning, asking: “Were you selected to go for training in Cuba?” I replied “No”.
At this cross-examination Luckhoo noted that I had the temerity to associate myself with the PYO which was branded a terrorist organisation at the time.
Today of course we cannot speak of honesty, when only one comrade, Moses Nagamootoo, upheld the truth, while 29 other PPP Central Committee members denied that the assertion was made that Khemraj Ramjattan leaked deliberations of Central Committee meetings to the press and the American Embassy.
In August 1962 at the PYO Congress at Vryheid’s Lust, there was a confrontation between PYO and United Force members led by Ann Jardim to disturb our meeting.
The police then came and arrested only PYO members and none of the UF people.
The PYO had a branch office at 45 Delph Street and that same evening, about 8 o’clock, a mob came.
I and four others, Compton Hope, Vernon Perreira Johnny Bahadur and Rampersaud were there because we were anticipating trouble.
However, we were no match for the mob, and my two children, five-year-old Savitri and three-year-old Roy, who were also there, were forced to run and hide in a dirty drain. My home, which was right next door, was badly damaged as well. Freedom House was informed of the situation and immediately all at Freedom House, including Janet Jagan, came to Delph Street to rescue the besieged.
Eventually the police came and again arrested none of the perpetrators, but they did arrest Johnny Kowlessar, a PYO member, placing a knife to his waist in the process – Janet Jagan saw this and protested loudly.
My children, especially my daughter, were subsequently afraid to be left alone and remained traumatised for many years; in fact I do not believe my eldest daughter who is now 53, has ever recovered.
In May 1963, during the funeral of Claude Christian, who was the Home Affairs Minister at the time and who died at Freedom House of a heart-attack, there was a rumours being spread by the opposition that Janet Jagan had killed him. This resulted in a mob assembling at the Brickdam Cathedral which then moved on to the cemetery and unleashed a wave of beatings on those of us attending the funeral.
I remember seeing the then Police Commissioner Potter standing up, arms outstretched in a Christ-like manner, bodily protecting Dr. Jagan from bottles and stones.
At the same time Ronald Gajraj’s cousin, Sookraj, who was standing next to me was beaten with a bicycle chain and we rushed him to the hospital in an unconscious condition.
This took place in full view of the police, who with the exception of Potter did practically nothing to stop the onslaught on us. Also beaten that day was Mike David who was an executive member of the PPP.
In 1963 also I was offered a scholarship to study Electrical Engineering in East Germany by Dr. Jagan, which I accepted. When I returned home on holiday in 1965 (the PNC had gained power in 1964), I was arrested by the police, taken to Eve Leary for one night (Old Year’s) and was tortured in an ants nest. I was released on New Year’s Day, and a week later I returned to Germany where I completed my studies.
My point is that it was from since then that the uneasy relationship between PPP supporters in particular and Indian people in general with the police was established. Seventeen years on from 1992, and 47 years from 1962, it is most unacceptable that this situation would still largely exist today.
It is the unprecedented corruption we see now, coupled with this mishandling of our security that caused me to leave the PPP in 2006, after an unbroken association of 60 years. However, my leaving the PPP for the AFC does not mean I won’t be critical when it is deserved.
We cannot leave out the past, especially one that still has such a pervasive influence on our present. It is this past that has created the space for a Roger Khan. I must admit too that at that time I was supportive of Roger Khan’s efforts because the situation evoked deeply the feeling of siege, helplessness, and distrust of our police that I had felt 40 years before.
I am sure this is how many other people felt too. In the aftermath of 2002, I was at constant loggerheads with my son, Gerhard, who having no memory of the 60s, could not relate to my emotions. He said that involving Roger Khan could never be justified in any manner, and that international help should have been sought instead. Today, the PPP’s rejection of the $1.6 billion British Security Reform Project shows that they were never interested in international help. Therefore the argument that help would not have been forthcoming in 2002 no longer holds water, and Government’s involving of Roger Khan can now be seen as a deliberate policy choice – and not out of pure desperation as we would have liked to believe.
Of course this is easier to say now, but when in a desperate situation you do think differently.
For example in 2007, when bandits had their guns pointed on my wife, Brigitte, and youngest daughter, Nadja (who are now in Germany as a result) my first thought was where is Roger Khan!
Again, it is my son that constantly reminds me that for the past 17 years the PPP has done very little to improve the security situation, and in many ways have actually made it worse.
I will readily admit it is not easy to focus on the truth of the bigger picture, but if we allow our emotions to excuse short term expedient measures, our security will continue to remain as uncertain as ever in the long term. Please don’t get me wrong in that I am blaming the PPP solely for our unsatisfactory security situation, but the rejection of the British aid was something they did completely on their own.
This is even more mindboggling when we take into account that the PPP says there is still a terrorist mastermind at work from since 2002.
Security was also a main concern of my PPP/Section K Campbellville group, which also comprised of the late Joseph O’Lall, Bal Persaud, Khemraj Ramjattan and my son, Gerhard. Ramjattan was raked over the coals in 1993 when he made recommendations toward urgent security sector reform, and then at the PPP congress in Port Mourant in 2002, we were not allowed to speak to express our concerns on security and other matters, such as the removal of Marxism/Leninism from the PPP constitution.
At that congress we barely missed the shooting that left one PYO member dead. If the PPP cannot secure its own Congress how can it secure a nation?
I am also disappointed that the PPP never compiled their own dossier, especially detailing the brutal assassination of Sash Sawh, who I had great personal respect for (the opposition dossier includes it).
What is really needed today is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that we can collectively purge ourselves of the past. This was done successfully in South Africa that had a longer, more sordid past.
While for Guyana there is the problem of so many living abroad and many others now deceased, there are still enough of us around to get somewhere.
Our consulates and embassies abroad can also be used to get information from non-resident Guyanese.
It is thoroughly heartbreaking too that because of the present PPP, Dr. Jagan’s legacy is being rent asunder and as a result, revisionists have a louder voice and a more willing audience.
The West On Trial must stand, and our hero should always be Dr. Jagan, and not Roger Khan! I am appalled too that torture is flourishing once again under the present PPP. The sacrifices I made in my struggle were not for the PPP to govern Guyana similarly to the PNC, and not for it to be done unto others as was done unto me.
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