If the protests launched by the opposition parties following the 1997 general elections were infiltrated by the ruling party’s agent provocateurs, then how does one explain that during the height of slow fyaah, mo fyaah, certain reporters were relieved of their equipment by thugs who disappeared into the crowd at Congress Place, the headquarters of the party that launched the campaign?
Was it a case of infiltration also that caused an individual to be kidnapped and taken to a certain location where he was interrogated? What about the fires that destroyed large sections of the business community, including the headquarters of GAWU and the properties belonging to the People’s Progressive Party? Were these also the work of infiltrators wishing to give the PNCR a bad name?
The logic of street protests by the PNC has historically been about making the PPP government look ridiculous. This is what was done in the sixties when the very class which joined the PNC in opposing the PPP suffered as a result of the PNC trying to make the supporters of the PPP look bad.
The street protestors in those days associated certain businesses with the PPP and therefore set out to make the government look ridiculous by setting upon this class and their properties. The goal was to make the government look ridiculous, never mind the destruction that was caused and the innocent victims involved.
Among the innocent victims whose properties were leveled were some of the very persons who were opposed to Cheddi. But that was not then deemed infiltration. It was deemed collateral damage. Martin Carter, a man whom is often referred to as Guyana’s national poet, referred to one day of infamy in Georgetown as the day when a city of clerks became a city of men. These were the words of a man who was bitter with Cheddi, and who sought to portray the cowardly actions in the streets as heroic.
There is nothing heroic or even redeeming about terror used to make people suffer simply because they are seen as being associated because of their physical characteristics with the government.
It was not infiltrators that led to the undressing of women in our streets, the smashing of windscreens at certain car parks and the robbing and molesting of citizens trying to get home to escape the infamy of the mo fyaah, slow fyaah campaign. It was not infiltration. The logic was to place pressure on the government to cause it to fall, and the means to bring about this was to make the government look ridiculous by assaulting innocent citizens and burning down businesses.
At one stage things got so out of hand that a leading executive of a major corporation was forced to come out and condemn what was taking place in the streets. On that very day, that executive was joined by the owner of a television station which was not at the time perceived to be sympathetic to the ruling party, in also condemning the lawlessness that was taking place. And those individuals knew to where they were directing their criticisms; they were not directing it to agent provocateurs of the ruling party.
The right to protest is a democratic right but this does not translate to the right to inflict collateral damage or for that matter any damage at all. Thousands of persons in the streets protesting peacefully send a stronger message than a few hundred who seek to make the authorities look ridiculous.
The fact is that the protests of slow fyaah, mo fyaah have discredited the main opposition. Since then street protests are always viewed with trepidation for fear that they will descend into the madness of the 1997-1999 period.
But the street protests did more than discredit the main opposition. It also undermined that party because of the rise of extremists who believed that they had the answers but who were showmen putting on a display while having their running shoes nearby. A lot of the so-called revolutionaries who preached revolt and violent dissent against the PPP administration following the 1997 elections disappeared after the manners came down. They fled.
The future of street protests no longer rests with the leadership of the political opposition. It rests with the people. And right now the people are interested in things other than taking to the streets to protest against the government. The people are not ready to go back to the days of making the government look ridiculous. People have learnt the lessons of politics in Guyana. They are moving on with their lives and trying to catch the next flight out.
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