Today at 1 PM, I have to be in Justice Brassington Reynold’s court for a date to be fixed for the continuation of the libel that Bharrat Jagdeo, in his capacity as President, brought against me and this newspaper in September 2010. The case began in July 2011 and is still being heard.
The last session was in February when Mr. Jagdeo’s lawyers appealed against a ruling of the judge. The case had to be halted pending outcome of that appeal. Since then, almost a year now, the trial has been in dormancy. From July 2011 to December 9, 2014 is three years, five months.
What is interesting is that the case may resume in the midst of a general election campaign. It started in the middle of an election campaign in 2011. President Ramotar in his General-Secretary’s report to the PPP 2013 Congress told his audience that the libel trial cost the PPP votes at the 2011 general elections. He went on to state that the opposition and the media “took full advantage of the libel case.” (See my August 6, 2013 column, “I’m glad my libel defence reduced PPP votes in 2011″).
Mr. Ramotar’s lamentations on the effects of the libel case brought into focus the reason for the libel. Since Mr. Ramotar echoed that regret, people have asked why then did Jagdeo start the litigation in the first place. Anyone who studied the nature of authoritarian systems would know that the difference between the ordinary citizen and the power-drunk leader is that the dictator does not recognize the objective situation on the ground.
The autocrat does not live in the real universe. He/she dwells in an imaginary world that he or she invented. Where the ordinary citizen sees danger, the dictator sees opportunity to excel. When the ordinary citizen can anticipate a policy failure, the tyrant sees glowing success.
Invincibility blinds the authoritarian ruler from seeing him/herself as mortal.
Mr. Jagdeo was convinced of his own invincibility because he took excessive latitude outside of the law, extensive latitude in assaulting state structures, that he was assured that he was too powerful to fail in anything he did.
Once Jagdeo crossed the authoritarian line that President Burnham was afraid to attempt, Mr. Jagdeo felt that he had absolute power and that he could use his authority to do what he wanted, to government and citizenry. The examples should not detain us here.
It is against this background that Mr. Jagdeo sued for libel. Prime Ministers and Presidents hardly sue newspapers and academics. Among thousands of Prime Ministers and Presidents the past hundred years, you can literally count on your fingers the cases of libel they brought in court.
One of the reasons for this is because Prime Ministers and Presidents do not like to testify about matters of state. They believe that is their special preserve that they should not publicly discuss in a court of law. They are also contemptuous of lawyers who try to question them. After all, who are you to raise your voice or shout at the Prime Minister or President?
Mr. Jagdeo sued because he felt that as President, nothing could stand in his way. The case would be over in days; that the court will not go against a sitting President. A critic and the newspaper he writes for will be punished. In the election campaign, he and his colleagues could boast to the electorate that Freddie Kissoon and the Kaieteur News were irresponsible, wrote nonsense and the court shut them up.
It didn’t turn out that way. If power intoxication didn’t take over the mind of Mr. Jagdeo, then he would have been fully conscious of the fact that my lawyers would have been top class minds who would inevitably question him on the contents of his twelve year reign since he was about to complete twelve years in office at the time of the start of the libel.
I am inflexibly wedded to the belief that because of his power-driven instincts Mr. Jagdeo believed that he didn’t have to testify. This is the way dictators think; they don’t have to do anything to please anyone. So a President of a country brings a libel against a leading newspaper and did not turn up to argue his case.
Mr. Jagdeo got a rude awakening. The libel trial shows that there are limits to power. Mr. Jagdeo couldn’t get his way in court simply because that is not the reality in Guyana. It is like the Guyanese proverb –”bucket ah go a well, one day he gun lef.”
Power left Mr. Jagdeo when the libel trial began. He couldn’t use power against my lawyers, me and the courts.
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