There is a lot in a name and we need to get names right. Assuming that our President H.E. Mr. David Granger and the majority of us Guyanese would welcome one (or more) Commission of Inquiry (COI), which would provide our nation an understanding, as true as can be, and would take us along a path of revelation, redemption, resolution and reconciliation, then the names we start with and the terms of reference are important.
The term ‘Jagdeo era killings’, which has even been repeated by President Granger, is to be regretted, as it is misleading. That submerged subterranean killing wave has its origin in the rejection of the PPP/C win at our 1997 elections, by an opposing and extreme criminal fringe with ethno-political pretensions and links, which, when our national security forces were not having any success in apprehending them, evoked a similar irregular counter-force.
The period from 1998 to 2008 should be enquired into as a whole, and that would naturally be in chronological sequence. One cannot help, but be suspicious of the Coalition Government’s move in embarking on enquiries into spliced-out pieces, starting near the end and proceeding in an order known only to them.
Starting at the end indicates an attempt to negate and escape the logical deductions, which would be inherent in a chronological review of events over that period. The period from 1998 to 2008 was one of great testing of our peoples and our country. Rather than make it appear that Jagdeo and/or the PPP/C was the cause of those troubles, I submit, that it should be recognised that our (PPP/C) handling of that period, though criticised from many directions, saw our nation through as a whole, avoiding the intensified polarisation which was intended.
Editor, you may recall the rising tensions in our country as our 1997 (December 16) elections approached. I was President then. Our National Poet, Mr Martin Carter, had died earlier that month and our (PPP/C) Prime Minister and Presidential Candidate, Mrs. Janet Jagan, was being particularly hounded by crowds as she sought to pay her respects at the various ceremonies honouring her colleague of many decades.
On her way to Mr. Carter’s interment at ‘Seven Ponds’, she was advised to pause at the Office of the President and she sat with me. She revealed that it seemed to her that we were re-running the 1957 to 1961 period – that after the uproar at the PPP win in 1957, the people of Georgetown, overwhelmingly Afro-Guyanese and supporters of the PNC at that time, settled into a toleration of the PPP Government, but as the elections of 1961 approached with prospects of another PPP win in their consciousness, they just couldn’t take it and all hell seemed to break out!
As it happened, we, the PPP/C, did win the 1997 Elections and all hell did break loose with the ‘slow fyah mo fyah’ campaign, marches, lootings, burnings and beatings – all against a background of charges by PNC supporters that: (i) we, the PPP/C, had rigged the election; and (ii) that the electoral system was unfair as the PPP/C would always win a fair and free election.
Ravi Dev, who in his continual search for a way forward for our country and his empathy with this ‘African Insecurity Dilemma’, had once put himself in some form of association with the PNC(R), within and without Parliament, writes in a recent column that: “This Friday will mark the 20th anniversary of the January 12th, 1998 Ethnic Riots, when more than 200 Indian-Guyanese were beaten and assaulted in the streets of Georgetown by members of the African-Guyanese community, in full view of the police, yet no arrests were made. The riots followed PNC protests against the PPP’s victory in the Dec 1997 elections”.
Following the 2001 jailbreak and their projection by key political factions as ‘Freedom Fighters’, the attacks on assumed supporters of the PPP/C were taken to a higher level. When the national security forces showed remarkable inability to apprehend them, it was inevitable that a similar irregular counter-force emerged.
We have been reminded by our President about the seeming compelling evidence about one of my colleagues, sitting with me at Cabinet, obtaining and providing high-tech equipment to the phantom force. We could be reminded similarly about that conversation (illegally taped, yes) between a then Vice-Chairman of the PNC and the Commissioner of Police in which the then PNCR Vice Chairman thanked the then Commissioner of Police for a number of things, and made revealing comments about the killings at Agricola.
When that tape surfaced, my colleague, Ms. Gail Teixeira, then the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs, was assailed by our Cabinet, enquiring what the then Commission of Police was saying about that conversation. She reported that he did not refute that the voice was his, but that he was playing along the VC to learn what the PNC knew and was thinking. And today that former Commissioner of Police and that former PNCR Vice Chairman are in President Granger’s cabinet as Minister of Citizenship and Attorney- General, respectively.
Editor, most of us Guyanese have been focused, for decades, on making a steadily better living and would be hard put to recall every significant event, every turn during this period in correct sequence. Hopefully, any of us, would be able to put hands on storages of our four newspapers, which taken together should give a fair picture of events as they occurred.
We, PPP/C, stayed away from holding a Commission of Inquiry, waiting on a time when it could have been healing. And we would have expected that such a COI would have been structured similarly to the one established by our Government in consultation with the then opposition, to enquire into the 2012 disturbances in Linden, with international Commissioners and nominees of various national stakeholders.
There is a common saying in an eastern country, that the east wind is blowing and the west wind is blowing and who knows which will prevail?
All through this period the winds for division were blowing strong, but we, the PPP/C have been heartened that all along this period, too, there have been occasions when Indo-Guyanese have acknowledged assistance and protection from Afro-Guyanese and vice-versa. The sense of being Afro or Indo or Amerindian or whatever, though slowly, is gradually and steadily being encompassed in the sense of being Human and being Guyanese. Enough said.
Samuel A. A. Hinds
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