Travis Chase of HGPTV Nightly News shared the same dinner table with me at a function sponsored by the families and relatives of the Lindo Creek massacre victims to honour their names. Chase, with a huge smile on his face, said ‘Freddie, you must have get plenty libels” to which I replied, “You don’t want to know.”
When it comes to political activists getting libel writs, I have an unenviable record. I don’t think any activist in the history of this country has been more sued for libel than I have. In fact that is only one side of my libel coin. The other side is that no other activist in the history of Guyana has been more libeled by others in the media.
Do you know that in the history of newspaper publications in Guyana, no other citizen has had more letters written on them than me. For five consecutive years under the presidencies of Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar, there was a yearly output of more than 150 letters. In one year, I counted over 220. When the Guyana Times was born, I became a target for their letter-writers too.
Ninety percent of those correspondences in the Chronicle, under an editor named Mark Ramotar (is he related to the infamous Guyanese De Donald?) scandalized, derogated, vilified and libeled me. I never sued. I never thought of a writ because of one fundamental reason. You have to live with the viciousness of people when you decide to fight dictatorship and change the world for the better. You do what urges you to fight and forget about these detractors.
In the fifteen years that Jagdeo and Ramotar dominated my country, I would have won hundreds of millions of dollars from the writers and the newspapers on what the Chronicle and Guyana Times carried on me. As for the libels, I gave Travis Chase some names. The list includes two Vice Chancellors of UG, Professor Dennis Craig and Harold Lutchman; Christopher Ram; Tacuma Ogunseye; Dr. Hughley Hanoman, Dr. Walter Ramsahoye, Ralph Ramkarran, Larry London of the PNC, President Jagdeo, Juan Edghill.
I avoided libels by editor’s advice to apologize on more than fifty occasions
In the context of the kind of political culture Guyana has, I think libel is used to shut up social activists, commentators, and academics. Among social activists, I don’t believe we should resort to the use of the archaic libel laws of Guyana. I remember when Tacuma Ogunseye sued me over my analysis of the violence in Buxton, and took Mortimer Coddett as his lawyer, Morty who was a friend said to me grinning wildly; “Freddie wuh going on here, y’all suppose to be on the same side, how it come to this?” My reply, “ask Ogunseye, I didn’t sue anybody.” Morty never went through with the case.
It is in this context, I would appeal to Christopher Ram not to sue one of the WPA’s major figures, Desmond Trotman. Ram has played a huge part in the struggle for rights and justice under the dictatorship of the PPP. This columnist here has been a recipient of the energies of Ram’s activism. I recall that when Khurshid Sattaur sent me eight tax forms and demanded that I submit property tax submissions, it was Chris that did all the paper work pro bono. I use this opportunity to thank him once again.
On the other hand, Desmond Trotman has made a substantial contribution to working class politics. He is no middle class man. He is no petty bourgeois. He has been a consistent activist on the side of the working class. Together in the WPA and the People’s Parliament (grassroots organization formed on High Street opposite Parliament building in 2012 to protest the gunning down of three unarmed protestors in Linden) both men have participated in raising the level of consciousness of the Guyanese people in the era of the hegemony of Jagdeo/Ramotar.
Though I believe the struggle for justice and liberty in the era of Jagdeo and Ramotar has not borne fruit, in that what we expected from the post-2015 dispensation has gone badly wrong, and has caused some formidable falling out among those who were bonded in struggle, I think there are unique circumstances that exist between Ram and Trotman to avoid a court case.
Let us leave the terror of libel to power-driven leaders and corporate heads who are afraid of exposure. People who fight for the rights of the downtrodden should not make use of such laws. I sincerely hope that the mutual friends of both Ram and Trotman make a timely intervention. This is my little effort here.
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