By Leonard Gildarie
The last week will go down in our history as among our darkest days yet. It came after the five nightmarish months of elections crisis.
I could not help but reflect on the words of former Chair of CARICOM, Mia Mottley, about the 2020 elections in Guyana…it was not the “finest” hours for the region. Perhaps, she will repeat the same words if the opportunity comes.
All of Guyana should be ashamed. The entire world is laughing.
The West Berbice tragedy naturally sparked angry calls for justice. There is nothing wrong with that.
Two young men were killed in the backdam. Their bodies were butchered with taunting marks that seemed designed to send a message to the world. It would naturally spark outrage.
Guyana should not be surprised that the persons blocked the roads to demand justice.
It is what followed that would have the people of Guyana vowing to never have a repeat.
The village of Cotton Tree, West Coast Berbice, is located next to the one the cousins lived.
The perturbing part is that conclusions were made right away. Because the bloodstains were in a coconut farm belonging to a villager from Cotton Tree, it had to be him.
The next few days were deadly for Guyana. Haresh Singh, 17, grandson of the farmer who owned the coconut estate, was found dead in the backdam. He appeared to have been beaten. Another man, Prettipaul Hargobin, who police allege came out and shot at the protesters, was beaten to death not far from the police and his family.
Vehicles were burnt; persons were beaten. There were recorded cases of a two paddy trucks being burnt.
There were many stories of robberies and beatings and damaged vehicles.
There was one recorded incident, which angered Guyana. A minibus driver was punched brutally while pulling to a side of a road. His assailant had his face partially covered by a t-shirt. The incident happened not far from a group of police.
On Friday, an incident occurred that should make Guyana hopeful.
At De Kinderen, West Coast Demerara, Akon Richards, 11, apparently drowned in a canal while with friends. I saw a video where Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese were in the canal searching for him. There were tears in my eyes. At the scene, it was not about Indo or Afro-Guyanese.
It will take a while before Number Five Village and Cotton Field, both neighbours, start viewing each other with less suspicion.
The protests which ended Thursday halted business and supplies to and from Berbice.
Celery, which would normally cost about $500 per pound was $1,500. Cucumber went over $100 for one.
Persons were left stranded between the roadblocks for days. Desperate families were unable to hear from their loved ones.
There were scenes of vehicles taken to the backdam and burnt.
Perhaps we will never know about all the incidents. The Opposition denied any rape occurred, as alluded to by President Irfaan Ali. We may never know. Rape is a traumatic experience. A few victims never report it.
I love the photos of several ministers and Volda Lawrence who even courageously urged her own colleagues to be responsible, who worked to bring an end to the madness.
There were other side-bars to the stories that evolved. Throughout the past few days, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), the regulatory body that has powers to sanction persons who fuel ethnic tensions, came under fire.
One of its own commissioners was accused of fomenting strife on social media. The commission was accused of not doing enough. This came days after it was announced that hundreds of millions of dollars was allocated for its operations, via the national budget. We have to do much, much better as a body.
It would be instructional to note the statement of President Irfaan Ali on Friday on the use of social media to stoke the race flames.
Ali said that he has taken note of the degree of race baiting, racial hate and racial hostility, which pervades the social media platforms.
“I want you to know that it is my determination to do everything within my power and to use all the laws at my disposal, to put an end to this behaviour, which can only result in dividing our country and our people.”
He made it clear that the use of social media for the promotion of racial hate for political purpose is wholly unacceptable to him as President and “as a person, and my government will not tolerate it”.
President Ali also disclosed that he has spoken with his Attorney General and has directed him to ensure that the full force of the law is employed and is applied to those who pursue this criminal behaviour.
He pointed out that such conduct, publications and utterances constitute grievous criminal offences under the Racial Hostilities, Cybercrime and other similar penal legislation and the state will not hesitate to resort to these provisions in the laws in appropriate circumstances.
The protests in West Berbice, while innocent at the beginning, were infiltrated by criminal elements. This is not who we are as a people.
There are stories emerging that indicate that the killings were linked to other things, including a gang quarrel and a ganja farm.
We don’t know. What we know is that a few criminals disguised as protesters committed acts of terrorism on the good people of Guyana.
They have done, perhaps, irreparable damage to our peace.
I have said it before and will say it again. They have lost sight or don’t have a clue as to who are the real enemies.
We have billions being taken out of our natural resources bank with a few pittance coming our way.
Yet we are fighting for a few thousand dollars increase to our pension or public assistance.
We need to get our priorities in order. The world is laughing.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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