Oct 22, 2020 Letters
Converting the Graham Primary School into a shelter for the squatters of Success, East Coast Demerara not only sends a wrong message that the government is treating citizens as refugees, it is unacceptable. The shelter is not as a result of a natural but man-made disaster, created by the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) with full support of the Government. With successive governments having failed the citizens by not establishing a proper national housing plan, that have left persons to fend for themselves by occupying unoccupied state lands, it is an indictment.
Outside of stripping persons of their dignity, which they are trying to preserve by building homes in Success, that hall is a further erosion of privacy and can morph into a super spreader of the coronavirus (COVID-19). When a national newspaper finds a picture, arising out of the squatting situation, to emblazon on its front page as progress that ordinarily would be used by organisations to promote a humanitarian crisis, it suggests the society is losing its moral compass, its sense of decency and respect for its fellowman. I have observed, after the government’s failure to honour its duty to the people, they are now saying that only “genuine” squatters would be allowed to reside at the school. Persons will now have to prove their bona fides and given the way the government deals with humanitarian issues this is likely to be another exercise in erosion.
Let me repeat, I do not support squatting for public health reasons and given it’s an illegal act, but neither can be rectified utilising the present approaches. The question is being posed again: How much difference would Success make to the proposed sugar manufacturing which can only survive anyhow with government subsidies?
I happen to know, at least via social media interactions, the present Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Sasenarine Singh. I ask here today, how can he live with his conscience inflicting this unconscionable act on his fellow citizens? I ask, what lesson is he giving his children and others by participating in an exercise not of national emergency but one of political expediency?
This is not the party of Cheddie Jagan. What is happening here does not represent his values. It represents a government under the leadership of depraved minds that lack the sensitivity and compassion to recognise and differentiate the fundamentals of good human values, of right and wrong, of good and bad. Jagan crusaded the world for a New Global Human Order, and gained international recognition in the pursuit of. Today his party stands in stark contrast to a value he espoused and considered a foremost factor in development, i.e. putting people first and center.
Some look at the pictures of the squatters and where they see the dominance of a particular ethnic group they rejoice. Some call them lazy and blame their present situation on the previous government. They may not be privy as I am, having visited the area, observed and interacted with people of diverse ethnicities. Some have been living on the land for more than eight years. Guyanese are being affected and we all should be concerned. It is unfortunate some would not acknowledge this unless they know who these people are and how long they have been squatting. In short, do they look like me, support my party or were squatting during the period when the party I support was in government? The facts are- they look like all of us and have been squatting since those cane fields were abandoned by GuySuCo, and that abandonment did not start in 2015.
These are fellow citizens who are being flooded out of the abandoned cane fields in similar manner as snakes, rats, raccoons, crocodiles etc. are flooded to prepare the lands for cultivation. Something is wrong with this picture and those who have sanctioned and are participating in this cruel and inhumane act. Those engaging in this barbarity, lest it be forgotten or some think they were born with a gold spoon in their mouth or have arrived; sugar runs in the veins of most if not all of us. Our forebears were brutalised to ensure its financial returns but they fought against the cruelty, the inhumanity. The modern day architects forget this history as they sit on their perch and inflict on their fellow citizens what our forebears collectively fought against.
We could and must do better than this. Ours is the opportunity to denounce a wrong, regardless of who commits it or is affected by it. The Success squatting situation is being handled badly. We cannot treat fellow Guyanese as refugees. We cannot put them in an environment that is evidently short term, stripping them of their dignity, and placing them at further risk of public health crises. We can hold off preparing those Success cane fields and direct funding to mitigating the housing crisis for the citizens occupying those lands. We either prioritise, and it must not be at the expense of people, or be able to chew gum and walk at the same time.
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