Oct 28, 2020 Letters
In my experience, the West Coast of Berbice is one of the most highly cultured parts of Guyana’s coastland. It is also remarkable for its Peace Culture. It recorded very low levels of incidents and fatalities during our most turbulent years. There are a few other strips of the coastland that have come close to this quality of community peace and my sincere wish is that they will remain so. One of these is the Wales Estate-Sisters community on the West Bank of Demerara.
When on or about March 6, 2020, during the recent electoral count “impasse”, disturbances broke out on the public roads in a few places along the Demerara-Berbice highway, the surprise location to me was what was reported as Number 5 and Cotton Tree. Months later, we learned that the dead bodies of two young men, named Henry, who had been missing, were found in a public place and poorly concealed in some bush at Cotton Tree. No one communicating on behalf of the police made any connection between this discovery and the fatal shooting of a young man by the police at Cotton Tree on March 6, 2020. Perhaps, shooting by the police is taken for granted in some quarters. These comments do not apply to the events of March 6 at Bushlot and elsewhere. They also do not apply to the protests at Belladrum before the Cotton Tree killings. The killing at Plantation Bath is also omitted as it had many eyewitnesses.
The Government’s response to the finding of the two dead bodies of the Henrys and a few days later at Number 3 of the dead body of a young man named Singh caused a succession of police parties to those areas to investigate the crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs was, perhaps, the first to make an impassioned statement, condemning the brutal killing of the young men. The President was equally moved and horrified by the incidents. There was a post mortem examination, after which the authorities told the population that samples had been sent to St. Lucia for DNA study and that we could expect the result in three weeks. More than three weeks have now gone by and as this letter is being written on October 25, there is no follow-up announcement of any results from the lab in St. Lucia.
I was lucky to hear a video interview in which Attorney at Law Nigel Hughes cautiously raised some questions about technical issues and suggested the employment of inexpensive expertise from Argentina. He acknowledged that he was not an investigator, but a lawyer interested in the solutions of crimes.
From my own point of view, I raise a few issues. I am neither lawyer nor investigator, but in my active years of political activity, I have never left questions of crime and the security of communities to governments or police. To me, popular opinion and intelligence play their own part in directing and influencing police investigations. Like most people, I rely on the techniques of the labs and the surveillance cameras, but there are other dimensions that are vital.
Take the two young men named Henry. They are said to be cousins and they had gone on a coconut picking mission, from which they never returned. It is said on all sides that the young man, named Singh, was their friend. If the three of them were friends and were all killed within a space of about three days, what was their common offence? What is it in their profile that attracted hostility from some person or persons interested? Were they all coconut pickers? What was the public sense of what brought them together as friends? Did they have a reputation in the community for offending any person or type of person? The police have said that the motive for their murder was not political. If they are correct, it may be the reason that other killings have not occurred in the same space. Again, if the motive was not political, they were still killed. In what way or ways did they offend their killer or killers? To test the police theory, we should ask whether one or more of them were active in the recent election campaign in any way. For people of their status, that question might be a control test.
We were told also that suspects were questioned by the police and let go on their own bail. This does not suggest that there is strong evidence against them. But then there is the DNA. The police have found wisely that the place where the bodies of the Henrys were found was not the original crime scene and that the bodies had to be carried to the place where they were found. Were there any marks to show they were carried there by being dragged on the ground, or by some vehicle, and if by vehicle, have they found it? Could the bodies have been transported by boat, since there is mention of a bridge?
Cotton Tree and nearby villages are close to two means of escape. There is the river bridge and there is the river itself. We are told that a large party of the Joint Services spent several hours of one day combing the area and finding nothing. From the condition of the bodies, there is the finding of the police that much wounding had been applied to them. In the news, there were some vague remarks about blood stains. But where are the clothes that the butchers wore during the mutilation?
There is a yawning gap in the crime information, suggesting that with little feed being given to the community, the feedback is limited. There has been very little information about the victims and their activities coming from the community that knows them best.
If there are no clear reports from the labs on the samples sent to them, perhaps the samples were in some way insufficient. The authorities have the duty of satisfying public curiosity which they invited on this point.
In the old days before the homes became filled with night noises of radio and television, some persons in the community, close to the scene of the chopping and carvings, would have heard shreaks of pain in the dead of night. Perhaps, our climate of electronic noises so necessary to our lives has denied us this source of evidence.
The evidence of crimes committed exists somewhere. The point is to find it. I leave the rest to the lively imagination of people I have known for decades.
The other question that may bring me into further trouble is this: who or what is driving this investigation? Members of the political directorate have assured the public that they will rule out resources for a full investigation. This assurance implies that the resources are in their control. The investigators, that is, the Police Force, have so far rejected a political motive for the killings of the three young men. They are also entitled to change their opinion about motive. On the other hand, the Head of State, though not identifying a motive, has let us know some of his thinking. He has promised an International Commission of Inquiry for a holistic probe, including “who instigated, and what was instigated”. In this atmosphere, the police may experience doubt about the lines they have been pursuing and lose a clear sense of direction.
The PPP refers to the year 1992 when it won the elections after 24 years of one-party Government, as “the return to democracy”. Before that year, Vincent Teekah, a minister who had left the PPP for the PNC, was killed. The same kind of non-communication from the State agencies to the people prevailed. The then Prime Minister, the Kabaka, called the killing an “assassination”. There was no hint of a suspect from outside of the ruling group. However, within a month of the fatal incident, the Government announced in its newspaper, The Guyana Chronicle, that the investigation into Teekah’s murder was closed.
Regardless of who goes into a tantrum in his newspaper columns, I venture to warn that, to all appearances, the present investigation into the killing of the three young men in Berbice is not receiving the focus and concerted pursuit that it deserves. If I may say so with respect, a police force, allowed to be professional, has its own international linkages which it can pursue professionally without the tutelage and meddling of a recently arrived elected political directorate.
I myself am puzzled about a motive for the murders of Joel Henry, Isaiah Henry and Haresh Singh. And the investigation seems to be going nowhere.
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