On July 14th 1789, revolutionaries in France stormed the Bastille fortress housing political prisoners in Paris — a symbol of the despotic absolute monarchy defined by King Louis XIV’s arrogant declaration, “I am the state”. The following year, King Louis XVI was deposed and France set on the course to constitutional democracy under the immortal slogan, “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Along with the American War of Independence a decade earlier, these two events have reminded oppressed people across the world that freedom cannot be won without struggle, and it must be guarded against those who would stifle it in their lust for power.
Yesterday was July 14, but sadly, no one appeared to have remembered that, 40 years ago, on that day in 1979, the murder of Father Darke prompted our national poet Martin Carter to pen his poem, “Bastille Day”.
Burnham was preparing his customised constitution to institutionalise his dictatorship by creating an Executive Presidency in which he could echo Louis XIV, “I am the state”. Walter Rodney and several other members of the WPA had been charged with arson of the Ministry of National Development and the Office of the General Secretary of the ruling PNC, and had appeared in court that morning. Supporters, including Martin Carter, who followed the van taking them from the Court and along Brickdam were attacked by House of Israel thugs, one of whom fatally stabbed Fr Darke, who was taking out photographs.
In the poem, one draft of which he had dedicated to Walter Rodney, Carter lamented: “Not wanting to deny, I believed it. /Not wanting to believe it, I denied our Bastille Day. /I have at last started/ To understand the origin/ Of our vileness, and being/ Unable to deny it, I suggest/ Its nativity/ In the shame of knowledge/ Of our vileness, we shall fight.”
On the eve of Bastille Day 2019, when PNC Leader David Granger reacted to the consequential orders of the CCJ in an Address to the Nation, it was clear that he intended to exploit the “vileness” of racialised politics in our society to remain in power, never mind that he is destroying the sanctity of our Constitution, which undergirds our fledgling democracy.
In the face of the CCJ’s pleas for Guyanese leaders to “exercise their responsibilities with integrity” in choosing the new GECOM Chair and setting a date for elections, in accordance with the Constitution, Granger, sadly, betrayed that he is lacking that critical value for democratic leadership. Since it is impossible to cover every contingency with specific rules in a constitution, democracy demands that leaders not only respect the letter, but the spirit of their foundational social contract. However, even though the CCJ painstakingly delineated that under Art 106, elections must be held within 3 months of the successful passage of a no-confidence motion — in this case Sept 18, as measured from its definitive confirmation on July 18 — Granger dragged his old red herring of “credible elections” to pass the buck to GECOM, where he is once again wangling to have his hand-picked candidate for the Chair, possessed as he is of the casting vote.
Secondly, Granger actually lied when he claimed the Opposition Leader “rejected the idea of acting in a consensual manner (when) he chose to put forward candidates for the post who have been rejected previously”, because he is on record as having approved those submissions when he met the press following the July 4th meeting with the Opposition Leader.
While on Bastille Day 1979 our democracy was challenged by the murder of a priest — and Burnham promoted David Granger as Commander of the GDF to protect that flank — the challenge today from Granger and the PNC is even more insidious, because of the disinformation they are spreading to undermine the Constitution.
After the PNC regime had assassinated Rodney a year after Bastille Day 1979, in his poem, “For Walter Rodney”, Carter called them “assassins of conversation”, i.e. of civilised political discourse.
Guyanese must not deny our Bastille Day threat, but rise up to arrest the slide towards dictatorship.