Guyana: Dangerous characterisation leads to a descent into lawlessness

Dear Editor,
Angry protests over unjust killings are natural and are usually the opening salvos in the quest for justice, especially in places where societal values make it difficult to punish those who are guilty. In other words, when the justice system favours one group over the other, as is happening in places like the United States, people will take to the streets to demand justice.
Following the murders of Isaiah Henry and Joel Henry three weeks ago, hundreds of Afro-Guyanese in the area came out in the streets purportedly to sympathise with the families of the murdered young men and to show their disgust over the way the young men had met their death.
Their actions, however, indicated that the underpinnings of the protests were not sympathy for the families and a genuine concern for justice but rather a burning desire to settle a score with the PPP so-called Indian Government for dislodging the APNU/AFC from office, albeit democratically.
The fact that the mutilated bodies were discovered in a predominately Indo-Guyanese area provided the impetus to avenge their grievance. The tragic deaths of the young men were sadly the pretext they needed.
In democratic societies like Guyana, venting emotions over horrific killings and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice are both understandable and legal. Those in authority may frown upon citizens expressing this right, but they cannot prohibit citizens from taking to the streets in exercise of this right.
What is not legitimate, however, is the descent of protesters into lawlessness and violence. To the consternation and anger of most Guyanese, lawlessness and violence were exactly what unfolded in the aftermath of Isaiah and Joel’s deaths.
Innocent Indo-Guyanese in that village and surrounding areas, many of whom would have been saddened and devasted by what had happened to Isaiah and Joel, were brutally beaten. Some were maimed – unable to live a normal life again, and a few were killed.
In additions to the beatings, killings and maimings, homes were burnt to ashes, and crops were irreparably destroyed by the frenzied, irrational and violent protesters. If there was ever a chance that the violence would become less intense, that opportunity disappeared with the arrival of David Granger and Joseph Harmon, the two most prominent and manipulative leaders of the Opposition party.
These two men wasted no opportunity for political gains. Immediately, they began characterising Isaiah and Joel as having belonged to an oppressed race: The Black race. In post-independence Guyana, this is completely without foundation. Only the naive and gullible would give credence to such a narrative. By implication, the oppressor would be Indo-Guyanese, which would be equally ludicrous and provocative.
Conveying such a meaning, whether directly or indirectly, carried the potential for seriously exacerbating an already volatile situation. As a stand-alone assertion, portraying Blacks as victims of oppression may not be such a problematic matter.
Blacks were oppressed for centuries, and they continue to be oppressed in many parts of the world to this day. But in the context of race relations in Guyana and the incessant mantras by leaders of APNU that the elections had been rigged in favour of the PPP, this characterisation was not only out of place; it also bordered on hate speech, which is a serious crime.
Referring to Afro-Guyanese as an oppressed group was a very calculated political statement. It was not designed to provide comfort to the grieving parents and other relatives, though the alacrity with which Granger and Harmon visited the grieving parents would make it appear so.
The motive was to inflame racial hatred and to sow divisiveness, which underscores the fact that these leaders would exploit any situation, however sad and tragic, to advance their political ambitions. The crimes, the pillage, the burning and the rapes that occurred in the aftermath of their inflammatory statements should be attributed to these men. They should be held accountable and should be incriminated for the sake of a bleeding country. If not, we could possibly go down the path of perennial racial conflicts.
Achieving growth and prosperity that are commensurate with its resources and good leadership could be difficult for Guyana if the ambition of powerful people to wrest control of political leadership at any cost cannot be checked. As everyone knows, Guyana has an abundance of natural resources. It is also endowed with many bright people. Moreover, it has a President who is universally acknowledged as a people’s President. Race, the fulcrum of tensions in the country, is inconsequential to him as far as utilising the finest of minds for the good of the whole country is concerned.
The Cabinet is indicative of this. But what does all this mean if certain political leaders can freely exploit human tragedies and peddle lies and deceits without any consideration for how destructive this would be for the nation? The answer is destabilisation that Guyana cannot afford to have.
Guyana is at the crossroads. Blessed with natural and human resources, and with a President who has already done so much in terms of harnessing the country’s resources for all its people and creating a viable platform for racial harmony, it is, unfortunately, facing roadblocks – created by some selfish and unscrupulous leaders – in terms of realising its full potential.
The only way forward is to hold those who are responsible for capitalising on human tragedies and inflaming racial tensions, including those in high office, accountable. There is no other alternative.

Sheik Ayube