Let me be clear and, right up front, reject the notion that our Amerindian sisters and brothers are somehow less than the rest of us. It is time we stop classifying our Amerindian sisters and brothers automatically as vulnerable people. Many people living in the hinterland live in vulnerable situations. This will be a debate for another time. But our Amerindian sisters and brothers living in the hinterland do not need others to speak on their behalf; they can speak for themselves, and they have been doing that. We must not think that simply because our sisters and brothers who are Amerindian are generally humble and quiet people that they are incapable of representing themselves. One thing is certain – the families directly affected can speak for themselves. It is offensive that some of us think we must speak for them.
There are vulnerable Afro-Guyanese families, Indo-Guyanese families, other Guyanese families. We do not call Indo-Guyanese or Afro-Guyanese or any other ethnic group vulnerable, but we automatically call Amerindian people vulnerable, and arrogantly decide we must speak for them.
A horrendous event took place in Guyana on May 21/22, Sunday night into Monday night. In the end, 19 children lost their lives. Families from various Region 8 communities were affected. The President and his cabinet, and various Government agencies: such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Health Sector and others, came together almost immediately. The President himself was directing the response to ensure the danger was extinguished, that those in need of help got it immediately, that the families were supported in every way possible. Cost was not a factor, ensuring safety and that everyone was taken care of were the only things that mattered. The President was not preoccupied at that moment on what went wrong, or who, if any person, had to be blamed. There was time for the blame game, but that was not the moment.
More than a week later, this week, funerals are taking place. The acute response is still ongoing. The President and his government remain focus on the immediate needs of all affected. As a nation, in our time of crisis, we have rallied — rallied as one nation — to ensure that this scar will teach us, and that we will never have to endure another such tragedy. While quietly work has begun to ensure that those things that contributed to the tragedy are eliminated, the overwhelming focus has been on helping families get through this crisis, get through their grief and mourning.
We would be living in Utopia is we surmise that as the nation rallies, we are doing so with everyone in step, in unison. There are genuinely upset people who do not want to wait to identify what was wrong, what contributed to the tragedy, who would be held responsible. These persons include families and friends, and Government persons. There are also persons who see an opportunity to politicise the tragedy. There are persons who want relevance and cannot find a platform that gains traction. These persons have parachuted into the tragedy as if they are knights in shining armour. Even their own families reject that they speak for them, but they want us to accept they speak for the Amerindian people. It is obnoxious.
Some of them have not met one person from the families affected, but they have taken the liberty to speak on behalf of these families. It is obnoxious, reprehensible, vulgar and ugly. Some of them have even taken up placards and demanded that ministers resign or be fired. The families, on the other hand, have focused on their needs and on their grief and mourning. These are families confronting not only death, but injuries, need for hospitals, enduring severe mental stress, displacement etc. They need help, they do not need people fighting over them. Some have spoken eloquently to their leaders, some have made pleas about what they think must be done. Leaders have responded.
Outside of the public arena, where focus has been totally on the immediate actions, other things about fixing problems are being done.
A sister of one of the deceased, a mother of one of the deceased, and others who lost loved ones, who are parents and siblings and aunts and uncles, have publicly asked that their grief and their mourning and their loss not be politicised by others. They have asked social media influencers to desist from using their tragedy to create another fight. The persons who have lost loved ones, whose children are still dealing with health issues and other issues, are sensible people who want change, who want to see that their losses and sufferings lead to better conditions. The President has heard them; he has promised to act.
One political party posted a missive based on total misinformation so misleading that it had to be deliberate. The missive conveyed the message that the President must have made up the DNA results, because one week is not enough. On the other hand, the President still thinks we could have gotten the results even faster. One thing is true – it is possible to conduct DNA testing in less than one week. Therefore, the misinformation that a major political party tried to foist on the public is vulgar. The team that had the responsibility to get DNA results as fast as possible accomplished the task. We met the President’s instructions.
In the meanwhile, the Government did not set the fire. And the grills were there before August 2020.