October 21, 2014

Death of a dictator

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti between 1971 and 1986, died and was buried earlier this month. He was only 19 when he became President of Haiti on the death of his father “Papa Doc”, who held power from 1957.

Between 1957 and 1986, 29 years, Haiti was under the dictatorship of the Duvaliers, just one year longer than the PNC dictatorship, which controlled Guyana for 28 years. Some may see the passing of the dictator in Haiti as the passing of the age of dictators in the Caribbean – but this must be analysed within the context of the history of the Caribbean.

The US, under its bootstrapping “Monroe Doctrine”, occupied Haiti with its marines for 25 years between 1915 and 1934 – but controlled and bled its treasury until 1941 to ensure its “debts” were repaid.

A period of great instability and turmoil followed, which saw Dr Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier being elected President. He subsequently rigged elections and ruled through his private army of goons called the “Tonton Macoutes” or “Bogeymen”, who killed more than 30,000 Haitians and exiled hundreds of thousands.

“Papa Doc” had started out as an advocate of negritude and Black Consciousness and had used his popularity with the Black masses to vote out the entrenched Mulatto elite. Duvalier’s consolidation of power started with his massive rigging of elections in 1963 and his subsequent “President-for-Life referendum” the following year that gave him a 99.9 per cent approval.

It is very likely that he was the model for Burnham who rigged Guyana’s 1968 elections and then the referendum of 1978, with Duvalier-like percentages.

Like Burnham, Duvalier was also supported by the US, because of ideology. Duvalier was used by the US to attack Castro in various fora, a role he was only too willing to play because of Castro’s principled position against his excesses.

Corruption became rampant and endemic because Duvalier played his Black supporters against the Mulatto elite whose wealth and properties were coveted. Burnham did the same in Guyana, with his African-Guyanese support manipulated against the Indian Guyanese, who generally supported the PPP.

However, while Duvalier, like Burnham revived the traditional voodoo rites among the African population, the latter did not become a priest or venerated figures of the religion, as the former did.

“Baby Doc”’s accession to office was also encouraged by the US, even as he continued with the brutal repression of his political opponents. He continued to utilise US aid for personal gain as with the US$2 million for his wedding in 1980.

While, as with Burnham, US relations cooled somewhat under the Carter regime (1976-1980), the latter’s successor, Reagan, welcomed him and his style of rule with open arms as a “bulwark against communism”.

Ironically, by this time Burnham had shifted leftwards with his “cooperative socialism” and was on Reagan’s bad books. Not enough, however to provoke regime change, as Maurice Bishop did in Grenada by 1983. Carter’s insistence that Haiti destroy all pigs on the island because of a 1978 swine flu epidemic, however, had already devastated most small farmers, for whom pigs were a staple.

Conditions continued to deteriorate on the island, even as “Baby Doc” and his wife lived on a scale so luxuriously, it placed the European royalty they imitated, to shame. A popular uprising in 1986 persuaded the Reagan Administration that it was time to cut “Baby Doc” loose. He was flown to exile in France on a US army plane.

Since that time, the US has interceded time and again in Haiti, to control its governance. It is not coincidental that when “Baby Doc” died, the present US-friendly Haitian President Michel Martelly declared that he would have a state funeral. Discretion proved the better part of valour, however, and the ex-dictator was buried privately by his family.

Burnham, on the other hand, received a state funeral here.

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Politics as guerrilla warfare

Most people would accept Lasswell’s definition of politics as “who gets what, when and how”. Ultimately, then, politics is supposed to authorise allocative decisions within a framework that is agreed on by the people of a country. Normally, that framework is described in the country’s Constitution – even if the latter is “unwritten”, as in the two lonely exceptions of Britain and Israel.

In democracies, of which Guyana is one, political parties are supposed to mobilise and aggregate votes at general elections so as to secure the authority to make those allocative decisions as the “Executive” or “government”. The premise, is that since the rules were agreed by all the players “in the game” they would accept the “voice of the people”.

In Guyana, the Constitutional rules determined – following general elections in 2011 – that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) would control the Government.

And this is where the rules of our local competitive politics have been traduced by the Opposition and reduced to guerrilla warfare against the legitimate government of the day. That Opposition – comprised of the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) entered those elections as separate bodies fully cognisant that they could not coalesce afterwards in the event that they had a greater total number of seats than the PPP/C.

Yet, when the latter eventuality became reality, they immediately signalled their refusal to accept the political framework encompassed in the Constitution and dubbed the administration as a “Minority Government”. In the context of our history this was not an accidental nomenclatural choice.

Under the old Burnhamite Constitution, the word “minority” was used to describe the PPP/C, which had been rigged out of its majority, to emphasise the latter’s powerlessness. In our context, the phrase “Minority Government” is an oxymoron, since the Executive was separated from the Legislature in its powers by the Constitution.

And the Opposition then launched a vicious guerrilla campaign against it from both within their redoubt in the National Assembly and from without. After the pitched battles of Linden and Agricola, in which lives were lost, billions went up in smoke and thousands of ordinary citizens were traumatised, the Opposition fell back to the National Assembly, where they launched one attack to another – each designed to bring Guyana to its knees.

This “scorched earth” policy was callously intended to alienate the people from the Government by creating hardships through strangulation of the economy.

The terrain of the guerrilla warfare was established when the Opposition seized control of the all important Speaker and Deputy Speakerships as well as of all Parliamentary Committees. They went for the jugular in their first Parliamentary foray – the annual Budget Estimates of the Government. This is the feature within the political framework of democratic governance in which the essential question of politics, as adumbrated above – who gets what, where, and how – is answered.

They insisted on crudely chopping sections of the Budget, evidently just to prove the PPP/C was a “minority Government” and could not govern. The Government, however, sagely resorted to the procedure spelled out in the Constitution, and went to the arbiter of that document – the courts. That institution ruled that the Budget could only be denied in its entirety – in which case it acts as a “no confidence vote” and the government falls – or it cannot be cut at all.

But the Opposition did not confine its guerrilla war to the Budget, it also refused to pass critical legislation such as the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Bill which precipitated the blacklisting of our country with the global financial system. Right now the two parties are split on whether to censure the Finance Minister for performing his spending function, or moving a “no confidence” motion.

It would appear that this falling out might finally allow the Government to get on with the business of developing Guyana.

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The Ebola crisis

The Ebola outbreak is sending fear throughout the world with governments and international organisations taking all the necessary steps in ensuring that the disease is contained. Recently, a top US health official, Dr Thomas Frieden was quoted in the media as saying that Ebola is the biggest world health crisis since HIV/AIDS.

Frieden, who leads the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, predicted the fight to wipe out the disease will be a long one because the virus keeps changing. He said the only outbreak he has seen resembling the current one is AIDS.

The death rate continues to climb at a rapid rate. The United Nation’s most recent estimate is that over 4400 persons have lost their lives as a result of contracting the deadly virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) sounded a warning, stating that if the response to the Ebola crisis isn’t stepped up, many more persons will die.

WHO and partner organisations earlier this week agreed on a range of core actions to support countries unaffected by the disease in strengthening their preparedness in the event of an outbreak. Building on national and international existing preparedness efforts, a set of tools is being developed to help any country to intensify and accelerate their readiness.

One of these tools is a comprehensive checklist of core principles, standards, capacities and practices, which all countries should have or meet. The checklist can be used by countries to assess their level of preparedness, guide their efforts to strengthen themselves and to request assistance. Items on the checklist include infection prevention control, contact tracing, case management, surveillance, laboratory capacity, safe burial, public awareness and community engagement and national legislation and regulation to support country readiness.

The initial focus of support by WHO and partners will be on “highest priority countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal – followed by “high priority countries” – Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia,  Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Togo. Criteria used to prioritise countries include geographical proximity to affected countries, trade and migration patterns and strength of health systems.

Health officials in the Region are taking no chances, many of them have already put systems in place to deal with any eventuality of an outbreak. Guyana has announced a series of measures to deal with the disease, for example, some 1600 medical professionals are soon to commence training on dealing with the virus, and the necessary approach towards administering care to persons who have become infected. Emphasis will be placed on safety and precautionary measures for health care providers, who may come into contact with an infected person or environment, as the Ebola is highly contagious and spreads rapidly through direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids.

It was announced that the Health Ministry is soon to set up its first ever isolation unit and tent at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) in an effort to prevent the disease from entering the country. Based on information provided, doctors have been positioned at Guyana’s main Port of Entry to conduct surveillance activities on passengers coming into the country.

There were some criticisms levelled against the authorities here by Nigerian students returning to Guyana after the summer break. They claimed that even though they were returning here from Nigeria (an affected country), they were not subjected to the level of scrutiny they experienced in other countries, while in transit, when they were being processed at the CJIA. They believe that much more should be done by the authorities at the Ports of Entry to ensure that persons who may have the disease, or show signs of having the symptoms, do not slip though the system without being detected.

Now that the Health Ministry has announced a series of measures as part of its action plan to deal with the Ebola crisis gripping the world, it is hoped that such issues will be addressed forthwith.

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“Domination and vindictiveness…”

…by PNC

According to the Muckraker, Carl Greenidge says that there’s a “poisonous political atmosphere” in Guyana because of “domination and vindictiveness”. Now if the Muckraker says Carl said this, then you can’t doubt it, can you?

Hey, the PNC and the Muckraker are like the proverbial “batty and po”. The thing is, however, that since the glue holding them all together is a hatred of the PPP/C, they have to always blame the PPP/C. And that’s why Greenidge pretended he was talking about the PPP/C.

But anyone who’s been around would know Greenidge was actually addressing his nemesis David Granger. Granger’s the man who rigged him out of the leadership of the PNC – and Greenidge would never forgive him for that.

After all, Granger was a mere lackey in the Army, tasked with having his troops marching up and down village streets to keep the Opposition PPP in line, when Greenidge was a Minister in the Government of the Kabaka himself!! You can’t ask for more pedigree than that!

What also earns Greenidge’s ire – and causes him to hit out, albeit elliptically – is that Granger’s a creature of Corbin – who was just a hoodlum back in the days of Burnham. He could burn down buildings, beat up unarmed persons, and rig elections – but please…you don’t invite him to dinner. And if Granger’s a fruit of THAT poisoned tree – then as far as Greenidge is concerned, he’s just pure, unadulterated gramoxone.

So when Greenidge talks about “domination and vindictiveness”, he’s simply referring to the petulance and nastiness Granger’s shown, not only to him, but to every other true-blue PNCite who opposed his seizure of the party’s machinery. Now the Muckraker bleated that Greenidge’s position was “strongly supported” by Nagamootoo. Well, why the heck wouldn’t Nagamootoo support Greenidge – when he knows the object of Greenidge’s venom is Granger??

Wasn’t it Granger who wanted “domination” and exhibited “vindictiveness” when he nixed the AFC’s nomination of Nagamootoo as Speaker?? And for whom?? Trotman, who’d just sworn to the AFC that he had a “fatal illness” – so he couldn’t campaign for Ramjattan, who was the AFC’s Presidential candidate. But like Greenidge, Nagamootoo’s too cowardly to come out and “tell it like it is” on Granger’s “domination and vindictiveness”.

He’s more comfortable “jooking” the eyes of his ex-comrades in the PPP/C, who bid him “sayonara” because they knew he was all talk and no action.

…on paedophilia

Did you notice the protest against rapes in the interior by Red Thread and [Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination] SASOD and a host of NGOs? We fully support the action. Hey!! We’ll support protests against sexual violence, wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. But as we’ve asked before, why aren’t these groups protesting against paedophilia???

Just because the child mightn’t have complained at the time – as this young man, Welshman didn’t – aren’t the sexual acts by the adult – in this case, allegedly by Trotman – violence?? In our estimation, it’s violence beyond the physical act.

Can you imagine what happens to a young child when a figure he was told to honour and respect commits this sexual perversion?? Think of the psychological damage as the child grows up and starts blaming himself by thinking he had a role in the degradation.

And Trotman, Benschop and all his defenders have the nerve to say that Welshman is “troubled”!! Of course, he’s troubled! If he weren’t troubled something would’ve been seriously wrong with him to begin with.

It isn’t too late in the day for our rights group to begin speaking truth to power.

…against PNC/APNU

But we have to say, this domination and vindictiveness is not only from the big one to the minnows. Look at how the AFC’s treating APNU on the parliamentary agenda. Just because they brought up the big, sexy “no-confidence” vote, the AFC’s rubbing APNU’s face in it!

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Disaster Risk Reduction 2014

Last Wednesday was “International Day for Disaster Reduction”. As in most other years, it was not a day that most Guyanese took seriously. In fact, we boast about being spared most of the natural disasters that strike so many other countries. Like hurricanes and earthquakes that devastate our Caricom neighbours with alarming regularity.

But it appears that such smugness might be coming to an end – with a vengeance. The Region and Guyana are beginning to show signs they appreciate the risks the Ebola epidemic poses to our very survival. While this might sound hyperbolic to some, it is our sincere hope that they are a tiny minority. Let us face the facts: We are dealing with a viral threat that is clearly beyond any we have seen before.

Our bottom line has to be this: If the US, with the most sophisticated medical system in the world, can fail to contain this virus, what hope can we with our comparatively rudimentary equipment and trained manpower. From the Texas experience, the virus was able to penetrate even the most airtight protective gear and stringent regimen – within very sophisticated isolation rooms. Do we in Guyana really believe that we can do better?

The countries bordering the epicentre of this epidemic have all resorted to mass isolation of their population from infected victims, by closing their borders to visitors from the latter. Yesterday, two countries in Caricom – St Vincent and St Lucia followed suit.

We have just been informed that Guyana has just done the same. In times of war, it is said, “discretion is the better part of valour” and right now in the war against Ebola, we are very pleased that the Government has opted to use discretion. We are sure that it was not an easy decision to close our borders to the epicentric West African countries, but it had to be done.

This course of action, we are sure, will seem hard and heartless – but desperate times call for desperate measures. To answer the question posed above on our capacity to handle an Ebola infected patient, there is no shame in admitting that we can in no way, shape or form do better than the Americans. This does not mean that we should not continue with the preparations that are already under way. In fact, they must be intensified.

Even though we will now block arrivals from the epicentre in West Africa, there is always the possibility that soon, there will be individuals infected in a large number of countries in other continents. We can then have secondary migration of the virus into our country.

There will also be Guyanese – who are one of the most highly distributed populations in the world, returning with the virus. What the closing of our borders means is that we lessen significantly the chances of the virus entering our population. Up to now, even though this strain of the virus known as Ebola has been around for almost 40 years, robust isolation of its infected victims has been the only way to control its spread.

This closure might hopefully not have to be of long duration since we have been informed that there are several vaccines that might be brought on stream in the near future from the US, UK, Canada, and the USSR. It is not entirely a coincidence that after 40 years of not having a vaccine, suddenly there are several potential candidates. It all has to do with spending the money to conduct the research.

When it was just a case of people dying in a far-off Third World country, no Pharma company would deploy the resources. But now that it has literally hit where there are “deep pockets”, it now makes business sense to go all out.

Without being too cynical, as with AIDS, we might be the beneficiary of this unexpected largesse.

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The school sex video

Even though it is less talked about in the public domain, teen pornography is not a matter new to Guyana. In fact, the recent video involving students from a city school is yet another example.

Some years ago, several volumes of a locally produced movie “Guyanese Girls Gone Wild”, featuring both students and teachers of an East Coast private school hit the local market, creating quite a stir.

Back then, social media was not as prominent as it is today, and even though the saga was widely covered in the media, the attention it generated was pale in comparison to that of the senior city students.

This was largely due to the fact that the 10,000-plus students in the school system who have access to a computer have a Facebook account, and once the video was posted on that forum, within minutes, it went viral.

This naturally attracted attention, both condemnation and glorification alike, but in essence brought a mountain of embarrassment to the students involved, their school, and worst of all, their families. What was unfortunate in all of this is that the misguided act of the minors was used by some on social media to more or less glorify what happened.

While no right-thinking Guyanese will condone the actions of the teenagers involved, from all indications, the posting of the video on Facebook was a malicious if not vengeful act.

The rampant sharing of the video was, therefore, imprudent, and in some cases as gleaned from the comments, was rank exploitation of an injudicious action by a group of teenagers.

Even more unfortunate was little regard was given to the fact that the persons involved were minors; the exposure could have been detrimental as Guyana has the highest suicide rates in the world; and the impact the stigma will have on their social lives.

In Guyana, there is practically no regulation of social media and blog sites; thus, it is quite understandable why a sensitive video did not take long to spread like wildfire.

However, in spite of general regulations which uphold sound ethics and good taste as expected from the mainstream media, one section of the state media appeared to have made a grave misjudgement on these guiding principles.

It is no folklore that it is under the incumbent administration that a series of legislation has been passed to protect children, and this aside, the Government continues to invest heavily in them as evident in the yearly national budget.

What such misjudgement indicates is an apparent lack of awareness of the thrust, work and efforts by the Government to not only protect the well-being, but also the image of children. And while it has subsequently apologised, the damage was already done.

The situation highlights the importance of greater parental involvement in children’s education. It is simply not enough for parents to send their children to school and monitor their grades. They must also know who the friends of their children are and their activities both in and out of school.

This would entail random checks of their bags and cellphones and periodic school visits and places of lessons. The sordid saga was another worry for the Education Ministry which is grappling with teachers’ absenteeism and poor punctuality, and paedophiles in the school system, among other issues.

Fortunately, Education Minister Priya Manickchand had, at the time of the incident, promptly confirmed that the Facebook video with the two boys and two girls engaging in sexual activities were indeed students of a secondary school in Georgetown, and according to her, this was very disturbing to her and the Ministry.

In light of the surfacing of the sex video, it is hoped that the Health and Family Life Education Programme relaunched a few months ago will now play a more meaningful role. Beyond that, a broader national discussion is needed to address the whole question of role models, leadership and direction for the youth of Guyana.

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Dealing with Ebola

Because there is much misinformation circulating about the viral infection dubbed “Ebola”, there is a danger of missing the forest for the trees. Firstly, there is a misconception that the haemorrhagic fever first appeared in 1976, in Zaire/Congo, near the River Ebola, hence the name.

Spread by the Western media and picked up not surprisingly by the African media, this has unfortunately served to reinforce the dominant notion of Africa as an “Area of Darkness” from where only famine, floods and pestilence can come.

As a matter of fact, as stated on the World Health Organisation’s website, Ebola is a variant of the filovirus family, the first variant which appeared in Marburg, in what was then West Germany.

“Marburg Virus Disease (MVD), formerly known as Marburg haemorrhagic fever, was first identified in 1967 during epidemics in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia from importation of infected monkeys from Uganda.

“MVD is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as the one that causes Ebola virus disease. These viruses are among the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans. Both diseases are rare, but have a capacity to cause dramatic outbreaks with high fatality.”

While the US Centre for Disease Control insists on placing the source of Ebola as the Congo/Zaire in 1976, scientific journals like the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine place it at Marburg.

The second fact is that as with the Marburg virus in which there were several outbreaks in places as far apart as the USSR and the USA (Reston – 20 miles from Washington, DC) but in each case even though the disease exhibited the same fatality rate of Ebola, robust containment procedures were able to stem the epidemic.

This also holds true for the Ebola variant which appeared for the second time (after Zaire) in Sudan in 1979 and then thirdly at Kitwit in Zaire. In each case the outbreaks were contained.

These countries were not particularly “advanced”, but instituted measures that ensured that individuals in contact with victims were ruthlessly isolated/quarantined from the rest of the population. In Nigeria, for instance, the individual who eventually perished in Dallas, Texas, was isolated immediately after he came off the plane from Liberia.

While 20 other individuals were suspected or confirmed as picking up the disease, because of the strict quarantine and recording procedures, this nation of 175 million was able to contain the disease.

Their success gives us hope that in Guyana we will be able to deal with the disease when it eventually reaches our shores – or more likely, our airport. The secret of the Nigerian success was based on early identification of the disease, a coordinated response to dealing with persons suspected of being infected, and finally tracing the contacts very rapidly.

What this means in concrete terms is that our first line of defence must be established at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA). We must have the wherewithal to check the temperatures of everyone coming in from a country, where Marburg-Ebola Virus Disease appeared, to determine whether they have a fever.

Secondly, we must create an isolation facility in the Timehri area – starting immediately with the importation of isolation tents. These isolation facilities must be capable of filtering the air from the section of the room in which the patient is housed. There must also be a rigorous tracking of contacts.

Thirdly, while 1600 medical personnel are supposed to be trained to confront the disease, we must secure the protective gear that will give these workers the confidence to treat infected persons. This gear must be fluid resistant, with special tape at the zippers, double gloves (taped at ends), respirator masks, eye protectors and hoods – all taped.

We believe that the above are the first and necessary steps which must be taken.

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Deafening silence

Today marks the 23rd day since 22-year-old John Anthony Welshman alleged that he was sexually molested and raped by three males while he was just a 12-year-old boy.

Since making the damning allegations, the young man has had cause to respond to several statements and publications which he deemed untrue. He has also claimed that he was offered a bribe by political activist Mark Benschop as “hush money”.

Recently, Welshman was beaten by a group of men in the vicinity of Kingston Seawall after he boarded a car which appeared to be a taxi. The young man related to the media that while he was being physically assaulted, the alleged perpetrators were making enquires about a spy pen and camera which they believed he had in his possession.

Despite the fact that Welshman demonstrated ‘boldness’ in breaking his silence and telling his story with the hope of obtaining justice for the alleged past atrocities committed against him, none of the very vocal human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have come to his rescue.

It is worrying that these important civil society stakeholders have apparently chosen to stay away from standing side by side with an alleged victim of rape, buggery and child sex abuse.

This sort of silence is deafening given the fundamentals which some of these organisations stand for and articulate regularly when they lobby Government on various issues relating to the Sexual Offences Act. The fact that several attorneys had initially refused to give legal representation to Welshman is also worthy of condemnation.

Is it a case that not a single non-governmental organisation or human rights group in Guyana believes that there is truth in the story that Johnny Welshman is telling?

Or is it the case that there is a phobia that any attempt to render assistance to the young man can have negative implications given the status of the persons that he has made allegations against?

These non-governmental organisations, including Help and Shelter, Red Thread, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the Guyana Human Rights Association must explain the reasons for their deafening silence on this particular matter.

These rights groups cannot continue to hide behind the argumentation that they are observing and monitoring the situation, which now appears to be politically charged.

They are duty-bound to at least reach out to the young man with the aim of offering counselling while his matter is being heard at the level of the judiciary. They can ill-afford to miss the opportunity to represent those who allege that they are victims of sexual molestation, buggery or rape.

The silence of these ‘champions’ of a just society, where human rights are protected and defended, is sending a very strong message to men in our society who are guilty of abusing younger boys whether sexually, emotionally or mentally.

By their very actions on this particular matter, they are empowering the efforts of those who seek to use their offices, political influence, power, money and other resources to escape prosecution by manipulating the justice process.

Maybe, if Johnny Welshman made those allegations against a senior Government functionary or People’s Progressive Party/Civic member, there would be no shortage in the supply of outrage, controversy, and condemnation of the act and the alleged perpetrator.

In fact, the letter pages of the daily newspapers and the news feed on social media would have been buzzing with calls being made for the resignation of whomever was accused, pending the outcome of a proper Police and judicial investigation.

It would appear that Johnny Welshman is in this battle alone and will have to stand his ground if he wants justice to be served. In this regard, Attorney Peter Hugh stands out.

If Welshman is able to make a case and prove his accusations against the three males who allegedly buggered him, then every single non-governmental organisation here would have a lot of explaining to do.

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A caring community

We lost Rayshan Cooke two weeks ago; he crumbled on the West Coast Demerara Road after colliding with two cars. Those closest to him say he was a very nice guy.

The details of how Cooke ultimately met his end are murky, but some things involved in the story are as distressing as they are common: A young man riding a powerful motorcycle without a helmet; a young man riding a powerful motorcycle under the influence of alcohol; and two cars allegedly racing on a public highway.

The most striking element, however, is that after all of this, members of the public apparently watched a wounded young man, who no one could confirm to be dead or alive, lie on the roadway for more than an hour without receiving medical attention.

There is no doubt that the West Demerara Road is in dire need of rehabilitation, better road marking and better lighting. But with the mixture of poor habits, disregard for rules and laws about safety practices, and some alcohol consumption, this was an accident waiting to happen regardless of the roadway conditions.

What is troubling is that if there was an opportunity for Cooke to survive all of this and learn from his mistakes, it was squandered by a helpless public left to be onlookers rather than first responders. There are always going to be accidents. It is, therefore, our responsibility as a society to develop a culture that is more responsive and responsible.

If more persons out there on that night were trained in basic First Aid as a life skill, someone in the community would have been able to take a pulse to establish with some degree of certainty if Cooke was alive or dead when they arrived on the scene. If he were alive, a better prepared community would have members who could have rendered First Aid.

His relatives are left to wonder, for years to come, if while he lay there on the roadway, he had a chance at life. This should concern us all as citizens, since, given the laws of averages, any one of us could end up on a public road after an accident with a slim chance at life if given the appropriate response.

There will be arguments about the speed of the response from the emergency services, but while that is always a factor – responses times could always be shorter. The reality is that emergency services are often far away and communities most times are out on a scene before emergency services. Often, even in the most advanced societies, emergency services get their first information from those who were on the scene before they arrived.

There should be a concerted effort by individual citizens and whole communities to ensure that we have persons trained in basic First Aid to render assistance when unfortunate events occur in our communities. On the other hand, organisations like the Red Cross and the St Johns Ambulance Brigade should step up their public education to bolster the ranks for those whom they equip for times such as these.

There may also be a role for the emergency services themselves to reach out to communities to provide organised training in the basics of First Aid and First Response. This is not an issue just for the roadway and motor accidents, it is broadly applicable.

Most Guyanese live along the coast and relax out by the sea or in a creek but few of us have received training to save lives in the water or to resuscitate someone we pull from it. We have heard many a story of mining accidents or accidents among forestry workers and again there was little capability on the scene to possibly save some lives.

Our Government must do more to make our roadways, waterways, and industrial sites safer and to build a safety culture. But our communities and citizens are not absolved from the responsibility of preparing to serve each other in times of emergency.

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Guyana’s great teacher

Rather serendipitously, October 5, which was the 22nd anniversary of democracy being returned to our country, was also “World Teachers’ Day” on the global calendar. “Serendipitous”, because the man Dr Cheddi Jagan, who more than anyone helped to restore that democratic order, was above all, a great teacher.

While the day is intended to focus on teachers in schools, it is widely accepted that some of the greatest lessons of life are imparted outside the walls of the official schools. And this has been the legacy of Cheddi Jagan, which must not be allowed to be forgotten in our land, if we are ever to fulfil the great potential that we have been endowed with.

Jagan’s first lesson was that even though he became a professional dentist in the US and could have enjoyed the American “good life” with his American wife, Janet, he chose to return to his native land. And this was in 1943, when because of the ongoing WWII, Guyana was in a depression because of goods not coming into the country and exports not leaving due to German U-Boats.

Today there are so many young Guyanese who could emulate him, by returning to develop the country that gave them a free education, after their overseas training.

Another lesson was his attitude and actions on girls and women. Yesterday was the “International Day of the Girl Child” with the theme of “Empowering Adolescent Girls”. Dr Jagan was way ahead of almost all his contemporaries on empowering girls and women. In his own life, he treated his wife Janet as an equal in all respects, both professionally and personally. She was a pioneer in the empowerment of women rights and was the founder of the Women Progressive Organisation.

Dr Jagan was also one of the teachers on the need for all children to become educated as an aspect of their total emancipation. When he first entered Government during the period of internal self-government starting in 1957, he began the process of removing schools from Church control and opened up many new primary and secondary schools that welcomed many children who had been kept out because of the pressures to convert.

But his greatest lesson was on relations between the several ethnic groups that had found themselves in Guyana, as the country moved inexorably towards independence. Dr Jagan is the father of multiracialism and multiethnicity in Guyana. When Dr Jagan returned to Guyana, political representation was funnelled through explicit ethnic organisations. For Indians, there was the British Guyana East Indian Association (BGEIA) and for Mixed and Africans, the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP). There were also the Portuguese and Chinese Associations.

As an East Indian, Dr Jagan joined the BGEIA, but soon quit to form an organisation that would include all Guyanese: this was the Political Affairs Committee, which was to transform itself into the People’s Progressive Party in 1950. It is ironic that when Forbes Burnham quit the PPP, and launched the People’s National Congress (PNC), he included the leaders of the LCP, which had by then formed its political wing – the United Democratic Party. But yet it is Jagan’s fervently multiracial party that is being accused of being “racial”.

Another contribution of Dr Jagan was his insistence that while there has to be a certain amount of pragmatism in everyday and national life, there must be some overarching principles that should guide citizens when it comes to making decisions and choices.

Dr Jagan was guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism so that others were always aware “where he was coming from”. His party in Government has never abandoned the tenets of the founder – encompassed in the maxim of being “for the working class, the poor and the powerless” – even as they have had to pragmatically accept aspects of the dominant liberal paradigm.

We salute the great teacher Dr Cheddi Jagan.

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