This week I was experiencing a writer’s block and then I saw on television that the movie Spotlight won the best Oscar for picture. The movie is basically a newspaper drama of how the Roman Catholic Church has tried to cover-up sexual abuse by priests. The Atlantic, an American Magazine espouses that “The central cast isn’t the motley crew of self-destructive drunks and grandstanders you’d usually see—this is a film about the methodical process of reporting, not the stirring heroism behind it, and at the end of the film, it’s the story itself, not the journalists’ personal achievements, that stands triumphant.” Put differently in three words: Practice responsible journalism. The story produced is greater than the journalist’s ego.
The contents of film certainly resonate beyond the shores of the United States and it is arguably a sound message to journalists and columnists around the world, including Guyana. My take is that thirty to 40 per cent of what comes out in the daily columns in Guyana should be taken with a grain of salt and more. Propaganda journalism in Guyana is as deep as the Demerara River and as high as Mount Roraima.
That being said, the Freddie Kissoon face and faeces fiasco comes to mind. To recall, Kissoon was assaulted in May 2010 when faeces were thrown in his face. Three individuals – Former Presidential Liaison Officer, Kwame McCoy, self-confessed killing squad member Shawn Hinds and former Office of the President employee Jason Abdulla – were charged and these individuals will be in court starting March 11.
Whatever verdict comes out of that court hearing – guilty or not – the hope is that it will follow the fair journey of jurisprudence. I leave that for the court to decide.
There is a larger concern here that should appeal to all those who seek to write on controversial issues in the media. That is, the throwing of faeces on Kissoon’s face is wrong and should be condemned by all and sundry.
The attack on Kissoon is an attack on all those who choose to write. That attack is a disgraceful and dastardly act that has no place in the free world.
I propose that a bill be put forward in Parliament to provide protection to those who go out on a limb and be courageous enough and say it the way it is. Whatever protection exists right now, it is limited and insignificant.
In Kissoon’s head and trembling hands may not reside a staggering wealth of expertise. But that does not mean he should be attacked physically. He may not abide by the modus operandi of journalism but that does not mean he should be attacked. He may not be a skilled communicator or a gifted columnist but that does not mean he should be attacked. His rumbling baritone and his inflammatory rhetoric in his continuous catacombs of columns do not give anyone the right to attack him. Use your pen as much as he does.
I was told that I was wasting my time responding to Kissoon and I said that might be so but let the man write. Some say that Kissoon has crossed the line and my response is, let the man write. I take this position not only for Kissoon but for all those who write about Guyana in the media.
There are those who are besotted by Kissoon’s writings because they believe that he is informative and does well to society. Then there are those who believe that he should do more than what he is doing rather than less of it.
I believe that attempts to silence writers by whatever means is an attempt to silence what is going on. Writing, in any form, represents free speech and free speech is crucial to the development and sustainment of a free society. I believe that there is no organised effort to hurt journalists in Guyana but my philosophy is, hurting one affects all. The message is more dangerous than the action.
Personally, I do not feel totally comfortable writing the way I write in my weekly column for the fear of reprisal. Nevertheless, I am guided by this mantra. I live to write and write to live and I should have the right to write. Of course, there are limits to freedom of speech based on civility and consciousness but not on consternation. I urge my fellow Guyanese to pay attention to the message in Spotlight. (email@example.com)
The recent release of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that Forbes Burnham and his military and police dictatorship was responsible for the murder of Walter Rodney is not surprising. The response from President David Granger that the Report of the Inquiry is flawed is not surprising. What is surprising is that there is no surprise at all. Guyanese, from all walks of life, including some who are now in control of Government, know that Rodney’s untimely death is connected somehow to the PNC. The confusion is the cover-up of the particulars such as how the plan was hatched and eventually executed. There are also some missing links and unanswered questions. For instance, why was Rodney in the vicinity of Camp Street when he was killed? Why did he have a bomb in his hands? How come a few from the WPA did not testify during the Inquiry?
Further assessment of the Report – if released to the public – by PNC defenders, national and international researchers can bring some additional credibility as to what transpired in the execution of Rodney. It will be misleading to conclude that the search for the real reasons for Rodney’s death will stop with the Report of CoI.
A majority of Guyanese did not expect the PNC to accept the findings. The PNC has always denied any involvement in Rodney’s death, opposed or at least had questions about the CoI and terminated the CoI prematurely against the wishes of many. The two latter positions seem to be that PPP was using the CoI to gain political mileage leading up to the May 2015 General Election. That may be so, but if the PNC accepts any involvement in Rodney’s death, that would translate into guilt, tarnishing and thrashing Burnham’s image – one of the forever founding fathers of Guyana. This is sacred ground for the PNC. Equally troubling for the PNC is that history books will have to factor in the killing of Rodney by the Burnham regime during post-independence Guyana. Can you imagine this happening? Perhaps, since the current President is in the mood of national reconciliation. Unfortunately, this issue seems to be low on the President’s agenda. You would think that the findings would provide the President and the nation with a golden opportunity to start the programme of healing and reconciliation instead of mud-slinging. Say look, we cannot deny the findings.
We can question some of it. But the main finding is that Rodney was killed when Guyana was governed by the most brutal dictatorship in the Caribbean. Some of us were forced to follow orders against our wishes in exchange for sinecures. But we must take some responsibility for Rodney’s death. We must now instil trust in our people that our government, our military and our police will not repeat the brutal past.
So far, quite the opposite has happened: denial and more denial. Moreover, the silence from Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, who was second in command in the WPA when Rodney was killed, is deafening. The lust for power can do strange things to some people. I wonder what Dr Horace Campbell is thinking, a Jamaican scholar who has been very close to the WPA before and after Rodney’s murder. I wonder what Campbell thinks now since Roopnaraine is with the PNC camp.
Special minds are required to figure out why Roopnaraine and some from the AFC choose to remain silent. To blame the CoI or any other entity for being subjective in pursuing the real cause of Rodney’s death would constitute a double murder of this scholar. The first is physical which already happened and the second is the disrespect for human rights, eschewing and denying that Rodney was not murdered.
We know that the current silence from some quarters on the findings is not an oversight. The Guyana Chronicle and Kaieteur News – the mouthpieces of the Government and the tabloids of the nation – chose to publish glowing reports on Burnham’s 93rdbirthday. One wonders what will happen when he reaches 100 years. The circumstances and conditions under which journalists and columnists work under at the two tabloids are unfortunate.
Finally, may I ask if it is possible for someone to print over 2000 t-shirts with an explicit logo showing that Rodney was killed by Burnham and distribute them during the 50 years’ independence celebration throughout Guyana, but particularly in Georgetown, free of charge? I accepted a t-Shirt that reads “BLACK LIVES MATTER” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last week President Granger stated: “The result of May 2015 election, I do not regard as a victory. I see it as an opportunity. For one side to win 207,000 votes and the other side to win 202,000 votes is not a grand victory. Rather it is an opportunity for collaboration, not conflict; for a contract to cooperate and to understand that working together, not fighting, is a formula of the future.”
The aforesaid statements reveal a desperate regime coming to terms with the reality that the victory dance is over, that the honeymoon period is over, and that “victory” now means a victim of circumstances. None of the above was echoed by the President and his team during the election campaign and now since the hope of meeting the expectations of the 100 days manifesto rag is unrealistic, there is a call for collaboration and cooperation based on the US political system of the social contract.
Simply put, the social contract or functionalist approach to governance implies that citizens must give up some rights to government in return to receive and maintain social order, among other things.
The aforesaid statements also reveal defeatism rather than determination, resignation rather than resurgence and a double standard rather than the practice of democracy. The tone of electoral triumphalism has suddenly given way to the tone for togetherness.
In the midst of witch-hunting, surveillance, harassment, partiality in Parliament from the Speaker, crime, social ills, the President is calling for national cooperation. In the midst of the now ruling elites who believe that they have been wronged and deprived materially and under-compensated and who are now enriching themselves and abusing institutional power for personal gains, the President is calling for national collaboration. In the midst of imposed anxiety on the residents at Wales Estate, the President is asking for working together.
In the past, I have asked if this regime has a psychologist or psychiatrist. That individual is needed now more than ever. The nation has hit rock bottom, wrapped in dystopia.
That said, the President’s call for national cohesion and national unity may be bonhomous but his timing, his approach and his speech are bloviating. It is a national aberration to ask the now infect and defect non-supporters of this regime to come under the sway and swagger of the coalition without providing any sound supporting mechanisms for them.
Look at what is going on at Wales Estates, at the rice industry and at Bath Settlement where street lights were stripped and you will see that these are innocent people who are now guilty simply because they voted for the PPP. These individuals have been living a life bound by deprivation and social violence and to place the above pressure on them is hideous and heartless.
What is disturbing is that the regime continues to conceal cleverly its frictions, fissures and fractures while at the same asking the nation for national unity. Why and how these political left-overs have come to occupy political power after bringing Guyana down to its knees will go down as one of saddest chapters in the history of the Caribbean. What a shame.
These so-called political doyens of PNC, AFC and WPA were packing their bags waiting for retirement when they realised they could collectively exploit the masses and assume power.
Their occupancy in important political positions has suffocated opportunities for younger minds to take on the mantle of leadership. One wonders how long the country will be betrayed by this gang of dictatorial despots. One is optimistic that the pledged but deceptive fealty cannot sustain itself, like under the PNC, in the modern globalised world.
To this regime, a properly ordered society depends largely on applying lip service to its critics. It does not believe in addressing strong oppositional views. If you do not believe me check out the grandstanding of Carl Greenidge in Parliament recently; the wild and sweeping statements about the status of Guyana’s forest by Raphael Trotman; as well as Simona Broomes’ conflict of interest in the Ministry of National Resources.
Their hauteur has no place in a society looking for change. To these individuals, change does not mean something different, something new. Rather, change means simply going back to the old ways, the PNC days of horror and terror.
The enthusiasm for promoting social cohesion is also questionable. There is no convincing evidence of anything meaningful being achieved in social cohesion. What is more certain is that the regime displays more reticence than reconciliation on critical issues.
The stable of Cabinet members, especially in the AFC, believes they should be ennobled for removing the PPP from power. Apparently, this is the regime’s highest point so far, and it is clutching at this “achievement” like a drowning man to a straw. (email@example.com)
Last year I conducted an interview with Dr Patricia Mohammed on the status of Indo-Caribbean women. Dr Mohammed is currently Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies and Campus Chair, School for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, and Trinidad.
She is also a pioneer in second wave feminism and the development of gender studies at Tertiary level in the Caribbean and has been involved in feminist activism and scholarship for over two decades in Cultural Studies.
The interview will be published by The Journal of International Women’s Studies (2016). Below are a few paragraphs from that interview.
One purpose of this interview in this column is to bring more visibility to Indo-Caribbean women in the region, whom arguably, have been marginalised in almost every domain of life, including the domestic sphere.
The current regime in Guyana has only a few Indian women in its Cabinet. This is not encouraging to young inspiring Indian women who want to pursue a career in politics.
Lomarsh Roopnarine (hereafter LR): One of the most interesting debates on Indo-Caribbean women is whether or not their indentured experience has led to more freedom than in India or they simply exchanged one oppressed environment for another. In other words, are Indian women better off in the Caribbean than in India?
Patricia Mohammed (hereafter PM): Indian women benefitted from migration in many ways. Many were leaving lives of destitution or in fear of violent husbands and as unpaid and undervalued help in households and perhaps living under conditions that offered them little hope of advancement for themselves and their offspring within their lifetimes.
They were brought into a system that offered advantages of being wage earners in their own right, and being in much shorter supply than men. For the entire period of indentureship to the Caribbean, the female population constituted between 25 to at most 40 per cent of the male population.
The rules pertaining to arranged marriages, dowries and female virginity in India rapidly underwent change as femininity was a more prized commodity and they were able to bargain for greater power in many spheres.
LR: Do you think that women entered into a new caste/class system in the Caribbean?
PM: Migration offered Indians the possibility of challenging the fixed caste system from which they were drawn although there emerged another caste hierarchy mediated by a parallel class system that the migrants would be fitted into in the new society.
Women perhaps had greater flexibility with the caste system as, again, being in short supply, caste endogamy could no longer be binding. At the same time women were also vulnerable as a result of their sex. We are not sure how many women were at risk of unwanted attentions on plantations from overseers and sirdhars (headman on the plantation) but this would have been one of the new threats they faced in the Caribbean, although I am sure there was no shortage of this in India itself.
The difference in the new society was that the family and village network that provided protection was not available in the earliest days of indenture and both men and women were more vulnerable as migrants always are…
LR: What are some newly emerging trends and thoughts on Indo-Caribbean?
PM: Even as we speak, there are new groups of Indians entering, under different migration schemes, changing the landscape of what is constituted as Indo-Caribbean.
Hajima Degia, a scholar at Cave Hill Barbados, has for instance written about the new migration of Gujarat populations into this society, while in Trinidad, groups of commercial and professional Indians are settling into the society.
So the first thing is that we cannot constitute Indians as a homogeneous group who travelled on the same ships around the same time.
The second trend might be the real class differences, between and among the very wealthy and entrepreneurial class, the professional classes who comprise part of the expanded middle class especially in Trinidad and those who still survive barely above the poverty line. These exhibit vast differences in values, cuisine choices, vacation destinations and so on.
The third trend might be the antagonism again between two ideological groups within the Indian communities, those who feel that they have remained and should remain “authentic” to received values and religious traditions from Indian that has not been tainted by western mores and those who view their birth and presence in a multicultural western society as allowing them to combine the best of both worlds, the home as a safe culturally-defined Indo-Caribbean space, the world as the mixture of many cultures that they contend with on an everyday basis…
The significance of this interview in this context is that it adds to Dr Baytoram Ramharack’s series on the Indian mind as well as providing alternative discussions and discourses on Indo-Caribbean women. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
One peculiarity about Guyana is that the poorest people live in the most picturesque places. Of the tonnes and tonnes of places that I am most familiar with, the Corentyne Coast in Berbice comes readily to mind. It is certainly the Delta and the bread basket of Guyana. Increasing poverty, however, has produced social ills like crime, suicide, alcoholism and domestic abuse which undoubtedly have gotten worse since the APNU/AFC collation wormed itself into power.
Thousands have left the Corentyne for greener pastures because they saw no employment, no money, no future, but there is a working class that has remained – the sugarcane and rice workers. Actually, they have nowhere to go.
These individuals associate themselves with sugarcane and rice cultivation on a daily basis. They cling to this routine and know no other way. They work hard and go to bed early and wake up early. The mood of these working class people has always been strong. The weight of their history has always been noticeable in their faces, in their demeanour, in their clothes and in their dwellings and environment. Their neat clotheslines of drooping laundry in their modest housing and the profusion of greenery that permeate their environment are not only beautiful but something that other regions of Guyana can emulate.
Notwithstanding beauty and magnificence, all of Guyana, including the agricultural belt on the Corentyne, are in a state of immeasurable levels of uncertainly since the current regime controls the grid of power through a controversial election last year. This community is on edge. It is disturbed and is very much concerned about its future.
It appears that the people along the Corentyne coast have been conquered and proof of this is in the consistency of their complaints. Will this regime take a stronger stand on supporting sugar and rice cultivation? If not, what is the alternative other than lip service to the public?
All along the Corentyne, there seems to be a sense of profound loss, despair and wounded pride amongst the working class. They were ignored by the PPP that had lost touch with them and their concerns. They were fooled by the PPP defectors. Now, under the APNU/AFC, there is a sense of surrender. Yet, few outside of Berbice have spoken against the injustices inflicted on the working class.
To rule anywhere in the world today, be it in Guyana, Ghana or Greece, and be callous to one group of people who did not vote for you is like living in Siberia and hate snow. This sort of leadership is supercilious since these are the people – the working class – that government needs to engage in to achieve nation building and national unity, not ethno-nationalism and witch hunting.
The challenge here is what should be done to at least make the regime listen or even comply with the demands of a citizenry that it does not seem to have at heart.
One would expect Nagamootoo and Ramjattan to have a bigger heart for the mostly 11 per cent of supporters that put them in power. Instead, these men are too busy trying to regain lost ground with their former PNC enemies, displaying egomaniacal confidence.
Meanwhile, voters in the Corentyne region do not have the clout to hold the regime accountable for campaign promises. The strategy of the regime seems to be, without even realising it, not to risk flexibility but pursue unpopular economic policies they did not campaign for (closure of Wales Estate, for example) on the premise that it would receive ultimate support when successful. This has been the pattern of politics all along. Some divergence are expected but not more than 75 per cent of the 100 days manifesto. In the words of one working class person, the APNU/AFC regime “fool up dem people.” (email@example.com)