Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The Stabroek News runs a gloomy editorial today. (No direct link because the SN has no online archive.)

"Few who have had to endure the ordeal of daily life in Demerara over the past eight months would deny that the country is in a state of crisis more dangerous than at any other time since Independence....

"In this grim scenario, the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary that the proclamation of a state of emergency would not enhance the work of the Police and Defence Forces seemed quite startling. 'You would not believe that a miracle would occur because a state of emergency had been declared. A state of emergency, at the bottom line, calls for enforcement,' Dr Luncheon is reported to have said.

"Getting deeper into the subject, the Cabinet Secretary went on to suggest that, at a time like this when laws against larceny, murder, shooting and killing could be disobeyed with impunity, 'no one should believe that a state of emergency would be obeyed'....

"The Constitution provides for a state of emergency to be proclaimed under certain conditions, such as when Guyana is at war or when democratic institutions are threatened by subversion. At such times, extraordinary powers are needed, for limited periods, to deal with any situation which threatens the security of the State.

"The powers most likely to be strenghtened by emergency regulations are the arrest and detection of suspects; censorship and control of the media; control of harbours, ports, transportation and trade; authorising searches of persons and premises; and the appropriation or taking control of property.

"These are extreme examples of actions which the State may need to take to restore a condition of normalcy in a part or the whole of the country. The advantage of these special regulations is that they strengthen the hands of soldiers and policemen and weaken the normal safeguards of suspects, shady characters and criminals, thereby making it easier to detect, and more difficult to commit, crimes.

"Clearly, the current crisis warrants some sort of extraordinary action by the State to curtail the criminal mayhem. The normal operations of the police and defence forces have not been able to guarantee the safety of its citizens and the security of the country.

"If a state of emergency is not the answer to the question of internal security, what is?...

"The Cabinet's decision not to move forward to declare a state of emergency seems to be an admission that the criminals hold the upper hand and that the security forces cannot bring the situation under control."

The scenario is truly grim when a nation's free press is forced to call for government action towards, among other things, "censorship and control of the media"; perhaps more grim when a government is forced to admit that even restrictions on basic liberties will do nothing to control the current state of anarchy. Is the rest of the Caribbean paying any attention?

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