Sunday, January 27, 2008

Heart of darkness

The massacre of eleven men, women, and children in Lusignan--in the middle of the night, while most of them were in their beds--is the kind of horrific event that newspaper reports describe as "senseless". They were gunned down, it seems, on the orders of Rondell Rawlins, "Guyana's number 1 fugitive", a notorious gang leader already wanted for the 2006 murder of agriculture minister Satyadeow Sawh and others. As the Stabroek News succinctly puts it:

The assault on the community comes in the wake of reports from the police that ... Rawlins had contacted ranks at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters on Wednesday threatening to create mayhem if his alleged child mother--Tenisha Morgan who went missing since Friday last was not returned safely. Stabroek News was told that the gunmen in Buxton are of the view that the pregnant teenager was abducted in an effort to get at Rawlins, who is believed to be the leader of the Buxton/Agricola criminal gang.

So a squad of heavily armed men dressed in black descended on Lusignan and went house to house shooting everyone they found, including terrified children clinging to their mothers.

But in a profoundly revolting way, the Lusignan murders were not senseless at all. They are the logical next step in the civil war raging in Guyana, no less a war for not being recognised by the rest of the world. By Caribbean standards, Guyana has long been a specially murderous place, and one of the hardest things for outsiders like me to understand is how this tendency towards violence can be squared with the gentleness and hospitality of most ordinary Guyanese. But the killings of past decades were not like this. Assassinations of political activists, yes; reprisals against individuals or communities; or old-fashioned stab-and-grab robbery-murders. But the people of Lusignan were not opponents of the Rawlins gang in any conventional sense, and robbery was not the motive. This is something new for Guyana: a quick, easy civilian massacre as a simple demonstration of power. I don't believe, and I suspect most Guyanese don't believe, that the "authorities"--an ironic word to use here--could have prevented the massacre even if they knew it was going to happen. This could well be the tipping point in the war between an encreasingly enfeebled government and an increasingly well-armed and confident criminocracy.

Caught in the middle--no longer merely imperilled by stray bullets, but directly targeted--are the people of Guyana and what bureaucrats like to call "civil society": impoverished, demoralised, terrified. Almost every smart, ambitious Guyanese who can manage it leaves. That's why there are more Guyanese in the New York City metropolitan area than in Guyana. That's why there are so many Guyanese in Toronto, London, Barbados, Trinidad--anywhere they can escape to. And the bright, ambitious Guyanese who have not yet escaped--those whose idealism or patriotism keeps them in their homeland, those who have not yet been lucky enough to get a green card--will never again be numerous enough to constitute the critical mass of educated, civic-minded citizens that every society requires to survive.

I am one quarter Guyanese--my mother's father was born there. I have friends there. I have spent enough time in Guyana to feel a real attachment to certain places, certain ideas, certain hopes. I am trying today to remember what those hopes might be. Instead I feel--I imagine most Guyanese today are feeling--a horrible, sickening despair. I have felt it before--reading about the Sawh murders, the attack on the Kaieteur News workers in August 2006, and various other bloody acts. I have felt it on the streets of Georgetown, so many times, so that as much as I've enjoyed my visits there, I always leave deeply depressed. I've never felt so utterly hopeless about Guyana as I do today, and it weighs all the heavier in this prolonged season of hopelessness about my own country, my own society.

I am afraid Guyana is beyond saving. Afraid not in the rhetorical sense--"I'm afraid it looks like rain"--but in the literal, visceral sense.

Maybe nature will intervene, and some vast disaster, compounded by grossly inadequate emergency services, will inundate the narrow coastal strip, decimate the population, and trigger a humanitarian response from the world.

Maybe someone, somehow, will find natural gas off the coast in undisputed waters; American, British, and Canadian commercial interests will move in, and--what? Our natural gas seems to be leading Trinidad and Tobago down the path to perdition. How could it be any different for Guyana?

Maybe no one will ever find oil or gas, and the Americans and the British will continue to do, essentially, nothing helpful (despite the fact that so many of Guyana's problems today can be traced directly back to the political destabilisation wilfully effected by the British and American governments in the fifteen years before Guyana's independence in 1966, in the name of anti-communism). Yes, the ambassadors in Georgetown said all the right things yesterday, but the new EU trade deal will hit Guyana harder than any other Caribbean territory, foreign "aid" will never make up the deficit, and it always comes with strings attached. How many of Guyana's aid packages require that the government hire foreign consultants to staff the ministries--foreigners who get paid relatively huge salaries, live in Georgetown's best neighbourhoods, and are airlifted out after their two-year tours-of-duty; while possibly qualified Guyanese who might be filling those same roles consequently have even fewer possibilities for employment, and hence fill out their green card applications all the speedier? Yes, when I go to Guyana I too am a foreigner. Yes, there are decent, concerned, dedicated women and men among the expat squads who really do want Guyana to be a viable state, who really do want to help. Yes, the alternative to this kind of "aid" might be an even more rapid and bloody social collapse. But it must be a crisis of some kind when a country's most able citizens flee, never to return, while civil infrastructure is increasingly supported by foreigners on short-term contracts.

So maybe it will be one of Guyana's neighbours that finally, decisively, steps in. No Caricom state has the willpower to do it, and only one--Trinidad and Tobago--might have the financial resources, but the Manning government is too busy failing to check the rise of our own criminocracy. That leaves Guyana's neighbours to the west and south. In that case, pray it is not Venezuela but Brazil that finally acts, and pray it is not an invasion but a negotiated political deal--a massive security presence plus massive infrastructural investment in return for Georgetown or Parika becoming Brazil's northernmost port.

And if there is no external intervention, either from nature or from a foreign power? The balance of power will continue to shift from elected government to narco-criminocracy, and it is only a matter of time until the state fragments and thousands more defenseless Guyanese are slaughtered.

Someone, anyone, tell me I'm wrong. Please.

And tell me what to do.


Anonymous said...

Your sentiments are genuine.

Do you really believe that 11 Guyanese of Indian descent, in a rural vilage, were slaughtered because the head gang leader's girlfriend was arrested?

You know Guyana well enough to debunk such nonsense. The main problem facing Guyana and friends of Guyana is the denial of deep racial divisions and crime on Indo-Guyanese by mainly Afro-Guyanese, and the political correctness by many who dare not tell us the real story.

You mean well but we need to recognize, accept, and deal with the problem rather than duck and hide behind platitudes.

Take care ,


Anonymous said...

I am sick to death to read about all these crimes in Guyana. I f the Guyana government really wanted to get rid and round up these bandits, they can ask a firm of Security in in the West to send in the SAS who are trained to sort out these criminals. The Western country will not tolerate this nonsense that is going on in Guyana. Peaple are frightened to go about their daily business because of these criminals.

Anonymous said...

Great article!
The UNDP published a report in 07 that basically says that the entire Caribbean, bar a few territories, is a haven for narco criminals with these innocent islands now having some of the worlds highest murder rates.
I don't see the issue of race being the reason for the Guyana killings but moreso a complete breakdown in law and order. Guyana's closest Caribbean neighbour, Trinidad, is very much in the same boat and the powers that be seem to be totally inept at dealing with the situation. The question therefore one must ask oneself is why? why is it that these governments cannot get a handle on narco crime? Miami of the 80's - major narco problems and somebody decided to fix it. There is no way you can run a successful billon dollar illegal trade without the help of somebody in authority. The sooner governments decide 'OK you had your fun' the sooner we can start the recovery process. We, as Caribbean people, need to put as much pressure on the regions politicians as humanly possible to save what was once considered to be a true paradise.

indifence said...

What I see emerging in Guyana is politics and intellectual discourse at a tribal level; this does have resonance with the history of this country. That being said, how long can we blame history, for aren’t we creating tomorrow’s history? Guyana needs bold leadership but it also needs its citizens to realise that they will have to demand and be active in the creation of their own destiny. People must start thinking about the collective good, rather than the individual good. There is undoubtedly fear and anxiety among the people but one cannot be trapped by fear; mayhem and slaughter will become too commonplace.

It is tragic that our political elites are not endowed with the strength to make the bold choices that are required at this time. The government is enfeebled by its very own security establishment and is surrounded by too many “yes” men who have not a care about the masses. Further, while the Minister of Home Affairs is busy with his witch hunting, the criminals are organising and executing their murderous plans

Anonymous said...

Most Guyanese will admit that almost half a century after the events in which the emotions originated, there IS still deep fear and distrust between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese. The seeds of fear and distrust are sowed in our minds by our parents and grand-parents and they usually lie dormant until played upon by a person or group of persons with their own agenda (usually political).

Whatever Mr. Rawlins' agenda (or that of his sponsors'), the slaughter of 11 of my countrymen seems a calculated, cold-blooded and partially successful attempt to "create mayhem" in the country. The killings of Indo-Guyanese by unmistakably Afro-Guyanese were calculated to prey upon the latent fear and distrust between the major ethnic groups in Guyana. It has germinated the dormant seeds of these disquieting emotions already planted in our minds and we can only pray that the yield from these seeds will be very small.

All Guyanese need to remember that no one should form an opinion of any ethnic group based on the actions of a psychcopath among the group. I am certain that Afro-Guyanese nurses and doctors involved in the treatment and care of the survivors are doing their best without reservation.

There is nothing on earth that can justify the events in Lusignan, They must be condemned uniequivocally. However, the reality is that the Lusignan killing is not the typical behaviour of the average Guyanese of any ethnic origin, most of whom are hard-working, fun-loving people trying to make a living under difficult circumstances. Instead of justifying Mr. Rawlins' tactics by fighting among themselves, we Guyanese should unite and fight the forces that have spawned the circumstances they have lived with for the last half-century.

Incidentally, Nicholas is right. I KNOW personally the hoplessness and despair but I "escaped" to North America shortly after the "new" crime wave began.

Desert Rose said...

"Heart of Darkness" sums it up correctly.

That is what came to my mind also. For the life of me I did not have the heart to read about this massacre until I came across your post. Finally, I found the courage to link to the media reports and to read about the massacre. I am deeply saddened by the pictures and the first hand reports of witnesses including those of very young children.

Old people used to say that the more things change the more they remain the same. I do hope that Guyanese have the moral courage and strength to move ahead and not give in to the darkness and sadness of this trying time.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Dylan Thomas - Welsh Poet)

Desert Rose said...

BTW you are wrong Nicholas.

The solution is so simple and yet everyone ridicules it or pays no attention to it.

A vegetarian or vegan diet, obey the spiritual laws (ten commandments or precepts) and prayer/meditation.

Also, the foreign ambassadors are only protecting their own self-interests in Guyana. They only want to tap into the resources that Guyana has. Take a second look at the African continent and also Asia including Vietnam. The good thing about Asia is now they are referred to as Emerging Dragons.

In my opinion, this whole situation developing has the 1960's written all over it. Deja Vu!...Everything is starting up where it was left off before...

Hopefully, Guyanese will not succumb to it the second time around.

Anonymous said...

Nicholas, I wish I could tell you that you are wrong.Your analysis is extremely profound, and it is not unique to Guyana, it is somewhat typical of the Caribbean.Interestingly, the tipping point is being reached in several of these states in terms of the ascendancy of the criminocracy as you rightfully contend.