Anti-Indian Political violence

Anti-Indian Political violence

Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev

This Friday will mark the 20th anniversary of the Jan 12th 1998 Ethnic Riots, when more than 200 Indian-Guyanese were beaten and assaulted in the streets of Georgetown by members of the African-Guyanese community in full view of the police. Yet no arrests were made. The riots followed PNC protests against the PPP’s victory in the Dec 1997 elections - the first one that followed the “free and fair” elections of 1992 that returned the PPP to office after more than two decades of rigged elections by the PNC.

Even though we immediately called for a “Peace and Reconciliation Commission” to enquire why one set of citizens would launch such violence against another, none was ever commissioned by the PPP government then under attack. Rather, it started to implement the “Herdmanston Accord” which had been brokered between it and the PNC by Caricom.

One week after the riots we wrote a letter published in the SN, which began, “While for purposes of analyses we may sometime distinguish ends from means, they are ontologically identical since ends are no more than realized means. If we persist with the artificial distinction in real life we court disaster. The recently Caricom-brokered Accord between the PNC and the PPP is a case in point: while in theory it appears to be a step forward out of our Guyanese dilemma, the means by which the PNC brought the PPP to the table vitiates all hope of any lasting and permanent progress.

The Accord rewards the PNC for jettisoning the rule of law and due process in Guyana. It rewards the PNC for demonstrating to the people that if you lose by a set of rules you yourself had drafted, simply seize the umpire and demand new rules which will guarantee your victory. The Accord rewards the PNC for its willfully lawless, bullying tactics culminating in the Jan. 12th pogrom launched by African-Guyanese against Indian-Guyanese. If not actually executed by the PNC (and this is most arguable), then at a minimum it was prompted by the reckless and inflammatory statements and actions of the PNC leadership and occasioned by the illegal march following Justice Bernard’s ruling…And this is precisely what the PNC has been doing and continues to do.”

As predicted, the subsequent “forensic audits”, Constitutional changes intended to ensure greater “inclusiveness” in Governance for the PNC, truncation of the PPP’s term of office etc did not bring peace. Throughout 1998, the kick-down-the-door banditry against Indians intensified to such an extent that one magistrate called it “guerrilla warfare against Indians”. In the new round of violence in which thirty-one businessmen were murdered, thirty of them were Indian Guyanese. The attacks and murders - primarily on Indians – continued in tandem with regular protest-related violence in Georgetown during 1999 and 2000.

Following the elections of March 2001, after several riots in Georgetown, which as usual targeted Indians, a new and escalated level of murders and other forms of violence were unleashed on Indian-Guyanese along the East Coast of Demerara – especially on the Buxton public road. On Feb. 23 2002 five prisoners escaped from the Camp Street Jail, announced they were “African Freedom Fighters”, and launched an open attack simultaneously on the state represented by the Police and a wave of kidnappings, car-jackings, robberies, and murders primarily against Indian civilians from their base in Buxton. Within one year, there were 161 murders and $261 millions stolen. In a tit for tat sequence, official and “phantom squads” killed hundreds of African youths. The Buxton gang attacks continued until 2008 - a full decade after the riots of 1998 - when their last remnants were killed in a shootout.

In 1990 we stated: “Any proposed solution to Guyana’s problem must address this fundamental fear of the African Guyanese: the fear of being swamped and subordinated by the Indians who form a numerical majority. Any proposed solution to Guyana’s problems must also address the integral experience of Indians: living under the fear of physical extermination.”

With the Indian-Guyanese population shrinking to less than 40%, and the PNC back in office, the African-Security Dilemma has been resolved. Conversely, the Indian Security Dilemma has been exacerbated with no input into governmental policies (witness decisions firing 5700 sugar workers) and the Army, Police and Bureaucracy controlled by an African-dominated government.