JANUARY 12TH : 20 YEARS ON
Photo : Ryhaan Shah
January 12th 1998 was yet another day of infamy in Guyana’s political history. In that post-elections violence, PNC supporters took to the streets of the city to rob, assault and rape Indian Guyanese. It was 20 years ago but the social and political environment that nurtures that racial divide remains intact as the status quo.
GIFT (Guyana Indian Foundation Trust) presented its report on the atrocities that occurred on January 12th at a symposium the following June at Le Meridien Pegasus. The victims’ accounts were carefully gathered and the GIFT report concluded that the attacks were “nakedly and explicitly racist. Indian Guyanese were consciously selected out for brutalisation …. They were attacked not for anything else but that they were seen to be Indians. Such deliberate, unabashed racism presents a most frightening spectre and bodes ill for the future.”
That report was not the only one compiled on Guyana’s racial/political violence. The first, on the Wismar Massacre, was done in 1964 following the May 23rd to 25th onslaught by African Guyanese on Indian Guyanese living in the Wismar and McKenzie area. That three-day spree of arson, assault, rape and murder culminated in the ethnic cleansing of Indian Guyanese from the townships and led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by the British colonial government.
As with the GIFT Report, the COI into the Wismar Massacre came to similar damning conclusions and stated unequivocally that the disturbances were politically and racially motivated. The commissioners noted that “the thorough destruction of East Indian property, and the fact that the security forces were in no case able to apprehend arsonists, force us to conclude that the destruction . . . . was organised, and well organised”.
With no state policies ever instituted to prevent a recurrence, the racial/political terrorism reared up again in Buxton in 2002, driven by a cry of “African marginalisation”. And this time, the African Guyanese terrorists were well armed with AK-47s which raised the probability of fatalities more than a notch.
This round of violence continued for nearly two years and was also analysed and a report compiled and published by GIHA (Guyana Indian Heritage Association). The report “Indians Betrayed: Black on Indian Violence February 23, 2002 – February 28, 2003” came to the same conclusions as the previous two: that the attacks were politically motivated; that they were African Guyanese on Indian Guyanese atrocities; and that they were intended to destabilise the democratically elected PPP Government then in office.
The three reports are all based on factual evidence substantiated with names, dates, places and the circumstances of the arson, assaults, rapes and murders.
The GIHA publication provides a day-to-day account of the terrorist attacks compiled from media reports and includes, for instance, the kidnapping of Jinga Motilall, 65, at 10am on October 30, 2002, in Vigilance, and his body being discovered the following day in the Buxton/Annandale sideline trench; and the shooting of Mohabir Lall, 40, of Non Pariel in his head on December 24, 2002. Lall died four days later.
These were only two of the dozens of murders committed. None of the published reports are narratives with a neatly rounded-out number of so many hundreds killed with no supporting list of names, dates, etc.
The late PNC leader Desmond Hoyte stated publicly that the police and army are their “kith and kin” who will provide support and cover for the party’s political/racial terrorism. The absence of the police was noted in Wismar in 1964, on January 12th 1998 in the city, and throughout the Buxton terror.
This party loyalty is a major component in the unprofessionalism and corruption of the armed forces but since it favours the PNC, there is no reason for the party to want it changed. Nor did any PPP Government institute any policy changes to professionalise the armed forces.
Rather, the PPP’s policy of appeasement towards African Guyanese in order to win them over only serves to absolve the perpetrators of all accountability and responsibility even though the violence on their supporters demonstrates the PNC and their supporters’ unwillingness to be governed by what they consider an Indian Guyanese Government.
Even as the ballots for the 2015 general elections were being counted, the threat of violence – matches were being lit – was palpable. And if the PPP is elected to government again, the question is whether the PNC will not once again try to make Guyana ungovernable.
That 20 years on from January 12, 1998, the environment of division and discord that led to those atrocities is unchanged, is an indictment of the country’s bankrupt political leadership.