The legacy of the terror
Photo : Ravi Dev
ROAR of Ravi Dev 2-25
There are increasing signs we are fast descending into a repeat of the widespread terror unleashed in the populace during the Burnham dictatorship. Maybe it is part of the project to continue his “legacy” so we should continue to examine that legacy. The terror in Burnham’s state was generated essentially from two sources. First, there was the physical violence meted out by organised bands of thugs and the rapes and murders of the ‘kick down the door’ bandits. Secondly there was the psychic violence emanating from the breakdown in the legal order; the destruction of the societal values, and the pervasive lawlessness, which the regime extended into every facet of the lives of the citizens.
In a bifurcated state (ethnic or otherwise), where the governing party has decided to maintain its rule by subjugating the excluded group, violence against this group is inevitable, and from the perspective of the rulers, salutary. The message is inculcated into the dominated group: the wages of rebellion is extermination.
Violence as a political tactic was introduced into Guyanese politics during 1962-63 by the C.I.A/T.U.C/P.N.C./U.F. alliance against the P.P.P. Government and is the variable that distinguishes us from TT and Suriname. It quickly escalated into a racial civil war due to the racial support-base of each political party. The P.P.P. attempted to reciprocate in 1964 but soon learnt that the success of the tactic of violence depended on whose group controlled the coercive apparatus of the state and it was not the P.P.P.’s.
Burnham was fond of informing his audiences, “the P.N.C. brought peace to Guyana” and that if they were removed, violence would return. The Guyanese people understood his message. During the seventies, the House of Israel (H.O.I.), comprised of young African Guyanese, was Burnham’s personal “goon squad” and was used indiscriminately against Indians and other opposition figures. In 1979 the group was provided with automatic rifles and other weapons.
“Kick-down-the-door” bandits were small bands of armed hoodlums (some claimed they included members of the H.O.F. and members of the Disciplined Forces) who viciously preyed on the population, inflicting gratuitous violence during their robberies. Eusi Kwayana said their directed depredations against Indians “had the flavour of racial genocide”. Their terroristic actions, which have evidently been revived, were so pervasive into the 80s that few Indians families did not “keep watch” during the night.
The Pervasive Lawlessness
Even more insidious than the direct violence was the feeling of helplessness and a belief that nothing or no one could change the situation. This “atomisation” and fatalism of the excluded group is the goal of the maximum leader. The impoverisation of the population, seen today in the sugar belt, further contributes to the atomisation. As Aristotle observed, when the people have to scavenge for food all day, they have very little time or inclination to plot rebellion or revolution against the dictator.
They are impelled towards individual solutions, which are the “fight, flight or submit” responses of cornered animals. The individual who elects to fight the system is easily contained and defeated by the bureaucracy, the police, the judiciary and other state forces arrayed against him. The conflict is not allowed to escalate to higher levels. This existential reality has forced Guyanese to opt for the other two solutions of “flight” (emigration) and “submission”.
These options have provided the dictatorship with its major safety valves. Emigration increased steadily from the early sixties and at this point it is estimated that as many Guyanese are “outside” as “inside”.. These emigrants include the majority of the middle class and intelligentsia - the groups from which most revolutionary movements have sprung. Most Guyanese remaining in the country are either “waiting for their papers” (visas) or “hoping for their papers”. All eyes are cast aboard. Submission to the system in Guyana, and surviving, implies acceptance of corruption as a way of life.
Corruption becomes institutionalized: the maximum leader understands that corruption can be a substitute for violence: when the citizen offers the bribe and official accepts, both satisfy their immediate wants but more importantly, the citizen tacitly accepts the status quo. The citizen boasts of having ‘lines’connections. He who corrupts a system’s officer is more likely to identify with the system than he who storms the system’s police stations.