APNU defender and supporter, Ret’d Col. Lelon Saul, former CEO of Ministry of Housing under the APNU led coalition (2017-20, terminated after the change in administration in August), stated (Apr 22) that the GDF did not open fire on rioters (protesters) during the October 1992 general elections. The colonel went berserk responding to my missive (Mar 16) in which I stated that GDF (meant security forces) opened fire to disrupt protesters who were behaving like thugs and who had laid siege of the elections’ offices well as offices of political parties. I have a distinct memory of there being violence (riots), arson, looting, targeting of Indians for attacks and robberies, and the like. Contrary to what Saul penned, shots were fired and people killed as confirmed in reports in NY Times, Stabroek News, and Chronicle.
Col. Saul said he was a Lieutenant at the time and that troops were commissioned under him to assist the police in the maintenance of law and order in G/town. He contends that “not a single round was fired”. I have a simple question for the Colonel: If there were not widespread violence and or serious threat to security, why were the soldiers called in? If rounds were not fired, how were people killed?
News reports stated that the headquarter of the opposition PPP was attacked and under siege. Stones rained on that building as well as on the election office building. Windows were damaged, according to President Jimmy Carter in a report he penned. Carter at one time had to be evacuated by marines. Also, the headquarter of URP office on Croal Street was also under attack causing its occupants to jump windows to escape to safety. Its Presidential candidate Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, had to be escorted to safety. The General Secretary, Leyland Roopnaraine, jumped two stories into a parked truck and hid under the tarpaulin while the URP office was stormed .
President Carter stated in his ‘memoirs’ that there was serious violence on election day and that he phoned President Hoyte requesting action against the violence and the threat to staff at the election office. Carter sated that there was rioting all of town. Hoyte acted on Carter’s request! My recollection is that Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh was put in charge by Hoyte of operations to provide support to the police in restoring law and order. Singh posted troops on roof top surrounding the election commission building. Singh was commended for executing his duties professionally.
The violence (rioting and looting continued) continued. Carter wrote that he made follow up phone calls to Hoyte to end the violence in town. He said the election building was surrounded by hundreds of rioters. A pathway was cleared among the crowd to allow him, his security detail, assistants, and parties’ representatives to enter the election office building.
The Stabroek News of Oct 6, 1992 reported front page, quoting Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis, that “two were killed” and one was seriously injured and hospitalized. Lewis confirmed shots were fired. The NY Times (Oct 7) reported that security forces “gun fire during rioting caused two lives”. On October 5, 1992, the PNC planned an attack on Cotton Field, Essequibo. According to reports, PPPC supporters were beaten by PNC thugs and one Sunil was shot in the leg. The cotton Field Mandir was burnt (Chronicle report).
The soldiers worked with the police as stated by Saul. If the soldiers didn’t do the shooting, who did? The GDF, Riot Squad and Police were responsible for security. All of them must be held responsible for the rounds of fire. The situation was untenable; action from the security forces was necessary. Failure to act would have been an indictment of the security forces.
Saul accused me of presenting ‘alternate facts’. Given the news reports substantiating my comments on the shooting and the violence, who is distorting history and who is presenting alternate facts?
The Kaieteur News (Oct 6, 2019) commented: “October 5, 1992 started a low-intensity civil war which has never abated. This conflict … was caused because one political party has never been willing … to accept its defeat at the polls. October 5, 1992 saw a devious attempt by the PNCR to prevent the holding of the elections of that day. A mob of PNC supporters assembled outside of the Guyana Elections Commission building, then on Croal Street, began to stone the building, claiming they were disenfranchised.
These protestors were bused in by well-known and identifiable persons, including a businesswoman. This person is still around and the media should interview her about who it was that ordered her to shuttle persons to the Commission. … another mob, led by a political strongman, gallivanted down Regent Street and began to loot stores. It also set alight a store which led to a massive fire and the destruction of that store. Hoyte, under international pressure, put a stop to the violence which was being orchestrated from within his party. … The violence following the elections of 1992 would become a recurring pattern for the aftermath of future elections”.
Clearly, this KN commentary affirmed there was violence and which party was responsible. Reports at the time surfaced that Hamilton Green was overheard speaking on the telephone that he was not going to listen to any White man (reference to Carter) on accepting the outcome of the election.
The Carter Center report on 1992 elections: “The violence on Election Day outside Gecom Georgetown Office and at regional office at linden nearly caused the collapse of the elections.” The former President said he was never so frightened for his life as he was on that fateful day and he observed elections worldwide including hotspots in Africa.
Saul excoriated me for referring to the violent protesters as thugs. They may be PNC supporters but if they behave like thugs, then they are thugs. Saul said they were not thugs and were engaged in ‘Black militancy’. No Sir, that is thuggery at its worst regardless of the race of the perpetrator. President Carter called them a mob and rioters.
Beating and robbing Indians and looting and destroying Indian stores is Saul’s idea of militancy. All the stores on Regent Street at that time were owned by Indians except one that was owned by an Afro Guyanese. All the stores that were destroyed were owned by Indians. That lone African owned shop was not destroyed.
No one, particularly a soldier whose duty was protecting people and ensuring law and order, should excuse that kind of behavior. Racial solidarity must never be used to defend hooliganism. That is bigotry at its worst. The troops should have protected peoples’ property and if they did not fire any rounds, as Saul claims, they should have done so in the air to disperse the looters and robbers.
Leyland Roopnarine, General Secretary of URP at the time, said he was on Regents Street around 4PM when he observed destruction and looting of Indian owned stores on Regent Street. He stated that the looters walked in front of soldiers, police, and riot squad, all of who were skinning their teeth, unmoved, refusing to take action as the looters walked right in front of them. So Saul was right the GDF did not shoot the looters; instead, the looters were allowed to go safely with stolen goods. Was that not bigoted behavior? Was it a case of soldiers not opening fire on kith and kin?
In defending the lawless behavior, Saul said he examined the voting slips of the militant protesters and concluded that they had legitimate grievance and the right to vote. He and his troops were not brought out as election agents or workers but to restore law and order. His role should have been confined to that task. It was not his task to determine who had the right to vote. That was the elections commission task. Where on Regent Street were the polling stations that brought the looters to demand the right to vote? Which one of the Indian owned stores denied PNC supporters the right to vote? Disenfranchisement was THE JUSTIFICATION OF HAMILTON GREEN FOR THE VIOLENCE. WHAT HE AND SAUL BOTH IGNORE IS THAT THE CLAIMS WERE ADDRESSED AND ALL WERE ALLOWED TO VOTE WHEN THE CLOSING TIME OF THE POLLS WERE Extended in THOSE STATIONS.
Did race play an action in Saul’s behavior and command instruction to troops? Who is the bigot here?