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The first decade of the 21st century, perhaps, was the Guyana’s bloodiest. The exact number of persons murdered during this period remains contested but there is no disputing the level of fear, insecurity and violence which the country experienced during that decade which Granger refers to as ‘The Troubles.’
The Troubles: the secondary impact of criminal violence is the title of a book written by former Guyanese President, David Granger, a few years before he assumed the Presidency. It examines the antecedents, causes and consequential impact of the violence which threatened a total breakdown of law and order between 2000 and 2009.
Granger identified five factors which he believes were responsible for the ‘Troubles’: first, the atmosphere of polarization created by the election of Janet Jagan as President; second, government’s ambivalence towards extrajudicial killings by the police; third, the incapacity of the law-enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system; fourth, political interference in the Guyana Police Force and, fifth, the reluctance to implement reasonable, remedial measures in a timely manner.
The performance of the Guyana Police Force attracted a great deal of adverse criticism during the decade 2000-2009. The US Department of State’s Human Rights Country Report for Guyana (2002) pointed out that not only were there allegations of unlawful killings involving the police but, also, that police investigations into such acts were rarely conducted and that, in general, police abuses occurred with impunity.
The police, however, also became victims of the criminal violence which engulfed, primarily, Demerara-Mahaica, the country’s most populous Region. The US Human Rights Country Report noted that, following the escape of five prisoners from the Georgetown Prison, criminals began targeting police officers with the unprecedented murder of twelve of them between February and October 2002.
Granger, interestingly, did not link the criminal violence with any political motive. The five high-profile prison escapees whose jailbreak triggered a criminal surge claimed they were freedom fighters. Eusi Kwayana in his book, The Morning After, imputed political motives and accused unnamed political operatives of going into the Buxton-Friendship community – one of the epicenters of the criminal conflagration – and of instigating problems. It may have been his way of deflecting concerns over the villagers’ complicity in harboring criminal gangs but it also implies political motivations may have been involved in the criminal attacks launched from the villages.
Granger also avoids labeling the ‘Troubles’ as an ethnic conflict. He described it as criminal but not communal. This assessment does not accord with the views of some Indian-rights organizations which saw the ‘Troubles’ as involving ethnic and political attacks, primarily on Indians. The Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) published a crime report entitled, ‘Indians Betrayed: Black on Indian Violence. Government Denial and Inaction’. The ‘Report’ covered the period 23rd February 2002 (the day of the jailbreak) to 28th February 2003. It found that there were clear ethnic/ political motives in the criminality of that period.
The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration had attempted to implicate the then People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) political Opposition in the ‘Troubles’. Granger, in his book, uses the PPPC administration’s own admissions to demolish this line of argument. He quoted statements made by the then Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, to the effect that much of the criminal violence was related to the narcotics trade. Luncheon declared, as early as November 2002, that there was “…plausible evidence to suggest that there is a body out there that is involved in criminal activities and that it is not the escapees and those who have been associated with the escapees.”
Granger skillfully marshals his facts and his sources. He provides names, places, numbers and references, including independent sources, in arguing his case about the causes of the ‘Troubles’. He makes out a credible case that the violence of that period cannot be reduced, simply, to one of ethnic or political conflict but involved a more complex interplay of criminal factors.
The Troubles: the secondary impact of criminal violence is divided into three sections. The first discusses the background and causative factors of the violence. The second section of the book examines the crisis of governance which characterized that period, particularly the decisions and actions, or inaction, of the PPPC administration which was responsible for public security at that time and which was obliged to respond to the ‘Troubles’. Granger indicts the former President – who served uninterrupted for the entire decade – for what he says was a failure to retrain the police, to re-energize civil society and to restore satisfactory standards of public security and public trust.
The third section essays a most interesting and intriguing socio-psychological theory about the long-term effects of criminal violence on society. Granger advances the thesis that there is a ‘secondary impact’ of the violence associated with the ‘Troubles’. He suggests that the generation of children who might have been unwilling witnesses to the criminal violence eighteen years ago has now grown up. For him, this generation still carries the scars – physical and psychological – of that period. Memories of those bloody events have not been erased. Many persons living in the worst-affected communities today, he writes, are still suffering from the aftershock of the ‘secondary impact’ of the violence which they saw on the streets or read of in the news media.
The idea of a ‘secondary impact’ of traumatic experiences is not unknown to clinical psychology. Psychologists have long understood that traumatic experiences can have long-term residual effects on victims and witnesses. Granger points out that the ‘Troubles’ have had a cumulative and corrosive ‘secondary impact’ on society.
The ‘Troubles’ might seem to have receded into local history. The recent civil unrest which started simmering in West Berbice and East Corentyne, however, is an indication of the fragile state of the country’s ethnic and political security.
David Granger’s The Troubles: the secondary impact of criminal violence, in this regard, is of particular relevance. The book sounds a warning that, unless the causative factors of violence are addressed, Guyanese society will remain a tinder box, ready at any time to be ignited into a conflagration of criminal violence, as it did during the first decade of the 21st century.