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At some point, Guyana has to come to grips with reality. Our country is at a very bad place. In fact, it has been at a very bad place for most, if not all, of its post-colonial experience. We have been unable to negotiate a peaceful coexistence based on agreed norms and premised on mutual respect for the right of all groups to equitably share the country’s blessings. We have lurched from one crisis to another without much recognition that we are in a permanent state of crisis. All sides have been buried in their own view of reality, which are often coloured by deep distrust of the other.
While our politicians are often isolated as the culprits, the entire society is compromised. Even those who have managed to stake out a little independent space, find it difficult to act independently in the face of a culture that is disrespectful to any viewpoint that does not validate one contending narrative or the other. Our elites either join line up behind their respective tribe, cower in fear or bark only when their pet interest is threatened. We have become a nearsighted country that sees trees but have no idea what the forest looks like.
It’s a kind of contrived dishonesty that Guyana has become accustomed to—a sad reality. So, Orin Boston is gunned down by a police SWAT team in clear violation of the right to life. The assumption by the shooter about the value of Boston’s life cannot be divorced from universal assumptions of Black lives. We have seen that script over and over in Guyana and beyond. Yet, Mr. Boston’s killing hardly gets on the front pages of our daily newspapers. There are no searching editorials that explore the origins of this national malaise beyond discussion of police reform. The columnists, often fulsome in their condemnation of national sins and who are ever quick to identify the acts of “omission” of others, are silent. The silencing of their voices is tantamount to the silencing of the murder by the State of a citizen who does not look like them.
Where are the voices of rage from the Indian Guyanese elites? Where is the outrage from the PPP? Where is the outrage from Ravi Dev et al? Where are the columns of outrage from the guardians of democracy? Where is the outrage from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce? Where is the outrage from the women and the organisations who recently rose to the defence of a female Minister of Government? Where are the voices of the Christian, Hindu and Muslim leaderships? One side mourns while the other side is oblivious to the deeper meaning of the moment.
The silence speaks volumes about our value system regarding public issues. That the execution of another brother by the State does not rise to cross-ethnic national importance beyond small talk about police reform is an indication of how uncomfortable a country Guyana is. How can we not be moved by the imagery of a father being executed in front of his wife and children? What kind of heartless society we have become? Or has the logic of partisan politics muzzled our collective humanity?
In a delicate multi-ethnic society like Guyana, we are constantly called upon to show love across the divide. When Indian Guyanese, Amerindians, Chinese and Portuguese could mourn with African Guyanese as the wail for justice for their sons, Guyana becomes more hopeful. Our common outrage against human rights violations is a necessary mark of jointness that tells us something about our desire to live in harmony. But if we select our own meaning of human rights as we often do in Guyana, we surrender to the magnet of them versus us.
It is my firm view that Guyana’s 2020 election has left irreparable scars on our country’s psyche. It was a moment of supreme challenge for a country of inevitable challenges. Our common failure to reach for a deeper solution than what appeared obvious was a mistake of great proportion. In post-2020 Guyana we cannot even talk to each other, mourn with each other or protect one another from COVID19. And worse, we cannot even see the linkages because when “good” triumphs over “evil”, the beneficiaries of the good become custodians of God. One man pulled the trigger of the gun that released the bullet which killed Orin Boston, but the arrogance of power and the paralysis of a nation are the culprits.