Guyana Election Countdown – I Fear for Vanessa Kissoon’s life

Vanessa Kissoon, a professional teacher and a regional member of Parliament for Guyana’s Region 10 Upper Demerara-Berbice.

By Dr. David Hinds

News Americas, PHOENIX, Arizona, Sat. Mar. 28, 2015:  I write in solidarity with Vanessa Kissoon, a professional teacher and a regional member of Parliament for Guyana’s Region 10 Upper Demerara-Berbice.

This young woman has been bearing too much on her own. I have hesitated in the past to say anything about her travails because I did not want to become embroiled in the affairs of a party to which I do not belong. And I still don’t.  From my estimation Ms. Kissoon is of the political type that elites would rather not have around. She is working class, fearless, independent and most of all driven by an instinct for resistance, not as a convenient tool but as a way of political life. I am sure she, like all of us, has not always conducted herself in the most disciplined manner.

According to news reports Ms. Kissoon heckled at a recent PPP meeting in Linden. The newspapers originally reported that she was subsequently arrested. The public only leaned that this was not true when Ms. Kissoon wrote to the media. We then read in the media that she may still be charged.  The PPP media also reported that Ms. Kissoon’s party has condemned her behavior. Her party has not denied this report.

The coalition, of which her party is a part, is reported to be conducting an investigation into exactly what happened. The spokesman, not a member of Kissoon’s party, explained at a press conference that it has advised its members to stay away from other parties meetings. The inference here is that Ms. Kissoon may have violated a directive from the leadership. He opined that Ms. Kissoon may have been baited by the PPP. Importantly, he did not unambiguously defend Ms. Kissoon against what is clearly a ploy by the PPP to use the police to harass opposition members and supporters under the guise of law and order.

I don’t know if heckling at a public meeting is a criminal offence. If it is, then the police have been grossly negligent in discharging their duties for decades. The question is why all of a sudden the police are threatening opposition activists for heckling? But my big question is why in the face of this, the APNU/AFC seems to be more concerned with whether Ms. Kissoon violated a party advisory than the fact that she is now being targeted for harassment?

Here is my concern. Ronald Waddell was first harassed before he was killed. The protestors at Linden were harassed and maligned before three of them were killed. Courtney Crum Ewing was harassed before he was killed. In all three cases Civil Society and the opposition political leaderships eulogized them when they were dead. But when they were being harassed these people did nothing and said nothing. Some of them, I am sure, did not even take notice.  The political leaderships, civil society, the media and to some extent the general populace must bear some responsibility for these killings.

It is why I am using my pen to alert the nation to what I see as a calculated plot to harass and harm opposition activists. Only a few weeks ago the long arm of the state traveled across the seas to threaten another activist for making the linkage between reckless political rhetoric and murder. Others have since said exactly the same thing and have not been warned to desist. Clearly some are marked.

I use my pen and voice to call on the APNU/AFC and civil society to raise your voices at the slightest harassment of political activists. You may in the process upset some possible sinister plans. Don’t wait until they are dead to picket and sign petitions; do so while these people are being harassed. Harassment is the stepping stone to worse things. When they get through with harassment, they are emboldened to go further.

Frankly, I fear for Vanessa Kissoon’s life. We did a horrible job at protecting Crum Ewing from the bullet. We are doing a horrible job of protecting Vanessa Kissoon; Guyana does not have her back. Her political leadership is more concerned about political correctness that protecting her. For me, I have long stopped depending on the Opposition and Civil Society elites for solidarity. I do what I have to do in the name of fairness and justice and resign myself to the consequences. Some of us are expendable it seems.

But it’s not too late for us to stop being a nation of deniers and correctness. As Nelson Mandela once said “There comes a time in the life of a nation when we are left with two choices – submit or demand.” That time has long come to Guyana. Vanessa Kissoon is not submitting because she recognizes that we are in the presence of the most politically depraved moment in our post-colonial experience. I end with this message to Vanessa Kissoon – if my pen and my voice mean anything, I have your back.

Dr. David Hinds, a political activist and commentator, is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University. More of his writings and commentaries and other news and views on Guyana and Caribbean politics can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website