News Americas, GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Thurs. Sept. 25, 2014: There comes a time when a nation must sit up and take note of where it is and do something to halt its deterioration. Sometimes a nation gets so tired of being abused, terrorized and pulverized by its government that it takes such a situation for granted.
Government bullying becomes normative. We may be almost there in Guyana, but it’s not too late to do something about it. Take the following statement from a high government functionary that appeared in one of the daily newspapers.
“If Mr. Granger thinks I am weak…You know, he has launched a countrywide protest exercise to hasten the government’s’ signature on a number of Bills. I would like Mr. Granger to know… and I am not threatening or warning anybody. I am just saying that he announced that these things will be peaceful and so forth. If they are not peaceful and should there be any diversions from the peacefulness of any of those protest activities organized by Mr. Granger resulting in upsetting of the peace and good order of our country, then he will see who is really too weak to fight.”
The above quote, attributed to Mr. Clement Rohee, Home Affairs Minister and General Secretary of the ruling PPP, appeared in the September 24 edition of Kaieteur News under the headline: APNU commences countrywide protests for Local Govt. Elections. Mr. Rohee was addressing the media at the PPP’s weekly Press Conference. He was, therefore, speaking as PPP General Secretary.
There are three things about that statement that needs highlighting. First, Mr. Rohee seems upset at Mr. Granger’s statement that he is a weak leader. So he is signaling that he is prepared to use his authority in the government to show that he is not weak.
Second, Mr. Rohee is telegraphing how the PPP intends to deal with the APNU protests if it perceives them to be a diversion from “peacefulness.” There is more than a hint that punitive action will be a first resort or not far from it. It is also clear that Mr. Rohee, not law enforcement officers, would decide if and when the protests are no longer peaceful.
Third, the statement gives the impression that should the protests cease being peaceful, Mr. Granger should expect to be confronted with Mr. Rohee’s show of strength.
Mr. Rohee’s party is fond of reminding the world of the use of state force against opposition protests under a previous government. Yet it is now documented that PPP governments are no different. Mr. Rohee’s bold threat to the APNU leader is representative of an administration that has gotten away with using in some cases deadly force against public protests. While not using the same language, Mr. Rohee’s statement can be compared to another leader’s 1979 statement calling on his opponents to make their wills. Rohee is brandishing the same “sharper steel.” This threat must not be taken lightly.
When a governing party is so cavalier about the institutional force it has at its disposal, it is time for all to do more than take note. Let me end with this. If people protesting for their constitutional right to vote (in Local Government elections) have to do so with the constant threat of state force over their heads then that protest is not peaceful to begin with.
The government’s first duty is to protect its citizens, all of them, even when they are protesting against the government. Clearly Mr. Rohee does not think so.
(Dr. David Hinds, a political activist and commentator, is an Associate Professor of Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University. More of his writings can be found on his website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com)