WHEN the current government took office in May 2015, Guyana was in a state of lawlessness. From the criminalisation of the State and the institutionalisation of phantom squads to the barefaced transfer of state assets to private hands and naked corruption in high and low places, Guyana had become a dysfunctional country.
Harassment, marginalisation and assassination of political opponents had become the norm. The murders of Ronald Waddell, Courtney Crum Ewing and the three men at Linden– Shemroy Bouyea, Ron Somerset and Allen Lewis– were still fresh on the minds of Guyanese. African Guyanese groups and activists have counted over 400 mostly young Black men who were slaughtered by the phantom squads and the police.
Indeed, the disrespect for Civil Rights and Liberties was at the very heart of the discontent that led to the eventual ousting of the PPP from office. The Police State that took root, negatively, affected even PPP supporters, some of whom bolted from that party. Fear gripped the country in a manner reminiscent of the colonial era. Many citizens and groups were deliberately victimised. One remembers the wanton attack on the person of columnist, Freddie Kissoon, or the use of pellets on peaceful anti-government protestors in the days following the 2011 elections.
In a mere four years, order has been restored on that front. This government has respected the right of association and assembly and has upheld the right to free speech. The political opposition and other critics of the government have not been harassed by the police as they engaged in public demonstrations across the country. The Opposition leader and other members of his party have trafficked in provocative rhetoric, but none has been arrested or charged.
The phantom squads, which menaced the society, have disappeared. Although members of these squads have fingered some people in high places, the government has not deployed the security forces to go after them. Similarly, the relationship between these squads and the state security forces have been severed. One only has to ask the residents of Buxton-Friendship who lived in fear for almost a decade what this change has meant for them and their community. From all indications, the violence that was unleashed on that community has left lasting scars on its collective psyche.
Unlike what had become a staple under the previous government, no treason charges have been brought against any citizen. One remembers the experiences of Mark Benschop and Bruce and Carol-Ann Munroe who languished in jail for many years on trumped-up treason charges. This government has not abused the law in the quest to settle scores with opponents. Consequently, citizens have felt freer to participate in public protest against the government.
Significantly, there have been no assassinations under the watch of this government. That is a laudable achievement in a country which has not been spotless when it comes to management of political dissent. As political activist and commentator, David Hinds, is reported in this publication to have told a public meeting in Linden: “This is the first government in the history of Guyana that has not gunned down and assassinated political opponents…this is the first government that its hand doesn’t have the blood of opponents and that, for me, is one of the biggest accomplishments…in fact, it is its signal accomplishment, the fact that this government has not locked up opponents, have not charged people for treason and gunned down opponents, that is a qualitative change.”
In the process of respecting the Civil Rights and Liberties of its citizens, the government has contributed in no small way to the restoration of confidence in that institution. Government is no longer seen as an oppressive entity waiting to pounce on citizens deemed to be critics. Despite much vile criticisms of the government, the PPP has mounted several demonstrations in the city and beyond and not a single demonstrator has been locked up or charged.
In the final analysis, fear has been considerably reduced under the Coalition government. Citizens have testified about not being afraid of losing their jobs if they criticize the government. This development should not be underestimated. While this is an intangible achievement, it has tangible consequences. The absence of fear contributes to an atmosphere of stability which in turn encourages economic confidence. Investors generally are more likely to invest in a country where fear is at a minimum. Similarly, when citizens are not fearful of government, they are more likely to respond to patriotic calls and initiatives.
Further, the promotion of respect for civil liberties and the attendant removal of fear contribute to the democratic standing of the country. David Hinds is again on target in identifying the relationship between removal of fear and the manifestation of freedom: “ … actions such as these prove that the APNU-AFC made a noticeable effort in transforming the society and changing the status quo by removing political fear from citizens, thus making the society freer.”