ONE of the most conspicuous characteristics of the Guyana state apparatus under the APNU+AFC coalition government is the complete absence of the vindictive state. It is one of the intangible, immeasurable benefits of the change that came with a new government in 2015. Some express concern about government policy-making in some areas but fail to highlight the fact that the republic now breathes freely without the fear of reprisals or attacks from the state.
Let me be clear, the present status quo should not be considered as some gift being offered by the government or some magnanimous gesture; this is how it should be in a parliamentary democracy, the state apparatus should never be used as a mechanism to advance the personal, petty agendas of those who exercise tutelage over the people. Having considered this, it is no surprise that as the date for regional and national elections draws closer, Guyanese are anxious, nay, scared by the thought of a return of the spiteful state which existed pre-2015, undergirded by a puppet presidency armed to the teeth with oil revenues.
What is a vindictive state?
The French Marxist philosopher describes the retaliatory state apparatus as one that is characterised by coercion and the use of violence as an unofficial policy to settle disputes and deal with perceived enemies and disposed to seek revenge. The repressive state uses all resources at its disposal to crush any manifestation of a challenge to those who exercise aegis over a polity. Some examples are close to home in the Caribbean: The Francois Duvalier regime (Haiti) 1957-1971; the Raphael Trujillo regime (The Dominican Republic) 1942-1952; the Bharrat Jagdeo regime (Guyana) 1999-2011; the Donald Ramotar Regime (Guyana) 2011-2015. Both Duvalier and Trujillo are part of the pantheon of the ignominious exemplars of diabolical rule and cannot be easily paralleled, but for all intents and purposes of this discussion, the examples hereunder are drawn from the experiences of the Guyanese people under the latter regimes mentioned.
The Vindictive State and the Media
The most vengeful regimes are intolerable of dissenting views, a simple expression of disagreement, even if constructive, is considered the work of an enemy. This sad state of affairs was on regrettable display every day of the Guyanese existence pre-2015. The withholding of state ads from Stabroek News; the threats of execution of journalists; the selective distribution of radio licences; the targeting of those media operatives who expressed anti-government views on social media or in the letter columns of the newspaper; the use of the state newspaper to besmirch anyone who was perceived as anti-government; the denial of job opportunities for journalists who leave the profession and the stifling of owners of private media who held independent views. All of the aforementioned occurred before 2015 and the nation is haunted by the possible return to these darks days; the same players who perpetuated the system are around and very much alive waiting to pounce again with increased and renewed venom.
The Vindictive State and the Public Service
The Public Service invariably gets caught up in the whirlwind of any vengeance being exacted by the state. In developing countries, the state is usually the largest employer and citizens depend heavily on the government for employment. It is for this reason that the public service becomes ground zero for the machinations of those who possess state power. Normally and dangerously so, the first order of business of any spiteful government is the purging of the public service of independent public servants and those who are perceived as not too friendly with the incoming regime. This is sadly best exemplified in the pre-2015 period and the players who once perpetrated the purging of the foreign service; the vicious non-appointment of Genevieve White-Nedd as chief education officer; the withholding of salary and benefits from members of the judiciary who did not rule in favour of the state; and the removal of career public servants who did not agree to join party activities, are still around and licking their chops to once again reign down terror. This is the spectre that haunts the nation.
The Vindictive State and Communities
Evidence of the coalition government being devoid of the viciousness of the pre-2015 period can be seen in the development of communities. The pre-2015 vindictive state looked at electoral maps and identified communities that did not vote in favour of the custodians of the state and sought revenge by denying basic needs within those communities. This also included the destruction of the social fabric of those communities with extra-judicial executions and consistent police harassment. The coalition government has brought this dastardly practice to a complete end, even to the chagrin of some extreme supporters. Some communities are mortified by the idea of this occurring again.
The Vindictive State and Business
No one was spared from the wrath of malicious government in the pre-2015 period. A businessman went on a casual night out on the town in 2014 and during this engagement, he had a few beers and expressed his frustrations with the government’s policies. It was the worst decision he had ever made in his life; he had communicated his displeasure to someone very close to a high state functionary. As a consequence, the tax authority came after him with ferocity. He could not survive this challenge and migrated. This is just one example in a catalogue of transgressions by the state vis-a-vis the business community in the pre-2015 period.
The vindictive State and the Streets
Street power or street terror is always present wherever this Leviathan raises its head. The pre-2015 Guyana provided no departure from this phenomenon. Death squads and drug gangs that owed allegiance to the state were always on call to extinguish political enemies. Again, those who perpetuated this system are alive and well, a sad indictment of the failure to successfully prosecute those who were complicit in these practices.
The vindictive state cannot survive in an open society; once there are elections and democracy is vibrant, citizens have the power to prevent the rise or return of this poisonous politics. Fear must be transformed into a resolve to vote; it is a national duty.