By Adam Harris
WHEN the national motto was coined it was a hope, a huge hope that has not been realised after more than five decades of independence. Life in Guyana continues to be ‘we and them’, the ‘we’ being one group of people bent on self-satisfaction. The other group comprises the ordinary man.
It is no wonder that nearly half of the population do not want the People’s Progressive Party in Government. For twenty-three years it was the ‘we’ who made sure that friends and family benefitted from the fruits of the labour of the ‘them’.
A simple look at the distribution of land, television licences and land would bear me out. I was at Kaieteur News when Anil Nandlall said to me, “Adam, Glenn want radio. He got he newspaper and cussing we every day. If he get radio he will cuss us every minute.”
That party never gave Glenn Lall his radio licence. The coalition did. Jagdeo took away his firearm licences. The coalition returned them. I saw selective employment practices, selective distribution of Guyana’s wealth and selective targeting of the less fortunate in the society for punishment. How else can the nation explain the extra judicial killing of so many? How else can one explain simple people going to jail for a petty infraction of the law? How else can people explain the deliberate destruction of the capital by leaving tons of garbage lying around sensitive locations?
I saw more drug addicts on the streets than at any time in the history of the country. Young men and women were targeted to be drug mules. They filled jails overseas, some as far as away South Africa.
Guyanese were seen as drug couriers even if they were decent people. There is a woman who narrowly escaped jail because a man who had travelled on the same flight returned to the United States Customs to declare some packages stacked in his suitcases.
He had already cleared immigration and customs and was heading home when he went into his suitcase to get a phone. He wanted to call someone to pick him up. It turned out that the packages that he turned over were identical to those found in the woman’s luggage. By then the woman had cried herself to the point of exhaustion. It was then that a customs officer said to the man that he had just saved a woman from jail.
The woman had travelled on Delta Airlines to the United States. She returned home almost as soon as she was released. The airlines simply refunded her the money she spent on the ticket and said nothing about the incident. I, on one of my trips to New York, was given a thorough luggage search. I normally travel very light, just with a carry-on. My reason for doing so was because I did not want anyone to put drugs in my suitcase.
This time when I arrived at the Immigration booth the officer took a year and a day to process my application. He then sent my passport to the customs. There the officer asked me if I had currency in excess of US$10,000. I answered in the negative and proceeded to count the money I had in his presence.
He emptied the few pieces of clothing I had. Then he took the carry-on piece to some section where I suspected they drilled holes in it.
On his return I asked him whether he had ever seen a drug courier as old as me. He answered in the affirmative. When I asked him if this would be a regular treatment for me he merely said that he would not be there the next time I returned. That was the Guyana in which I lived. There were instances where the authorities replaced the entire shift that worked the aircraft loading area. Drugs were coming in on the plane from Guyana and some of the ground staff were complicit in removing the illegal substance.
On another occasion as I was entering the terminal I heard one officer say “Let us hurry. That flight is from Guyana.”
Visas were hard to obtain so people sold their properties to get money to buy their way to the United States. Many are still there living by the grace of the Almighty. Crime was at a peak. There was scarcely a day that some Berbice family was not attacked. Georgetown was no different. People were killed in their homes and many of these went unsolved. It was under the very PPP Government that ministers took to sleeping in hotels rather than in their own homes despite the guards they hired.
Those were the bleak days in Guyana and I am afraid they will return. The government has a lot of favours to honour. I can see the waiving of certain concessions. On the diplomatic scene we do not have to worry. The power shakers will ensure that Guyana’s interests are protected, even if briefly.
But it is what will happen at home that has me worried. People will once more leave school and wonder why they went to school in the first place. I still remember the Bertram College being targeted because of the perception that only black youths were being trained.
It was this perception that led to the establishment of the University of Guyana campus at Tain, Corentyne. The then government wanted to see a large cadre of people of Indian ancestry go to the university. That was not the case. Young Berbice Blacks grabbed the opportunity.
The fear of one section of the society is palpable. Many grew up in an era in which they had to pay bribes for simple things. I saw the rapid transformation of ordinary officers to multi-millionaires with money that they did not earn. There will be contracts to anyone who says he is a contractor, once he looks like the people awarding the contract. Roads would last a mere five or six weeks and the ordinary worker will have to pay.
At this point I hear the song, “Many a tear has to fall, but it is all in the game.”
If politics is a game, I am not playing.