Standing with Linden
Next week’s column will pay tribute to the people of Linden. The diaspora column was originally going to carry a story about a brand new Caribbean journal started by young women from the region, but in the face of the struggle that has escalated over the weekend in Linden, we decided against this at the very last minute and instead, offer some brief observations on the situation in Linden for now.
In an NCN interview shortly after the motion of no confidence in Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee was introduced and debated in parliament, Manzoor Nadir made the following observation in relation to the ongoing situation in Linden:
“This is not about brinkmanship but about leadership. Here we require leadership, at stake is not only the political careers of people, but the community, the economic livelihood, the welfare of the residents and ultimately the entire country.”
Indeed. But perhaps Mr. Nadir should direct this comment about brinkmanship to his colleagues in the PPP and the minority government he is part of. Recent examples abound of failed stewardship and demonstrated contempt for the people of Linden. To name just a few:
(1) In that same NCN interview, Gail Teixiera remarked, “I talk to businessmen and they say look Gail get the Lindeners to understand that they must pay because we also pay, it’s just one of those things that we have to do in life as an adult, you pay your rates and taxes, you pay your water bill, you pay your electricity.” Not only was this a most condescending attitude – there are children in Linden, but the people of Linden are not children – it also represents a contemptuous and gross misrepresentation of the demands coming from the community.
(2) President Ramotar has made his position clear; that he will not go to Linden until the roads are cleared. One supposes that the blockades also exist in Georgetown all the way to the public hospital, since we have seen nothing to indicate that either the President or any government representative visited those injured by the July 18th shootings and transported to the Georgetown hospital. What are Lindeners and Guyanese to make of this demonstrated insensitivity and indifference?
(3) The open letter issued by the President of Guyana to the people of Linden sounded almost as if this community belonged to another country; what is one to make of a letter that in its opening paragraph refers to Lindeners as “you people” and expresses regret for the deaths of “three of your citizens”? The government itself openly acknowledges that communication is key. Surely this cannot be seen as effective communication, or as a respectful way of defusing a tense situation and demonstrating leadership.
(4) On top of this, leaflets were dropped into the community, leading many of us to wonder why so much effort is being put into making it seem as if Linden is some kind of war zone. It is even more incongruous – not to mention a waste of resources – when one considers that this community, unlike any other in Guyana, is only allowed access to state television; instead of air dropping leaflets, they might just as well have run ads all day! We should stop to reflect on this monopolization of the airwaves by the state, and ask ourselves why Linden is the only community in Guyana that has to face this.
(5) According to Demerara Waves, the People’s Progressive Party has issued a statement denouncing “racially insensitive comments and apparent advocacy by some senior members in the private media,” referring to facebook posts and the comments section of some of the media. To be sure, any form of racism, directed at anyone, should be condemned immediately. We should, therefore, rightly expect similar condemnation of the racism on social media that is directed against the people of Linden; even the editors of the facebook page of the President of Guyana have not been quick enough to edit and remove some horrific and extreme comments that have been made in recent weeks. We should also ask the PPP, now that they have rightly broken their silence on this matter, to join us in condemning the racism that was exhibited by the July 2nd editorial of the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, paid for by all Guyanese taxpayers; to join us in asking why there have been no further reports of disciplinary action as promised by Board Chairman Keith Burrowes; and to join us in condemning the use of the letters pages of the Guyana Chronicle to peddle the same tired and racially divisive lines. Lindeners have consistently stated that their struggle is not about race and not about violence, but about economic and social justice.
(6) We have also seen the escalation that occurred while negotiations were ongoing, with reports now of pellets and teargas being used this weekend. In the face of conflicting reports coming from the community and joint services on how this latest escalation started, this too should now be covered by the Commission of Inquiry.
(7) Then there are the knee jerk responses by government officials who should know better, to the burning of buildings, the most recent being the tragic destruction of the One Mile primary school. At least one news report today pointed out that residents of the community participated in apprehending a suspect, as they also did on previous occasions. Lindeners have also openly and repeatedly condemned anyone attempting to take advantage of the situation. We should wait to learn more before we seek to attribute blame for the destruction by fire of several buildings in the community. Instead the Ministry of Education reportedly issued what can only be described as a highly irresponsible, judgmental and inflammatory statement: “We are failing at the Ministry to understand how to burn a school could be determined to be an effective way to protest reform for the payment of electricity rates. We believe that the people of Linden are being used by the politicians who do not so much care about Lindeners as they do about advancing their own wild and undemocratic agendas.” The Honourable Minister of Education Priya Manickchand would do well to revisit her eloquent remarks in parliament on the no confidence motion about waiting for the facts to come out before making judgments or inflammatory statements. Or perhaps she has information at this early stage that no one else does?
These are just a few examples, but this, Mr. Nadir, is what political brinkmanship looks like.