The 31st President of the United States of America noted the paradox that every dictator climbs to power on the ladder of free speech, but on attaining that power proceeds to suppress all free speech except his own. He must have had a looking glass that could peek into the future, for nothing more accurately describes the response of the Government of Guyana and its sycophants to the free expression of the citizenry, when such expression is not couched in praise or commentary supportive of the governing political party.
There is an odious presumption on part of the ruling political assembly that occupancy of the Government of Guyana confers upon them the right to say or do whatever they like, as witnessed in the accusations that have been emanating from the leaders of the PPP. At the same time, the methods used in communist-style dictatorships to restrict and prohibit free speech, have become standard operating procedure in Guyana today. Quite recently we witnessed a situation in which the police were allegedly ordered to arrest a miner because he engaged in his constitutional right to criticize the Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn. According to accounts published in the independent press, the 32-year-old miner told the Minister that they were going to lose the elections. In attempting to rationalize the arrest, Clinton Hazel, the Chief Mechanical Engineer of Transport and Harbours Department, according to KN claimed that the miner was rude to the minister and spoke to him in a derogatory manner.
It is not clear what authority Mr Hazel was citing to categorize the miner’s speech as disorderly, or what constitutional understanding of the limits of free speech impelled him to the argument that it was lawful to take away the liberty of a citizen for being rude or insulting a government or a minister on account of performance. The past and current President of Guyana and the Attorney General publicly engage in the most vile and odious diatribes about their political opponents. Since what the miner said pales in comparison to what emanates from the afore-mentioned persons, could it be said that they were indulging in derogatory and disorderly speech, and would their arrest on those grounds be justified? Just asking.
It could be argued with no fear of impeachment, that complaints of wrongdoing made against people associated with the PPP never, I say, never result in an immediate arrest, even when they are right there on the scene and the violation is of a serious nature. But a little boy pointing a middle finger at a passing motorcade will be hauled away to jail. It is testament to the hypocrisy and hubris that infect the reasoning of the leaders of the PPP that they are unperturbed and unruffled by these happenings.
A national media apparatus that is funded by all taxpayers has become the exclusive preserve of the governing political party and its army of sycophants for the exposition of propaganda that is so unreasonable and irrational, that it would be prime material for the old radio comedy show, ‘No big thing,’ if the implications and horror it holds for the unity and development of the nation were not at stake. A government that controls 100% of the national media and maybe 95% of the private media through the largesse of ad revenue and other token state rewards, now wants to establish a body to control and suppress the output from the remaining 5% of private media. It is not a question any more of whether Guyana is sliding towards dictatorship. It is a done deal, and the only question that remains is how long the good citizens of this nation will accommodate this.
Editor, the President of the United States of America is subjected to the most awful denunciations and lies about his policies, his character, his religion, his birthright. But he has the abstract intellectual understanding that people have a right to their opinions, regardless of how irrational they might appear. He also understands the concept of rights, of freedoms, of equality, of democracy. Being the head of the strongest and most developed nation in the world has not gone to his head. The question becomes, how is it that the political power of a small nation where the development one sees amounts to an “oasis of wealth in a desert of poverty” managed to infect them with such hubris, such pompousness, such blatant disdain for the rights and freedoms of others.
Charles Sagan opined that “..One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we have been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.
“We’re no longer interested in finding truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we have been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back…” It is incumbent upon the citizens of our nation to immediately cease allowing themselves to be bamboozled by the played out strategies of fear and division, and work to create a democracy that shuns the concept of equal and more equal.
Mark A Benschop