What does it say about a nation when the first thing offered to those arriving to its shores is alcohol? Yes, Guyana makes excellent rum. No, I am not a teetotaller; I do drink. However, I was appalled at the sight that greeted me at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport on Monday, April 14, of several women serving plastic cups of rum punch to the disembarking passengers. There were many young people in the crowd and I witnessed several of them gleefully accepting and imbibing the alcoholic beverage offered. At no point in time was any attempt made to ascertain whether they were underage or not. I know rum punch does not contain a great deal of rum, and that one cup alone is unlikely to cause any major problems, but that is not the point.
The point is that we have a problem with alcohol use and abuse here in Guyana. We are not a society that imbibes moderately; instead alcohol abuse is widespread at all levels of society, contributing significantly to many societal problems such as interpersonal violence, traffic accidents, etc. As such, it is bizarre and appalling to me that mere months after a top minister of government is accused of causing a traffic accident and of being under the influence of alcohol, that someone would think that handing out free cups of an alcoholic beverage to all and sundry at the national airport would be a good idea.
I have travelled a fair bit to points all across the globe, but at no time – not even when I arrived at Piarco, Trinidad, on the eve of Carnival – was I ever offered an alcoholic beverage upon landing. I can understand the impulse to showcase a Guyanese product. However, there are other smarter, less problematic items that do not come with the negative impact of alcohol which could have been proffered (baigan choka and bake for example, which I read that recent UK tourists were feted with). This would have made more sense and have been gladly accepted, since we had not been provided with breakfast on the plane. The choice of rum punch however, was inappropriate, misguided, and calls into question the common sense of those in charge.
I would like to know who made this mindboggling decision to share out this alcoholic beverage at the CJIA. Was it Minister of Tourism, Irfaan Ali or some unthinking staff member of his? Someone at the Tourism Authority? What role did the rum-making companies play in making this possible? How long has this been going on? I don’t know if the Minister of Health is aware of this, but if he isn’t, I hope that this letter will serve to bring it to his attention. I understand Minister Ramsaran has a few other pressing issues to attend to – dengue, men’s health, etc – but I urge him to investigate this occurrence at the CJIA and provide sober guidance to these impaired hospitality decision-makers.
To do otherwise is to promote a culture of lawlessness, one that disregards the health and well-being of the Guyanese people and society. Let us make better choices for ourselves, for our community, and for our nation. Let us not just drink up and wine down as our society crumbles around us. Let us see some thoughtful and positive decision-making. That would make Guyana a real tourist attraction and pleasure to come home to.