Piracy attack requires urgent national response

Dear Editor,

It is unforgiveable the total lack of empathy that our government has shown towards the families of fishermen who were victims of yet another piracy on the high seas. The government’s timid and uncaring posture is painfully unacceptable, even as this tragedy is still eliciting disbelief in the population. Our fishing folks and their families deserve better.

It has been ten long, agonizing days since the story of a massacre at sea in which 16 missing fishermen were feared dead shocked Guyanese and Surinamese. Some of the dead bodies have been discovered and some of the fishermen are still listed as “missing, feared dead”. The chances that any of the missing fishermen are still alive are minimal to non-existent. The families of the fishermen are traumatized, seeking any kind of information and support. In Guyana, no organized response has been activated to provide any support to the families. In Suriname, Guyanese families have no support from Guyanese authorities and must rely totally on the Surinamese authorities.

In the meanwhile, the Surinamese authorities have arrested a number of persons. From all reports, the Surinamese authorities have been very active in their response to the tragedy. We must express our gratitude to the Surinamese authorities.

Truly, this is a tragedy befitting a national urgent response, one that the President and his leading Cabinet ministers should be upfront leading. This is the kind of tragedy in which the government should have

immediately established a centralized support unit on the Corentyne, not only to liaise with various stakeholders, but with the family. This is the unit from which family members can seek information and support. Instead, the government has been silent, content to say that the police are in touch with the police in Suriname. Not a single Cabinet member has made himself or herself available to the families and none has found it necessary to show up in the area on the Corentyne that is the focal point of this disaster.

The first word out of the government was when the reporters confronted the President at an event at the Pegasus Hotel, when President Granger described the incident as a “massacre, a tragedy and Guyana is grieving”. That was last Thursday, seven days since the incident was first reported. In the meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture has been shamelessly silent and his silence is scandalously deafening. The Prime Minister who during the 2015 elections campaign was known to extol his fishermen credentials has himself been totally silent. Now ten days later, the Minister of Public Security has decided to travel to Suriname with a team of senior police officers. But his trip is being made only after word began to circulate that the Leader of the Opposition and a PPP team are on their way to Suriname.

As a nation, it is right for people to demand a more sensitive and caring response from the government. In this regard, we commend the Leader of the Opposition for the empathy and support he has shown in the circumstance. He has provided leadership, when leadership is absolutely necessary. From within minutes of the first report ten days ago, the PPP urged a national response and has been in close contact with family members of the fishermen, both here in Guyana and in Suriname. Bharrat Jagdeo has met with family members in Guyana and, at this time, he and a team are travelling to Suriname to provide comfort and support to the families who must navigate these difficult circumstances.

I am encouraged that the Minister of Public Security has finally decided that it is also appropriate for him and his team to visit Suriname. It is late in the day, but better late than never. A National Day of Grieving is appropriate and must be considered. But a mechanism to provide counseling and support, including financial support, to the families is even more appropriate. Even though they have been missing in action, the time has come for the President and his government to demonstrate that they are responsive to the plight of ordinary Guyanese citizens. The fact is, however, up to this point, the response of the APNU+AFC government has been nothing less than shameful and a national disgrace.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Leslie Ramsammy

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