Sunday, April 27, 2008

PNC's kick-down-the-door banditry

The kick-down-the-door banditry in the eighties was brutal and debilitating

The kick-down-the-door banditry in the eighties was brutal and debilitating
April 27, 2008
Dear Editor,

During the 80s, kick-down-the-door crime (under Mr Burnham’s tenure) affected the East Indian way of life, even more than an irrelevant PPP under the Jagans. The devastation caused and the extent of the psychological dominance resulting from years of criminal attacks have unfortunately been ignored or taken for granted at times.

I write this after reading what Mr Frederick Kissoon said recently (see article, “Types of Dictatorship,” April 21, 2008), responding to Mr Ravi Dev who argued that kick-down-the-door banditry was a method by which Burnham held control over East Indians:
“Dev informed us…as part of the totalitarian terror under Burnham, there were “kick-down-the door bandits…Mr Dev is pushing questionable “facts” into his case-study. There is a reign of criminal terror in Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica that makes “kick-down-the-door bandits’ look like amateur robbers. I lived in Guyana under the rampage of “kick-down-the-door bandits,” and I can tell Mr Dev that, though it was a horrible experience, the level of sadistic violence and deaths that accompany robberies in Guyana today was absent during those terrible days under Burnham.”

Mr Dev and Mr Kissoon may debate what constitutes democracy and what dictatorship is, but there is no room to speak glibly or lightly of kick-down-the-door crimes.

First, it was not always in existence. Someone invented, sustained, and profited from it and it was not the East Indians. Contrary to what Mr Kissoon said, it was much more than merely a “sociological negativity.” There is not enough room in the letter columns for me to explain the extent of social setbacks and alterations to East Indian life, especially in the country, resulting from these crimes.

Secondly, Mr Burnham as leader knew precisely what transpired but failed to confront or correct the issue. Why? State-owed guns and bullets were used in these crimes; state agents (police and soldiers) participated, thus implicating the state. Further, House of Israel members participated, also, as did members of the earliest form of death squads initially created, I believe, to attack Dr Rodney and the WPA.

It is difficult, given these facts, to say that kick-down-the-doors robbers are “amateur robbers” compared to today’s AK-47 gunmen. On one hand, we are 20 years apart-weapons, crime techniques, and local politics have evolved with sophistication. On the other, so too is our tendency for violence and decadence.

The violence and criminal sadism of the 80s was of its time. I lived during this era and experienced it first-hand. It was brutal and debilitating, much more than just a “horrible experience.” Many of us never had normal sleep for years, a basic right. There was no avenue to complain about health issues such as loss of sleep, poor performance on exams or work. Each of us can measure sadism is our own way.

Sadly, the trouble is that no one bothered to document this violence as it happened. It was sadistic to fling babies against walls or have a woman walk naked for three street blocks with bandits, to hold off villagers as the bandits tried to escape. These are not “jumbie” stories.

The aging mother of a friend of mine was severely beaten and stomped upon by bandits. He was also beaten to a pulp and thrown into a trench to drown. He survived.

She didn’t. The old woman suffered a stroke and died three months after the attacks.

I know of men who could not “mind their own business.” They “peeped” outside and tried to raise an alarm as neighbours were attacked. These good villagers are now dead.

Each time these tragedies occur, it has a rippling effect on villagers. Given the extent of these crimes, one may imagine the spread of fear that pervades East Indian communities. As supporters of the opponent of Mr Burnham, we were under total lockdown.

A leader does not have to execute people in political pogroms in order to be a tyrant. Mr Burnham may not have marched East Indians off to gulags where the women were raped and men beaten or killed. He did not need to. These things were done inside people’s homes by men whose jobs included working for the state; men loyal to the PNC.

This experience is unique to the East Indians of Guyana. Yet, it was public knowledge against which Burnham had no interest. Ironically, every East Indian killed or who fled was one less person to oppose his rule or whose vote Mr Burnham had to rig.

Much of the raw documentation was never done officially and so much of the blood stains have been wiped away, bodies buried, and broken doors rebuilt. The hundreds of millions stolen and/or incurred in expenses to repair (or replace) property, and pay for medical bills, is something that scholars of economics ignored. Why? Why, for example, didn’t Dr Clive Thomas write articles about it as he did about a “phantom economy”?

Why were there not essays about the nexus between the state and crime as there are today? Why then was such a period of excruciating relevance and pain simply not addressed (substantially) in academia and elsewhere? Why has there not been a series of articles about the crimes of the 80s commissioned yet by a newspaper?

Having said these things, it is the historians-writers of the East Indian community who should also bear responsibility for the lack of documentation. It was their job since the PPP was a non-factor during the eighties.

Instead, many of them (mostly “indenture” writers) residing overseas (even in the 90s) such as Clem Seecharran and David Dabydeen worked on topics that are relevant indeed, but safer and too remote in time to improve the situation for contemporary folks.

They ignored contemporary history; a history that was more disturbing and sitting amongst those paling staves, broken door hinges, buried bodies, and shredded garments. Others should not make this mistake and ignore it.

Yours faithfully,
Rakesh Rampertab