(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 09 Oct 2005)
I have always been a person who finds it difficult to take a statement from someone else at face value. Growing up in church, I was the one who always questioned the teachings from the minister and teachers instead of just accepting these dogmas as true just because an adult said I should.
Further, if I saw actions that would contradict the teachings, I was not one to stay silent and let it slide – as one is expected to do. In fact, I would even point these inconsistencies out and ask the obvious questions that would accompany such incongruities. In other words, my distrust of the “system” was a constant thorn in the sides of those who were supposed to be instructing me.
With age, this pesky little trait didn’t seem to diminish, as one would expect. Instead, it seem to grow stronger with the more knowledge I gained from my education and the lessons learnt in life. I can still remember the day when I realised it was not only permissible - but also a noble trait - to question even the President of the United States. This is the type of environment in which a person like me thrives.
Then I started my training as a journalist. We are taught to question everything. I can still hear the words of my instructors ringing in my ears as they emphatically tell me, “Even if your mother tells you she loves you – you must still question it”! No problem; I had been questioning these types of everyday occurrences for as long as I could remember.
When Bush said Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” I knew it wasn’t true and wrote columns upon columns against the immorality of invading another country unprovoked. I still question everything. I simply can’t help myself. Even when I want to believe someone, I find it so very difficult to do so. It seems that I have an innate ability to question and a natural instinct to seek out the truth, even if the truth is not what everyone wants to hear.
Which brings me to the point of this column. Guyana has started its 14th year as a free country and this achievement nothing short of remarkable. There should be dancing in the streets and fireworks flying in the sky. My dear friend, Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud wrote a beautiful column that called for all Guyanese to remember where they came from, take joy in their achievements thus far and to expect even more from the future.
He really had me hooked and I was soon basking in the rays of patriotism and revelling in the beauty of progress. But that all came to a screeching halt when I was so very near the end of the column. It was then when that darn intrinsic questioning started sending up red flags and I had to pause to make sure emotionalism hadn’t overtaken my sense of rationale.
The paragraph started out, “Look at how far Guyana has come since 1992. All freedoms are growing.” At this point, I’m still hooked and enjoying my sense of pride in Guyana. Then he said, “Our Constitution is the most inclusive in the Hemisphere.” BAM!
That was the end of my little trip down memory lane and the start of my uncertainty. Is that statement true? Well, I studied Guyana’s Constitution for a college paper, so I know that it is very inclusive. Is it “the most inclusive in this Hemisphere”? I’m not too sure about that, but I do know there is a difference between having a well-written constitution and the actual implementation of that charter.
This little statement is what caused me to turn my brain back on and check my emotions at the door. By the next statement my distrust had kicked in and was on full alert. Smart and Sharp Robert then said, “Our economic and financial framework is one of the most open in this part of the world.” I must say that at this statement my distrust sirens were going off and my own sharp mind was cranking away again.
With all due respect, Smart and Sharp Robert, but I think that a reality check is definitely in order my friend. Do you live in Guyana? Right off the top of my head I can give you a handful of examples of how Guyana is NOT open to investors.
At this point, the righteous indignation of a truth seeker is rising up inside me and I’m ready for a good, healthy debate. But the column goes even further. It said, “Our people today are free to criticise, object and even protest against their government.” Ha! Maybe someone should ask Sharma and Christopher Ram is this statement is true. My guess is that they would beg to differ.
The paragraph ends with his statement, “Our human rights record is world-rated.” It was at this point that I had start protesting to my husband because I was so upset. Like I said, I wrote an in depth paper on Guyana’s history, constitution, international relations, etc. This paper included the degree to which human rights are respected in Guyana. There are international organisations that track this type of important information, one of which is Amnesty International (AI).
Anyone can visit AI’s site and find out what they have to say about Guyana. They cite rampant crime and the government’s inability to control it as an infringement against the human rights of Guyanese. This is what it says, “Violent criminal acts, such as those occurring in Guyana, cause shock, outrage and grief and give rise to strong public demand for the punishment of the perpetrators and the prevention of further attacks. Although Amnesty International does not use the term ‘terrorism’ because it is an emotive and politically-loaded term without an agreed legal definition, the organisation takes action against killings and other acts which constitute abuses of human rights as defined under international humanitarian law and general human rights instruments.”
There are other considerations to take into account as well, such as death squads, women’s rights and children’s rights. Just the underlying fear that plagues the citizens and those who visit the country is enough to prove that my friend Smart and Sharp Robert does indeed need a reality check. If the human rights in Guyana were indeed “world-rated,” as his column would have us believe, then perhaps someone should tell Freedom House to take down its Website’s very long diatribe that specifies the various violations of human rights in Guyana.
In the end, I agree with Smart and Sharp Robert on the point of Guyana’s growing freedoms. However, let’s be realistic concerning the state of the country. Guyana still has so very long way to go. While it is good to be proud of how much growth has taken place in the last decade, we need to remember that there are still so many changes yet to be made and playing pretend games of make believe is not the way to get it done.