Stella Ramsaroop has once again gone on one of her most strenuous efforts to misrepresent the views of a writer, and put her own political twist or spin on it, so that she can cull another one of her articles for publication.
In her article in Kaieteur News of' Thursday 29th December, 2005, she essays to ridicule and criticise the views of Press Liaison to the President, Mr. Robert Persaud, MBA, in one of his regular weekly viewpoints.
In her article, which is headed: “I do not care to share a bed with certain people”, one cannot resist the temptation to ask her who are the type of people with whom she would be inclined to share her bed. It certainly titillates our imaginations.
Most of her articles are fluff, intended to take up space, and perhaps to entertain some readers.
She implies that when Persaud says: “Many commentators are inclined to present this rich diversity as an obstacle rather than an opportunity for us to make Guyana a bright model of tolerance” that he really copied the idea from her December 15 article in which she had written: “Ethnic diversity is an attribute that makes Guyana beautiful.”
First of all, as a regular reader of Persaud's weekly viewpoints, he has always been stressing the benefits and possibilities of our rich diversity, so maybe Stella really got the idea from him, rather than the other way round.
Secondly, Persaud is making a rather different and authentic point in saying that there are those who are presenting this rich diversity as an obstacle rather than an opportunity, on which Stella has conveniently avoided commenting.
As regards the idea of people sharing the same bed, which seems to have got Stella excited, it is clear to everybody but her that he is employing the use of a metaphorical analogy to convey his ideas. Recall ‘Political bed-fellows', a common phase.
Persaud has made the very valid point that, in spite of various shocks which the nation has suffered both internally and externally, the economy has been so successfully managed that it was able to still grant a 7% increase to all public servants, and a 75 % increase to all old-age pensioners.
Since then we heard of President Jagdeo giving a month's tax-free bonus to members of the Army, Police, Prison and Fire Services.
I guess these are things that Stella and her political crew may not want us to hear.
Strike Up The Band!
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
As I gracefully enter the large stone entrance to the throne room in a long, flowing gown that has been custom made for me, I adjust my diamond-laden crown slightly and pause as several servants scamper about to open doors and bow as I prepare to ascend the gilded throne that awaits me at the other end of the ornate room.
Whoa! Hold up just as second. I am no queen and I live in no castle. I was just pretending, like most of us like to do from time to time. I admit that as a writer, my creative mind takes over sometimes before I even know what is happening. In spite of this, I am always quite aware of the distinct line that separates fantasy from reality.
However, I am not so sure that my old chum Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud, MBA (his name is just getting way too long now) has the capacity to separate the pretend world from reality. I came to this conclusion after reading his column in Kaieteur New’s special Christmas Edition.
When I read Mr. MBA’s column, I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed (you get the point). I sometimes wonder if he writes these types of articles just to give me a good laugh. In any case, I feel compelled to make sure Mr. Smarty Pants has a firm grip on reality, so that’s right folks – it’s reality check time again for the PPP’s poster child.
But first, let us start with a good point from his column, as a positive reinforcement for the Information Liaison to the President (we don’t want him to feel like we are negative all the time). On Guyana’s diverse population Persaud said, “Many commentators are inclined to present this rich diversity as an obstacle rather than an opportunity for us to make Guyana a bright model of tolerance.”
Bravo, Robert! Have you been reading my columns and learning something? I made the same point in my column on December 15. To be exact, I said, “Ethnic diversity is an attribute that makes Guyana beautiful. It should be celebrated instead of despised.” I have lots more where that came from, if you ever need any more help.
For now though, we should start our reality check examination to help you find your way back from La-La Land. Before we begin, I would like to ask the reader to please indulge me by inserting the proper background music when reading the quotes from Mr. MBA. I will cue you each time there should be music.
Persaud said, (cue flutes) “Overall, the country has achieved remarkable success, especially in light of the devastating flood of January which, expectedly, will seriously retard economic growth.”
Smart and Sharp Robert, you are not acting very smart. Firstly, the flooding continues despite all of the international money that “flooded” in to remedy the situation. Secondly, each time it floods, more homes and businesses loose money and property. Thirdly, I think the term “remarkable success” is highly inflated.
Persaud continued, (cue brass section) “Notwithstanding, we see more investments, better opportunities for our young people and a country, which is affected by crime, still continuing to make incremental advances in a hostile world economic environment a la the EU sugar price cut for ACP countries and a drop in international development assistance to all developing countries.”
Stella says, “More investments? Better opportunities? Where?” Honestly Mr. MBA, do you really think people believe there are more investments and better opportunities?
We cannot say there is an increase in investments simply because a couple new businesses opened, because when one takes into account the investments that fail because of the lethargic economy or go overseas for a better investment climate, the end result is not an increase, but the exact opposite – right?
Persaud then said, (cue clarinets in a lively beat) “Our pensioners have just received a whopping 75% increase, followed by the public sector payout of 7%, additional support for the rice industry and a special bonus for our Disciplined Services.”
Isn’t it just great that the 75 percent increase was handed out just in time for Smart and Sharp Robert to include it in his end-of-year summary? I am not going to complain though, as long as more people have more money and fewer homes are going up in Pradoville.
Persaud then said, (cue a singing guitar rip) “In fact, Guyana continues to be a place where good things are happening and still many brighter days lay ahead. Look at every single community and there are signs of progress.”
This is where I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. If crime and flooded streets are Mr. MBA’s ideas of progress, then the signs are in abundance and the PPP should receive a standing ovation.
I wish I could pick apart each sentence since Persaud’s column was brilliant piece of propaganda. I’m sure it made the single woman feel warm and fuzzy when she looked at her four children who didn’t even have food on Christmas day, much less presents.
However, the one sentence I want to highlight is when Persaud said, (cue drum roll please) “But we must see Guyana like a bed occupied by different people. In so doing, we must then reflect whether we all share the same dream. Is it a case of same bed, different dreams? I hope not!”
Oh my! This is just too funny. Can you picture Jagdeo and Corbin in the same bed? I don’t even want to think about certain pedophiles in the same bed with the whole nation! The mental picture this phrase invokes is hysterical, sensual and disgusting all at the same time.
I simply do not care to share a bed with certain people. In fact, I am quite sure that my husband would be highly upset if I crawled into bed with the entire nation. Of all the figurative phrases that the Information Liaison to the President could have used, this is the one he chose?
Mr. MBA, no thanks, I would rather have the same dream in different beds. Methinks your imagination got away from you on this last column, Robert. It is time to come back from La-La Land and get back to work for the people. I don’t want to spoil your fun, but we all have to come back to reality sooner or later – and in your case the sooner the better for the rest of the nation.
Remember that prior to 1992, the PPP was in the role of what you termed, “pessimists and doomsday preachers” as it pointed out the deficiencies of the sitting government. You can go ahead and try to convince the nation that Guyana is a shining example of good governance and a thriving economy – and I will continue to serve you reality checks from my solid gold platter of truth.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Dear Sweet and Sensitive Freddie, how have you been lately? We really haven't had one of our chats in such a long time, so I thought we should do our best to keep in touch. Life can get so busy and we can forget to give attention to the important things, like friendship.
I saw that you were chatting it up with Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud, MBA at the Kaieteur News Christmas party. Isn't that just so sweet? I wanted so much to come, but just couldn't make it happen. I sent my regrets to Glenn Lall, but I was still so disappointed that I could not attend.
Since we did not get the chance to chat at the party, why don't you take the time to talk with me for a bit, okay? How are things at the UG? Have you watched any steamy movies lately? Speaking of which, did you know my husband went out and bought "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" for me this week? Isn't that just too funny?
By the way, how are things going with your new political party, the AFC? I heard a little buzz about them when they visited stateside. I also heard that they said some not so nice things about me during their visit. I am sure you can imagine how totally crushed I was to hear about that. I might even need to see a therapist over it.
However, it is you that I am concerned about right now, dear friend. I have picked up on a developing trend in your recent columns that I find to be of great interest. It started a couple weeks ago with your scoop on how the GTF was supposedly breaking up. It continued with your column that gave Peter Ramsaroop, a GTF leader, a good tongue lashing.
The trend continued when you devoted another whole column to an analysis of the politics of Joey Jagan's, another GTF leader. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle came when you decided to go after Moses Nagamootoo. This last part was when things came into focus for me.
Silly me, I thought you just had problems with the GTF at first. We are all allowed to have issues with political parties, that is part of the democratic process. I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who puts some fire under the feet of any politician to see what he/she is really made of.
However, when I saw your column about Nagamootoo's negations with the PPP after it was rumoured that the AFC had been courting his as well, it was then that I realised you are being used as the mouthpiece of your new political party.
I think it is great that this newspaper has several columns written by leaders of various political parties. It adds fuel to the political debate. For example, there are columns by the PNC, Ravi Dev (ROAR and GTF), Robert Persaud, MBA (PPP) and Peter Ramsaroop, MBA (GTF). Now I am wondering if the Freddie Kissoon column has developed into the AFC column.
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live their life (please read with sarcasm), but I am just afraid your new friends may be taking advantage of your very public role in Guyana to sway the hearts of the people in whatever direction they deem necessary that day.
Now before you get in a huff, let me explain what I mean. On December 21, Suresh Manbodh wrote a letter to the Editor of Kaieteur News questioning your objectivity concerning the AFC. I am going one step further, dear friend, I want to know why you are fighting their battles?
If we examined each of the aforementioned columns as separate and non-related, then I suppose you could make a plausible argument that each one focused on a topic that was notable on its own merit and deserving of your attention.
The GTF scoop could be easily understood since every journalist would love to write on such an incident. If you ask me, Peter Ramsaroop deserved the column he got from you since he pretty much stepped right into the critique you doled out for him and owed an explanation for his column.
Your article on Joey Jagan, the one real threat from the GTF against the AFC, seemed to come out of nowhere, but hey, that one too could be explained since you had just conversed with him. And finally, the Nagamootoo column seems to have been a result of confirmed negotiations with the PPP.
Like I said, at face value, all of these separate columns do not seem to have any tangible hidden agenda. It is when one combines the four columns, which were all written within the span of 11 days, that one starts to wonder if there is not something else going on.
It is no secret that the GTF poses a threat to the AFC's appeal to the nation as the one and only third force party for next year. Thus, they would no doubt be happy if the public thought the GTF was falling apart and that it has leaders who are incompetent and/or connected to the racial politics of the former parties – as the combination of your columns implied.
Further, if Nagamootoo really was being courted by the AFC, they would be extremely perturbed to discover he was instead contemplating a return to the PPP. In the culmination of all of these columns, there is a distinct common component – they are all competition, to one degree or another, for the AFC.
What I am trying to say, dear Freddie, is if all of these columns were written without any influence whatsoever from your AFC friends; then I offer my apologies now. However, if I am right and your new party is indeed guiding your columns by feeding you information that would help their cause, then perhaps you do not realise how obvious it is to others.
My question, dear friend, is whether the Freddie Kissoon column has become the AFC column? It is one thing to lose your objectivity, but it is a whole other issue if you become their mouthpiece and start fighting their battles with your words.
I hope I am wrong about all of this. I do have a tendency to see a conspiracy behind every door; it can be one of my best traits and one of my worst problems. Perhaps that is the case this time too – that this is a perceived conspiracy that is not actually real. I could just be jumping to conclusions since I now see you as an AFC supporter.
However Freddie, if what I am thinking is true – and I know you are honest enough with yourself to answer that question with a true heart - then maybe you should consider a job doing Public Relations work for the AFC. I bet you would make a swell yes man for Khemraj.
I didn't step outside my home for the holidays so there is nothing to report on. I didn't see anything unusual. I didn't hear about any wrong-doing. But many things just before Christmas aroused both my interest and curiosity. Tomorrow I will select more of these events but for today, I will begin with what was a little unnoticed disagreement between two of Kaieteur columnists, [Stella and Roy Paul].
It wasn't blown up but it involved an important principle. Roy's point (KN Sat, Dec 19, 05) is that it is difficult for someone to write about Guyana and live outside the territory. Roy pontificates on the adjectives, concepts, descriptions and analyses these overseas-based writers use when discoursing about their country. He has a point. But Stella Ramsaroop doesn't feel so. I think the recourse to science can determine who is right and who is wrong. But first let's outline Stella's rejection of Roy's thesis.
This is how she puts it (KN Dec 20, 05): “In today's international community, these types of cross country columns have become standard practice….” Really, Stella, I read a lot of newspapers and I cannot see and I don't see any cross country columnist. Can you tell me which paper has a cross-country columnist? And aren't we referring to the really worthy types of papers like the mainstream ones in Europe, India, US, Caribbean etc.
Here at home in the Caribbean, the cross-country columnist I know is Rickey Singh who does a weekly corner for the Chronicle in our country but he seldom writes on Guyanese politics about which he knows nothing and comes across as a jejune propagandist for the PPP. When he does write, he normally is way off target. In fact, I believe Singh supports this lawless government here in Georgetown out of ethnic solidarity. Almost two years now, he has stayed away from evaluation of politicians and political situations and normally confines himself to Caribbean developments.
I would be happy if Stella can cite a few cross-country columns for me with dates and names of newspapers. But there is nothing wrong with cross-country columnists. It is just I am not aware of their existence. We now have Stella herself. This means Guyana is the only CARICOM country that has a cross-border political commentator. Stella has made a favourable impact on Guyana. People like her columns. She offers fresh ideas because she is an independent mind. But my dear Stella, transatlantic commentary has severe limitations.
Surely Stella, nothing can replace closeness to the event. We are not writing history where some distance may be necessary in order to arrive at objectivity. In analysing social phenomena as they unfold, there can be no substitute for physical closeness. In rebuttal to Roy's belief, Stella wrote, “I read all three daily newspapers almost every day to keep up with what is going on….” But my dear Stella, that is only half of the picture of what is going on. The other half is that one must be there when the stars flash across your eyes. When you talk to the stars they talk back. It is called living inside the event.
When you search the net on Guyana, you can put your own interpretation to the judgements, evaluations and analyses of others. But there is a danger there. What happens if all these assessments are subject? Then you are analysing subjective outputs. The vital nuance in social analysis is that you must be there to relate to people, places and events. The interaction can launch a thousand ships. But more than this, special dimensions are cognized when you are part of the unfolding of history. You are better able to understand the moment. This is irreplaceable. No global village, no internet, no television screen can substitute for this. That is why media houses from across the world put their own people on the scene to report.
You know Stella, you sound a bit (not a lot) like the pen-name columnist, Peeping Tom. He wears a mask when he attacks public figures and actually defends it. When asked why do you do that, he says, “hey, are you crazy? People who know who I am will attack me.” So he attacks them because he knows them. But he never considers that if there wasn't a Frederick Kissoon or a Robert Corbin or a Khemraj Ramjattan, then the reason for his column would not exist.
In as much as I think you have an absorbing page, Stella, I believe the height of your brilliance will glow over Guyana if you can access the people and the places you write about here in GT. It is through special, secret and enduring contacts, you get to know the actors of a society better, and you understand their intestinal minds and torturous souls. Some of them you come to admire. From what I learnt from my clandestine relationships as a media functionary, I fear for the future of this country if left only to the PPP and PNC. But Stella, it is when you learn about those you think have a good heart, then you realise that life is an illusion.
Roy Paul of course embarrassed himself badly in that column to which he referred to you though he did not name you. He lamented how columnists write disparagingly about issues in Guyana so as to make the government and people look bad. He thinks that such writers let their imaginations run wild. The other side of the coin is that there are columnists who deny real events and issues in Guyana so as not to make the government look bad. One can say they do not use their imagination at all. So instead of it running, it doesn't move at all. I guess another title of this essay could have been “immobilized imagination.” That's the problem we have in this country. Someone tells you that you write against the PPP or the PNC. And when you examine where they are coming from, they don't impress you at all. Like a fan of Peter Ramsaroop by the name of Keith Williams. More of him tomorrow.
Keep writing Stella. In me you have a fan and an admirer.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
I will spend Christmas morning the same way most will, fighting over the last of the pepper pot and garlic pork and savouring the homemade bread fresh from my mother-in-law’s oven. Just like the last 21 years since I was first introduced to the Ramsaroop family, her home will be packed to capacity with laughing children and grandchildren.
Just after breakfast, we will sit down to open presents; the youngest ones will be scattered on the floor and the adults on whatever chair that can be rounded up. This part of the morning is mainly about the children, who are mostly grown now too, so they are the focus of attention while gift-wrap is shredded and boxes are ripped open.
Once all of the presents are distributed and the oohs and ahs have all been said, the children will scamper off to play with their new stuff and the adults will start to talk about anything that comes to mind. This is when things get interesting.
There are three Ramsaroop brothers and a brother-in-law who cannot be outdone by the others, so when they start to talk, they all try speak louder than everyone else even while the others are still speaking. The conversation starts to go in a million directions at the same time.
Creoles gets thick and words are repeated three times for emphasis, “That pepper was hot, hot, hot” – a distinctively Guyanese form of making a point. For this period of time, smiles are pasted on their faces, manners are tossed to the wind and none of them even cares if anyone is hearing what they are saying.
Before you know it, they are all yelling – not in anger, but in conversation, as if they are carrying on a discussion with very loud dialogue. The sight of this never fails to make me laugh out loud and always strikes me as odd since their late father was a man of very few words and exuded a more stately air about himself.
In the middle of all of this, the oldest sister always finds a way to critique the others in the room. When I was younger, these accounts would make me so mad. My mother-in-law, the peace keeper of the family, always knew when I was about to blow and would call me out of the room to calm me down.
Now I am the one who calms others down, specifically my oldest daughter. For some reason, she gets just as frustrated with her aunt as I used to get when I was her age. Life is funny like that sometimes.
It is also funny that in all of this chaos and confusion, we somehow find a way to enjoy being together. I find the older I get, the more important my family becomes to me. Family is one constant in our lives that usually remains steady through life’s storms, even when we create the storms ourselves.
I have moved around a lot in the last two decades, which has included living in four separate countries. It has been a grand adventure (I love adventure!) and I would never want to trade my nomadic lifestyle for one more “stable.” However, each time I leave another home I leave more friends behind too.
I keep in touch with some friends here and there, but time and distance wears on friendships and even the closest ones tend to fade away. However, my family ties remain constant, which is one of the reasons I love to get together and hear all of the loud dialogue and watch the nick-picking sister make her rounds.
I expect this Christmas to be even better than the last few because my sweet mother-in-law, who lost her husband in 1992, remarried another wonderful man this year. They talk to each other constantly and walk around holding hands like young lovers. I know it would seem like such a drastic change would be uncomfortable for the rest of the family, but it is actually the exact opposite.
She called me this week bubbling over with happiness and so excited about the holidays. This is a Christmas miracle in itself, since the holidays have seemed to be a chore for her since dad passed on – but that is not the case this year. I have not seen her this happy in so very long, she is like a young woman again since she has found someone with whom she can share the rest of her life.
This new addition to the family has won the heart of my oldest daughter too, who was only five when her grandfather died. She cannot remember how much her “papa” loved to carry her around or that he would lift her up to play with all of the hanging lamps in the house against the protests of her grandma.
However, she does have a new grandfather figure in her life that calls to check up on her when she is sick and who cooks her bake when she is too busy with college to eat. His name is Shafeek, but she calls him “her Feeky.” She phoned not too long ago and told me it was like she finally had a grandfather – another Christmas miracle.
It might seem a bit trite to attribute these small things to being miraculous, but when a woman in her 60s finds a way to be happy after losing the man she was married to for over 35 years – that is miraculous. And when a girl who has very little memory of her grandfather suddenly gets to have someone who will love her like a grandfather – that is miraculous.
When I am sitting in the midst of the loud bantering this morning, watching as my sister-in-law assesses the group for who she should criticise first and I remain calm and shoot my daughter a wink of support because I know her jeans will be too tight for her aunt’s taste – another miracle will have taken place right there and no one will even think about it.
When we all get up from that loud conversation, we will hug and kiss and our real feelings will be obvious. That is when we will realise we are hungry again and head for mom’s kitchen, where she will miraculously have extra pepper pot, garlic pork and fresh bread waiting to be devoured. I just love Christmas miracles.
Merry Christmas, Guyana! –From my home to yours.
We are a nation of different ethnic and religious groups. Our fore-parents and parents have been trying to build unity in this rich, unique diversity. And yes, there has been much success.
Many commentators are inclined to present this rich diversity as an obstacle rather than an opportunity for us to make Guyana a bright model of tolerance. Already, our unique, high level of religious tolerance and cultural understanding is admired here and abroad.
But as another year comes to an end, we need some deep introspection as a nation. What have we done with our personal, community and national lives? Is our country much richer and united than it was when compared to the previous period? At the end of the day, the answers lie in the quality of interaction with each other.
Overall, the country has achieved remarkable success, especially in light of the devastating flood of January which, expectedly, will seriously retard economic growth. Very few had expected the government to afford the impressive increase in public sector wages in light of the natural disaster and the shocking rise in fuel acquisition cost that have bled our economy. ECLAC estimated that 60% of our GDP was wiped out by the flood and that portended a negative growth rate at the end of the year.
Notwithstanding, we see more investments, better opportunities for our young people and a country, which is affected by crime, still continuing to make incremental advances in a hostile world economic environment a la the EU sugar price cut for ACP countries and a drop in international development assistance to all developing countries.
Our pensioners have just received a whopping 75% increase, followed by the public sector payout of 7%, additional support for the rice industry and a special bonus for our Disciplined Services. With the little we have as a country, it shows that our priorities are right. There is emphasis on rewarding those who keep the engine of our State and economy turning.
In fact, Guyana continues to be a place where good things are happening and still many brighter days lay ahead. Look at every single community and there are signs of progress.
We need to reject those pessimists and doomsday preachers who sound like all is lost. They only seek out and even invent ills in our society. They celebrate what is wrong. They find little time to recognise the good, positive and promising things amongst us. They sacrifice the interest of society on the altar of power, greed and opportunism. They are the first to complain and the last to offer solutions. They are from a bygone era. They belong to the past and preach anachronistic solutions. They certainly do not capture the imagination and aspirations of our future generations. With them, we can hardly go anywhere as a nation.
As we prepare for the New Year, we must think more positive and clearly. Let us do not allow anyone to make us despair, and be less than positive about the future of this country. Next year being an elections year will see continuing efforts to frustrate our people and more of an effort to drag the country into a climate of despair and hopelessness. Efforts will be made to instill fear about this period. But we all must fight back these efforts and do what is right for our family and country.
For too long some have preached unity and tolerance, but quietly all the while and in their little corners, do things which are contrary to this spirit. Some of our leaders have been failing in this regard. They need to lead more from the front than from the flank. There is too much emphasis on what divides us rather on than what unites. We seldom speak about the collective dream of our nation and people. Or is it we don't dream about our country?
Children dream of becoming the President, a policeman, a soldier, a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a farmer, a journalist or an accountant. And this is good. Individually, we must dream of bettering ourselves and families.
But we must see Guyana like a bed occupied by different people. In so doing, we must then reflect whether we all share the same dream. Is it a case of same bed, different dreams? I hope not!
The positive collective feeling in us must overflow. This season is a most opportune time for us to move in this direction. The dream we all must entertain of Guyana is a land of unity, peace and security.
As we contemplate over this long holiday weekend, we must spare sometime to dream big and bright about our country. This is our own space or our own precious bed.
Let's make next year one in which we share the same objectives and certainly the same dream for this beautiful country.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
As mentioned in a previous column, I have always believed there was something inside Raphael Trotman that drives him to do good – and he has proven this to be true by stepping down from his seat in Parliament.
It did take him two months to reconcile his conscience, or fight with his party to do the right thing, I’m not too sure which one it was – though I suppose that it was a little of both. The AFC’s official launch was on October 29 and Trotman has agreed to give up his seat on December 27.
Let there be rejoicing in the streets! This is absolutely a reason to get our groove on, so I’m putting on my dancing shoes to join in with the rest of the revellers. There is goodness and righteousness in Guyanese politics! Let the nation sing for joy!
Moreover, if Trotman has relinquished his seat despite the fact that the other two in the Gang of Three continues to hold tight to theirs, that means he also has the internal fortitude to stand his ground on principled matters. Right now I am simply beaming with pride that Raphael Trotman is in Guyanese politics.
When I read about Trotman’s decision to relinquish his seat, I stood up, back straight, head tilted up and clapped my hands together with a big smile on my face as if I had just seen the best live showing of the Nutcracker. This is a man to whom respect is due.
I know there are probably many confused faces right now. After all, I gave these MPs a lot of trouble about their decision to retain the seats they acquired through other parties and it wouldn’t make sense that I would now say one of them is deserving of our respect.
However, I also said from the start that I am looking for good men and women in Guyanese politics who will do the right thing regardless of the pressure to do otherwise. Trotman has proven to be one of those men and has thus gained my respect.
I really wish he hadn’t agreed to share his presidential seat with Ramjattan because I would love to see someone like Trotman leading Guyana for an entire term. Imagine what a good person with some backbone could do for the country if he had the time. A couple years just isn’t long enough at all.
Does this all mean that I now support the AFC? Nope, not at all. It means I have found what I was looking for – someone with integrity who cares more about Guyana and its people than about his/her own interests and agenda. What I would like is to see more of these people emerge and then for them to all come together in a coalition.
As for Trotman, I now hope to see him establish a solid platform for the AFC that includes the party’s stance on the pertinent national issues of crime, economic stability and growth, infrastructure revitalisation, women’s issues, education, etc. The excuse of keeping their ideas quiet out of fear that another party might steal their good ideas is a bit peculiar.
If they do have some good notions on how to turn the country around, they should let everyone know so we can take them seriously as party for the next year. If in the process another party filches their good ideas, then it would be all the better for Guyana and the people that decent stratagems with actual merit are being kicked around for a change.
For example, how does the AFC plan to combat crime in Guyana should they actually win the elections next year? The PPP has failed miserably at this and the PNC has been no great help either. I would like to see a comprehensive and practical strategy that can be implemented from the very first week.
I would also like to see the AFC reach out to their female constituency. The new legislation on domestic violence is a start, but it falls short in implementation and enforcement. Further, there needs to be a plan to expand the present female representation in government to be more inclusive, and therefore more representative of the actual national population.
The AFC should also present the nation with an economic scheme that is contemporary and forward-looking. The same-old, stuck-in-the-mud (literally with all of the recent flooding) fiscal strategies are dated and have no place whatsoever in today’s information age.
The AFC is casting itself as an agent of change and a friend to the young people; as such, it needs to prove this with a platform that is modern and compatible with the rest of the advancing world. Their policies should be progressive and pliable to keep pace as overall international economic stimulants change. This is something that has been sorely absent in Guyana thus far.
I wish Trotman luck as he establishes the AFC’s platform. It would be nice to see Ramjattan and Holder relinquish their seats too. It would be great to see a party rise up that has no ties with the former failures and the stigma that is attached to those old parties. But I just don’t see that happening.
Raphael, have a great holiday season and get ready to show the nation what you are made of in the coming year – a year that is sure to be a whirlwind of fun.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Last Saturday, Kaieteur News printed a “Getting Back On Track” column named “The real truth is always somewhere between yours and your opponent's.” I’d like to examine this column a little since it brought out several points I found to be personally interesting – to say the least.
I believe this column belongs to Mr. Roy Paul, someone I know very little about except that is obviously a religious man. That much I picked up from the little stories that are usually added to the end of the column. Up to this point, I have enjoyed his column, until last Saturday.
In this particular article from Saturday, the author begins by analysing the relationship dynamics between the letter writers and the columnists in the dailies, noting that, “There is seldom any sign of acceptance of any opinion or line of argument put forward by the other person, nor even a willingness to compromise on some point.”
I agree with the author on this one point, however, I also think it is important to point out the importance of these debates to democracy. Political discourse, such as that seen in Guyana’s dailies, is a precious commodity that should be appreciated and never scorned. The freedom to publicly express a view, even if it is contrary to the views held by the rest of the nation, is democracy in action.
However, what really caught my attention was when the columnist said it amazed him that “letter-writers and columnists who reside overseas can write about our situation in this country as if they have first-hand information about what it going on.” Since I believe that am the only regular columnist who resides outside of the country, I took this personally.
The author’s statement is like saying a political commentator living in England cannot possibly comment on events occurring in the United States. In today’s international community, these types of cross-country columns have become standard practice and I applaud Kaieteur News for having the vision to introduce it to Guyana. It should also be noted that there are columnists in Guyana who comment on the United States on a regular basis.
The author should know that, as I understand it, I was asked to write for this paper as an independent voice from outside the country to offer an objective, non-partisan viewpoint as an observer. As such, I read all three daily newspapers almost every day to keep up with what is going on. I also scan business and economic magazines, read books by Guyanese authors, research the nation’s history and search the web for any information I can find on Guyana’s current and political events.
I can assure you that I read more about Guyana in one day than most Guyanese do in a week. It is true that I am not in Guyana to see these events first-hand, but then those in Berbice do not see happenings in Georgetown first-hand either. They read about the news in the newspapers, just like me.
Further, I am in constant contact with Guyanese who live in the country. There is not a week that goes by that I do not interact with someone from Guyana who sees these things first hand.
I am acquainted with some of the letter writers the author referenced and they are all just as constrained as I am in acquiring information concerning current events in Guyana. Yet everyday they too peruse the daily newspapers. It should be clear by now to the author that there is an obvious love for this country shared by myself and the letter-writers that drives us to remain involved in its ongoing development.
The author also accused those of us living overseas of using extreme language such as, “Corruption is rampant, the country is falling apart, most Guyanese are racists and vote with race as the only criterion (a gross insult to Guyanese intelligence that is perpetuated by Guyanese at home), the Government is totally corrupt and inefficient, our infrastructure is tumbling down.”
I have said almost all of these things (except calling someone a racist) at one point or another and I assure you that I would never knowing insult the intelligence of even one Guyanese, in fact I believe Guyanese to be highly intelligent. However, I am still at a loss as to what is extreme about most of these statements.
Is corruption not rampant? Did the author not read the recent corruption index report? Do most Guyanese not vote along racial lines? Is the infrastructure solid? Are the streets are not flooding from a failing drainage system?
I am not going to attempt to address each of these points. However, I would like to share a portion of a letter from someone who is living in Guyana. This letter, written by Dr. J. O. F. Haynes, was published last Saturday as well.
Dr. Haynes was referring to Freddie Kissoon and Peter Ramsaroop when he said, “You both have serious and meaningful contributions to make in the reshaping of this beloved country which is really in the poorest and most disgusting state it has ever been. We need to heal all wounds which have caused the bleeding almost to death of our society.”
Dr. Haynes also said, “If we do not choose change, then we will continue down the road of racism, crime, extreme poverty, joblessness and degradation.” It seems there are some who live in Guyana who have “let their imaginations run wild” too – as the author has suggested of those who live overseas. Or perhaps this is reality and the columnist in question would rather cover his eyes and pretend everything is just fine.
After the author attempted to show the inadequacy of those who live overseas to comment on events in Guyana, he then said, “This is of course doing no one any good, except that it is benefiting them by getting their real purpose achieved – making the Government and of course our people look bad (as the saying goes, we deserve the government we get), making them popular with the opposing elements in the country, and even making them appear as if they are actually unbiased.”
Let me make this as clear as I possibly can sir, I would never in my life attempt to make the people of Guyana look bad. In fact, I would fight tooth and nail with anyone would dare say a negative word against the people of Guyana. You sir, are completely wrong about me and about many of the letter-writers as well.
Further, let me say that it is just and right to critique the Government. As a journalist, one of my primary duties is to serve as a watchdog for the people. Political commentary should be celebrated, not ridiculed as it was with this columnist, who by the way wrote his own discourse on national racism on November 29 of this year.
I do not write to make friends or win a popularity contests. I write because I love Guyana. I may not have the pleasure of living in Guyana right now, but let there be no doubt to this columnist or anyone else that Guyana lives in my heart.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
In the Bahamas there are fears of a decline in tourist arrivals because of the increase of rape against foreign visitors.
In Trinidad and Tobago 490 domestic abuse assaults were reported in 2004.
In Antigua & Barbuda, amidst the 24th Anniversary Independence Celebrations, the President of the Senate was attacked and raped in her own home.
In Puerto Rico 31 women were killed as a result of domenstic violence in 2004.
In Guyana an 18 year-old girl was so brutally raped by four men who invaded her home, that reporters could barely stomach the blood-covered sight.
Indeed there seems to be a pattern of threats, intimidation, torture, beatings, rape and murder to which women in the Caribbean are increasingly being subjected. Besides the pain and trauma experienced, these violated women who survive will forever live with the memories of the horror inflicted on them. And so I say, this evil has to be stopped. We can no longer treat these acts as if they are simply a part of every day life. Instead we must all ensure that everything possible be done to stamp out this victimization of women.
My first born is also 18 years old, a beautiful young woman with her daddy’s cocoa colour, my late mother’s mouth and my features. In fact when she was born I would stare at her in her crib for hours. I still steal these moments every chance I get.
When my daughter appears at a doorway her infectious smile lights up the room. Her big brown eyes, which burn with an irresistible love for life, are the first thing a person notices. But her vivacious personality quickly takes over dwarfing those eyes the way a giant oak tree dwarfs a blade of grass.
Intelligent, with the capacity to be anything she wants to be in life, my daughter is self-confident, but not arrogant – though she can be a snob at times and I am quick to chastise her for such transgressions. I told her from the time she first started walking that a woman can be beautiful on the outside, but if she is ugly on the inside, then she is just plain ugly.
She is away at college now and sometimes I miss her so much that my heart physically hurts. We talk on the phone all the time, but that just isn’t the same as seeing her face to face. I know she has to prepare for the incredible future that lies before her. I also know that a good portion of my job is done and it is time for her to pave her own road in life. But I worry all the time especially as to whether she might make the wrong decisions, even though I know she will because that is part of the learning process too. Most of all I worry about her safety.
A mother’s worst fear is that a vile animal will steal her daughters smile, crush her beautiful personality and destroy her promising future. Every single day throughout the Caribbean, there are mothers who have their worst fear realised. I can feel the pain of these mothers almost like it is my own and I sit here in tears as I type this column.
But let us not forget that in far too many cases these acts of bestiality are committed by loved ones, which is why it is time to see every single father who has ever violated his daughter as nothing more than a vile and disgusting criminal. The same holds true for brothers, uncles and family friends.
Did you know that in Nevada, the home of Las Vegas (a.k.a. Sin City), any person over the age of 21 can be sent to jail for life without possibility of parole if convicted of sexual assault against a child under the age of 14? In fact, Sin City even goes so far as to convict as a misdemeanour anyone “who knows or should know that a violent or sexual offence has been committed against a child, and does not report that offence to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours.”
In the Caribbean far too often women can only stand hopelessly by as they watch their violators walk away without retribution for their monstrosities.
I firmly believe that most of these monsters would curb their tendency to abuse and violate women if they knew they would go to jail for life. If each one of those repulsive fathers knew that he would get put away forever if he ever touches his little girl in an unacceptable way, then I am willing to bet those men would desist from their despicable acts. I am also willing to bet those mothers, sisters, brothers and other family members who know what is going on (or should know), would stand up for their little girl if they knew they could go to jail just for keeping their mouths shut. Legislation to this effect takes power away from the predator and puts it on the side of the victim.
It is time to wipe the smugness off of the face of those who violate the trust placed in them. It is time to silence the chuckles of the perverted deviants who invade our homes to pillage the virtue and vitality of women. It is time to let them be the ones who live with the constant shame of their barbarous acts. Let them dream of freedom, knowing it will never come – just as their victims dream to be free of the horrible memories of their violation.
As a society, we need to do everything within our power to help the victims of abuse, rape and incest. We need to support them, provide them with the peace of mind that comes with knowing their assailant(s) is/are locked up and help them rebuild their lives.
These women and children are forced to deal with feelings of anger, confusion, fear, loss and so much more. The one thing their family, friends and neighbours should not do is force them to feel ashamed for something they never desired or deserved. It is the disgusting perpetrators who should be made to feel ashamed, not the victims.
And so I say, we cannot let the fire of life that burns in our daughters’ eyes be wantonly smothered. We need to take a stand against this wickedness and tell these vile criminals to stay away from our wives, mothers and sisters.
For those of us who live in the Diaspora we need to be reminded that a woman is abused every 15 seconds in the US and every 60 seconds in Britain while 3 in every 10 women suffer some form of abuse in Canada.
So I say again to my fellow Caribbeans everywhere, let our voices echo around the globe as we emphatically declare, “Don’t you dare touch my daughter!”
What do I want for Christmas? I am a simple lady with very distinctive taste, so it is not easy to shop for me unless you know me very well. Creative types can be so eclectic some times (just look at Freddie) and my tastes and distastes change on a constant basis.
On top of everything else, I adore old world charm. I love history so much that at times I would trade the conveniences of modern life to fight alongside Joan of Arc or help Cleopatra scheme her way through another political mess or love affair. How great would it have been to fly with Amelia Earhart? Except that I would have wanted a return flight ticket.
The one reason I should probably remain in the 21st century is because I could never fall into that submissive woman role. I love that my Guyanese guy has been man enough to insist on equity in our relationship from the very start, which was over 20 years ago now.
I am reading a book this week just for fun. It has no screaming political message and nothing to be learned – aside from a life lesson. The book is called, “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. I have never read any of his books before, but I try to be open to new adventures. This story is set during World War II in the Southern States of the US.
Yesterday I read a tragic part of the story, perhaps the most tragic point of any story, where the heroine of the book tells of how she sacrificed her own desires and talent to conform to societal expectation. Sadder still is that this was forced on her by her own mother, who probably had to do the same thing when she was young.
Evidently the young female character was a gifted artist who loved to paint. However, her well-to-do parents felt it was inappropriate for a lady to pursue these types of endeavours. So she stopped painting.
If someone ever told me that I would have to stop writing, which is also a creative outlet for me, I think I would die inside - as I suppose millions of women have done throughout the centuries when they have been told they could not pursue their dreams. Imagine all of the masterful doctors, brilliant scientists and talented artists that never had a chance to develop only because they were women.
I have a deep appreciation for art and I love the work of the Masters like Da Vinci and Michael Angelo. At the same time I often tire of seeing history through only a man’s eye. Where are the female masters from the Renaissance? Where are the female lawyers in history?
Moreover, where are the great female religious leaders? Even now it is unusual to see a female minister and the thought of a female pope is still beyond the reach of the contemporary mindset. Is it that women are not spiritual? We all know that is far from the truth, if anything women are more spiritual – and capable leaders as well.
So what prevents us today from conceptualising a female pope? Society has not yet moved far enough away from its patriarchal mentality to envision a world where women can fully develop into the intelligent and capable beings they really are inside.
No female Catholic today could dream of one day being a pope. She is restricted by the mentality that she is somehow less of a human than a man. Society still imposes this mindset on women. There are men who degrade and expect submission and there are women who allow this behaviour thinking it is normal.
However, it is far from being normal. It is the exact opposite of being normal. One gender is no better than the other gender. Each gender may have its own physical and social characteristics, but the physical differences are for nothing more than the survival of our species and the social differences are quite often a result of environmental stimuli rather than an encoded and unchangeable behaviour.
In fact, it is interesting to see that the more equitable an environment, the more androgynous the behaviour from both genders. This suggests that the social qualities often linked to each gender are in fact trained behaviours.
For example, it is believed that all women are naturally nurturing, when in fact this could be a trained behaviour resulting from a doll she was given as a child – a toy often withheld from most boys. The girl learns to be nurturing with the doll and the boy does not.
On the other hand, it is thought that men are naturally more aggressive than women. However, this aggressive behaviour could instead be a result of a boy watching the same aggressive behaviour from his father, uncles and brothers and assuming this is the way boys are to behave and therefore mimics the behaviour.
Aggressiveness is thought to be natural in men and nurturing is thought to be natural in women, however I know very aggressive women and very nurturing men. Likewise, I know women who are not at all nurturing and men who are not at all aggressive. My point is that society has trained us to believe one gender is superior to another, when in fact there is very little difference between the two and what differences there are should be equally valued and appreciated in society.
I suppose I must digress now to get to my Christmas wish this year. This year I want happy women for Christmas. I want to see women who can be whatever they want to be in life.
I want to see women share their lives with men who know their value and esteem them as equals. I want to see brave women walk away from their abusers and make a life for themselves.
I want to see women break free from the societal chains that hold them back from their full potential. What I want most is to see a woman giving a Christmas blessing in the office of the Pope in my lifetime.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Getting Back on Track: The real truth is always somewhere between yours and your opponent's (Kaieteur News, 17 December, 2005)My Response
It is always amazing to observe the tenor of the exchanges between letter writers and feature columnists of our daily newspapers, which nearly always reflect points of view that are diametrically opposed to one another. There is seldom any sign of acceptance of any opinion or line of argument put forward by the other person, nor even a willingness to compromise on some point.
Sometimes this even relates to facts that could be proven, but the reality of which cannot be bothered about, especially if it would disprove some original thesis that was built based on assumption and speculation.
Another salient feature of these exchanges is that most writers express themselves in extreme language, seemingly not bothered about the impact of their remarks on the average reader who would like to form opinions on the everyday issues based on facts, reason and proper judgement. This approach to public discussion of our problems, apart from removing the chances of helping to resolve the problematical issues of the day, must be encouraging an atmosphere of hostility and extremism among the ordinary people. Of course, the readership seems to relish this sort of radicalism, and this must indirectly feed this type of discourse.
Then we have the eternal problem of people taking sides according to their racial and political orientation, so that you get the impression that when reason and ‘facts' are applied, the aim is not to seek out the real truth, but to support some preconceived position. We all know of the regular letter writers, and we can nearly always guess what their line will be on any current topic, whether it be for or against the government, or for or against some issue like marginalisation, the economy, or elections.
What this may be proving is that people are not really interested in resolving situations by discoursing with other correspondents and arriving at what is the real truth in a compromising and open-minded attitude, but in getting their own and their group's interests advanced.
The continuous result then of what goes on in the newspapers is that the opposing camps do not even try to learn from one another, and more often than not harden their own positions to become worse than their original stance, thus effectively lessening the chances of people coming together with any unified opinion or judgement on any of our problems.
Another thing that amazes me is the manner in which both letter-writers and columnists who reside overseas can write about our situation in this country as if they have first-hand information about what is going on. And to add fuel to the fire, they make it a practice to use extreme language – corruption is rampant, the country is falling apart, most Guyanese are racists and vote with race as the only criterion (a gross insult to Guyanese intelligence that is perpetuated by Guyanese at home), the Government is totally corrupt and inefficient, our infrastructure is tumbling down. It is as if they get some info, and let their imagination run wild.
This is of course doing no one any good, except that it is benefiting them by getting their real purpose achieved – making the Government and of course our people look bad (as the saying goes, we deserve the government we get), making them popular with the opposing elements in the country, and even making them appear as if they are actually unbiased.
Maybe we could all learn from the method which salesmen are taught to overcome objections to their selling pitch, and encouraging the buyer to consider some selling point which might convince them of the validity of their product – “I can see that you have a point there, but I ask you to consider this ….”
I would further suggest that we consider the fact that no one is ever always wrong, just as none of us is ever always right. The position taken by any one person reflects the experiences, the interests, the point of view, the reasoning of that person, and must have some merit, and therefore must be taken into consideration if we are really and sincerely seeking out the truth in any situation. Also, we are preventing ourselves from learning from any other if we shut our minds and refuse to consider their point of view.
Anyone who wants to get at the truth in any situation can never do so from his perspective alone, but only if he considers all the options in the universal field.
I would therefore urge all our writers to allow the spirit of the season to pervade their writings and move forward with an attitude of compromise and appreciation of one another, so that we can together come up with real solutions which would be acceptable to the majority of our people.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
This is the first of many columns I plan to write between now and the elections on why race should not be a deciding factor in the vote next year. I do not know how many of these columns will be written or how often, but my goal is to make a case as to why Guyanese should do away with their racial voting blocs and make the next election decision based on issues like economic stability, crime reduction, judicial system reform, foreign policy, human rights, women’s rights, educational reform and renovating the national infrastructure.
As I write this column, racial violence stirs in Australia, a country many thought of as being immune to such occurrences. In fact, there are some who are blaming Prime Minister John Howard for the unrest, claiming his use of racially instigating language has created a new generation of ethnically wary Australians.
Howard denies these accusations and says the reasons for the recent riots have to do with how people feel about 9/11 and other terrorist acts. I find this a bit hard to believe since not even the Anglo-American youth are picking fights with Arab-Americans, so why would the Australian youth want to fight over 9/11?
The one thing (and possibly the only thing) the Bush administration has done right since 9/11 has been to calm the racial fears of various groups to keep America from going into civil unrest. There was an immediate move on several fronts to assure Americans that the majority of the Arab community does not share the same extremist views as those who are a part of this radical group.
So why on earth would Australia’s youth be so offended at 9/11 and other terrorist acts? A sampling from the letters to the editor published in The Sydney Morning Herald this week might shed some light on this question.
One letter said, “The Howard Government and its media cheer squad have been blowing a racist dog whistle for at least five years. Why were they so surprised when the pack eventually turned up?”
Another letter said, “What incited the mob at Cronulla? All mobs follow a leader. Forget the text message call to arms. It has been through 10 years of coded rhetoric and dog whistle messages that John Howard has given tacit approval for Anglo-Aussies to fear and loathe different races and religions.”
It does seem that a valid argument can be made against Australia’s PM for provoking racial fears. How sad is it that a country that to this point in history has lived in racial harmony is now in unrest? How sadder still that this racial unrest was provoked by one of its trusted leaders?
Guyana has never known what it feels like to live in racial harmony. However, it has had its share of divisive politicians and racist leaders. There are only two primary parties in Guyana, both of which garner their support from the two primary races. Is it that these two races are so different that their political and governmental expectations never coincide?
Are the economic, social and medical needs of these two groups so dissimilar that they can never agree on even one point? No, this is not the case at all. As a people, most Guyanese share the same flooded streets, the same poverty and the same ill-equipped medical facilities. So the lack of sharing the same needs cannot be the problem.
What about culture? Most Guyanese wear the same types of clothes, listen to the same types of music and hold similar religious views. Many Guyanese eat the same kind of food, shop at the same stores and speak the same language. With so much in common, why is the division still so apparent?
Is it just race? Colonisation was not a friend to Guyana, yet the people stood together to demand independence – and got it. Forty years later those same people live their everyday lives without issue – until it comes to politics. When the PNC was in power, the Indo-Guyanese felt they were being marginalised. With the PPP in power now, the Afro-Guyanese feel they are being marginalised.
So it seems that although there is a sweet diversity that should be appreciated in this nation, Guyanese have almost everything in common except their political party. This one point of separation has caused nothing but heartache and death for Guyana, so why is it allowed to remain a part of this society?
That is not to say that racial issues are not important, but that such issues should only play a small part of the many issues Guyanese face in life that can and should be worked out.
Where there is diversity, there is a natural tendency to fear something or someone who is different. However, we should not allow that fear to rule our lives, our government or our nation. Guyana has allow something that should be a small issue get out of hand and grow out of control. Now, this one issue controls the nation.
Further, Guyana has been so focused on racial issues that other important facets of the nation have been totally neglected, like economic stability, crime reduction, judicial reform, foreign policy, human rights, women’s rights, educational reform and renovating the national infrastructure.
Ethnic diversity is an attribute that makes Guyana beautiful. It should be celebrated instead of despised. A new approach should be implemented to incorporate the voices of both races in political and social issues. The current divisive situation is not acceptable and has been the downfall of this beautiful nation.
Therefore, my #1 reason against racial voting is that Guyana can no longer afford to allow this one issue to so engulf the nation and thereby neglect all the other important aspects of a young nation. The nation is falling apart at the seams and it is time for all Guyanese to work together, across racial lines, to demand that the leaders and politicians switch their focus to the other issues that have long been neglected.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
In my last column we gathered the entire nation for a fictional political debate with leaders from the PPP, the PNC, the AFC and the GTF. The participants have already taken their seats, some in dramatic fashion, and we are ready to begin the debate.
Please remember that this debate is an account of what I envision would happen if the current political parties were brought together in one room to deliberate the various political and social issues that currently impact the country. Let us get settled in quickly and start the debate.
Attention participants, I thought it would be good to establish an economic platform for each party so the people can understand the foundational premise from which the rest of your party’s policies will derive. We can start with the PPP. Mr. President, will you state your party’s economic platform, please?
Jagdeo, after glancing ever so slightly to the empty chair beside him, leans forward on the table and says, “We will continue to draw inspiration from the enduring values of respect for all as we strive to create a Guyana where all our citizens can live meaningful, valued lives. But we will ensure that these values are given life through policies that are relevant to the modern world. This means ensuring that our investments in Education, Health, Housing, Water and other social areas continue to increase and deliver better results that make a difference for everyone in our society, particularly the poor.”
He pauses to see if anyone is actually buying this speech. Seeing Corbin’s scowl, Jagdeo figures he must be doing something right and continues with his response. “But it also means working to create wealth, grow the economy and provide the opportunities for entrepreneurship and business to flourish.”
At this statement, Ramsaroop’s mouth drops wide open in disbelief. Seeing the flabbergasted faces in the balcony, Jagdeo attempts to save a little face. “Call this capitalism, call this socialism, call this what you will; I am not interested in labels. What I am interested in is doing what I can to allow each and every one of my people to lead the best life he or she can.”
This is where I ask the President for a bit more clarification, for the sake of “his people.” Jagdeo starts to open his mouth to answer when Persaud quickly interjects, “We are communists.” I thank Mr. Persaud for his swift response and turn to the next table. AFC, how do you respond?
“I am not a communist,” Ramjattan replies bluntly. I nod my head in understanding and ask again about his party’s economic platform. Ramjattan seems dazed, so I wait for his response. Getting tired of dead air, someone from the balcony shouts, “Hey, if they are not communists, maybe they are socialists.” I raise my eyebrows quizzically at the Gang of Three, who are still holding tight to the sides of their seats, even as they sat in them. Still no response, so I move on to the PNC table.
Mr. Corbin, what is your party’s economic platform? Corbin sits up straight in his chair, glares down his nose at Jagdeo and calmly spits, “We are not communists.” I reply that the people want to know what the PNC’s economic platform is – not what it is not. Corbin slowly turns his head to me and says, “Whatever the PPP is, the PNC is not.”
At this point, I thought it best to move on to the next table. GTF, what is your party’s economic platform? Just like before, thumping music fills the air and the spotlight zooms in on Ramsaroop, who is wearing his sunglasses…inside…at night. Again, he flings them off with dramatic flare and smiles as he says, “We are capitalists” - without even moving his mouth. This causes me to wonder if he has hired someone to talk for him as well?
Now I am a bit dazed too and need to jerk myself back to reality. I decide it would be best to sum up the first question and keep the debate rolling. I turn to the balcony filled with expectant faces. So there you have it folks, of the four parties here, one is communist (we think), one may be socialist (we think), one is definitely not communist and one is most certainly capitalist.
Moving right along, I address the participants with the next question. We are all well aware of the large-scale atrocities committed against women in Guyana. To this point in national history, no party has valued women and their issues enough to campaign for women’s rights. Will your party be including this as a social facet of your party’s platform? Why don’t we start with the AFC since you are the only party here with physical female representation?
All eyes fall on the “Gang of Three,” who are still tightly clutching their seats. However, it quickly becomes obvious that Trotman is sneering at Corbin, who is sneering at Jagdeo, who is again wistfully looking at the empty seat beside him. On the other side of Jagdeo, Persaud is sneering at Ramjattan, who is sneering at Ramsaroop, who is checking his hair in a mirror.
I am beginning to understand why there has not been a public political debate in Guyana for so long. Just as I am about to call the room to order, Jagdeo stands up at his table. Glancing once more to the vacant seat, he begins to speak. He says, “Women are a vital part of…” His voice starts to crack and he sits back down.
Joey Jagan then stands up and, glancing at the empty chair beside Jagdeo, he remembers a tender memory from childhood and says, “I believe what the President is try to say is that women are a vital part of any…” Jagan stops mid-sentence, sniffling once - he too sits back down.
Almost immediately, Ramjattan stands up with his gaze now firmly fixed on the vacant chair next to the President. He opens his mouth to speak, then suddenly realises his own seat is unprotected and quickly returns his vice-like grip to the metal bars of his seat.
At this point I am in a stupor of disbelief and look to the balcony to take my next cue from people. To my utter amazement, I find the entire balcony, a whole nation of people, staring at the empty seat next to Jagdeo. Some are staring with stern looks of reprimand and others are staring with a wishful longing.
It seems everyone in Guyana is holding on to something from the past, some of it good and some of it bad. It could be a tender childhood memory, the nostalgia of party affiliation, the resentment of wrongdoing – or seats.
I take a deep breath and sit back in my chair. I decide to paperclip all of my papers back together since I’m obviously not going to need them anymore tonight. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to get to ask about crime, corruption, economic growth, education, medical advancements or whether we should make it a law to force Ramjattan to shave his beard.
As I sigh heavy and open my bag to put the papers away, I spot my stash of El Dorado Special Reserve and decide now is as good a time as any to break it open. I pause slightly, thinking it might seem a bit disrespectful, what with the complete silence as the rest of the nation reveres the empty chair beside Jagdeo. But I figure she is probably doing the very same thing – wherever she is right now.
As I down the first of what I expect to be many shots from my bottle, I look around the room and up to the balcony teeming with Guyanese and ponder a quote by John F. Kennedy, “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” Cheers, Mr. Kennedy.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
When was the last time Guyana had a debate between political entities? Far too long, I suppose, and I won’t be holding my breath for the next one to happen along either since most of Guyana’s politicians like to think they are above the scrutiny of mere proletariats.
Therefore, I have decided to conduct a mock political debate. This of course is fiction; an account of what I envision in my own mind would happen if the current political parties were brought together in one room to deliberate the various political and social issues that currently impact the country.
Since this is my mind, I will act as moderator of this debate. I thought of assigning this role to Freddie, but his objectivity has been tainted, so it did not seem wise. Peeping Tom came to mind as well, but I hear he is going bald and the photographers have been complaining about the glare from the top of his head lately.
Therefore, I am honoured to act as moderator for the first fictional political debate between the leaders of the PPP, the PNC, the AFC and the GTF. I would like to remind each participant that, unlike normal days when you seem to do whatever you please, today every eye in Guyana is watching you, so try to be on your best behaviour.
There have been four tables set up for the debate, one on each of the four walls of the room. There is a balcony filled to capacity with people from all over the country. A noticeable buzz is coming from the balcony as the entire nation waits for their leaders to enter the room.
I announce from my seated position near the entrance of the room, “If the participants from each party would please take their seats at the designated tables, we will start the debate.”
A deep, booming voice then declares in a crescendo, “Everyone stand please as we welcome His Excellency, The President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo to the room.” The nation stands and silence fills the room as President Jagdeo enters with Robert Persaud, MBA on his heels. They walk to the centre of the room and pause slightly as they look up to the crowd and smile.
As they make their way to the far side of the room to their assigned table, they notice there are three chairs, but only two of them. They immediately know who is missing and are warmed by the fact that she is with them in spirit – always. Jagdeo then points to the table in front of him and proudly proclaims to those in the balcony, “Look how much better these tables look now than they did when the PNC was in power.”
Robert Corbin then storms into the room as if he is about to say something, but then he seems to realise that the PNC has nary said a word in protest of the PPP and their many goings-on, so why start now in front of the entire nation? Instead, he stomps over to his table, on the opposite side of the room from Jagdeo, and plops down in his seat with a thud.
Just about then, Khemraj Ramjattan, Raphael Trotman and Sheila Holder enter the room holding their chairs above their heads. Ladies and gentlemen, it seems they have brought their own seats with them. This is highly unusual behaviour; perhaps we should ask the AFC’s “Gang of Three” what this is all about.
Mr. Ramjattan, can you explain this whole situation? Ramjattan replies, “I just want to briefly repeat same for emphasis sake that (a) the expulsion of members from Parliament as a penalty for leaving their parties should be viewed as a possible infringement of members' independence; (b) the cessation of membership of a political party of itself should not lead to the loss of a member's seat.”
Trotman pipes in, “If the PNCR asks for my seat, in fairness to them I will give it to them.” Holder is not so benevolent; “I will hold fast to the position with my fellow AFC colleagues, Khemraj Ramjattan and Raphael Trotman that giving up my seat now would contribute to the concept of the paramountcy of the party.”
At this point I feel the need to explain that the chairs they are holding belong the to people in the balcony and are being provided for the duration of the debate. They look a bit confused, but I politely show them to their table to the right of the PPP and ask them to be seated. Trotman then informs the room that he will relinquish his seat after he and Corbin have had a chat about it. At this point, I am trying to be complicit and just want them to sit down.
The Gang of Three seems a bit jumpy and they eye the occupants of the other two tables suspiciously as they take their seats, never once letting go of the chairs, as if Jagdeo or Corbin were going to pull their seats right from under them as they sat down. Then Trotman changes his mind again and says, “Our eventual withdrawal will be on our terms, on our time…”
Suddenly, boisterous music starts pumping the air and Peter Ramsaroop, MBA comes gliding into the room with sunglasses on, cell phone to his ear and sporting a crisp, black RoopSuit. The room begins to darken slightly and a spotlight zooms down from somewhere above to land right on Ramsaroop in the centre of the room. He flings the sunglasses off and flashes a wide smile of white teeth.
He motions across the crowd with one arm lifted and glibly shouts, “RoopChips for all!” as a dozen men file into the balcony with buckets of bagged RoopChips and begin tossing them to the people. Ramsaroop continues, “The rest of the GTF leaders are working hard on the campaign trail, so I am the designated spokesman tonight. I know how happy you are to see me, how can you not be happy to see me? Don’t I look wonderful in my new RoopSuit?”
Ramsaroop’s security men, all in black suits and sunglasses, file in and usher him to his chair at the GTF table. Joey Jagan has already discreetly found his seat at the last empty table and seemed to be taking in the Ramsaroop Show with everyone else. He curtly nods to the right, Jagdeo acknowledges his politeness then looks wistfully at the empty seat beside him again.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the stage is set, the players are all in place and we are about to embark on what is sure to be the best fictional political debate of the century. Don’t miss the next column when I start asking Guyana’s leaders some very difficult questions about the future of the nation.
[To be continued in Tuesday’s column]
Thursday, December 08, 2005
This has been a melancholy week for me so far. I am more than just a little frustrated over the flooding last week and I am finding it very difficult to put my feelings on this matter into writing. On top of every thing else, I am feeling a bit under the weather.
It is highly unusual that I cannot write about how I feel. In fact, writing is the customary outlet for the expression of most of my thoughts. If I am mad about something, it usually comes out in my writing. The same hold true with the full spectrum of my emotions.
Which is why I find it particularly interesting that I cannot seem to express this frustration. I think perhaps it is beyond me now. This is another feeling I find unfamiliar and alarming. I am usually a fighter. So why would one flood throw me for such a loop? I’m not even too sure myself.
Don’t get me wrong; I have no intention of giving up the fight. However, today I am spent. I have been wondering where the G$50 million the President handed over to the City Council was spent.
I have been wondering who the contractors were that supposedly did significant work on the drainage system to the tune of G$800 million in international aid that was forked over by a Task Force set up by the President to prevent further flooding - a Task Force that was disbanded in July because its work was supposedly done.
I am just so sick and tired of all of the corruption and governmental ineptitude that I simply cannot stomach one more debacle. In Freddie’s column from Tuesday, he asked the question, “…Does power have to corrupt all the politicians that possess it?” As I read his question, I knew the answer immediately – yes.
However, it is not power alone that corrupts people. It is unbridled and unchecked power. Even good men and women, when allowed too much power, can turn into a vile dictator if law and accountability do not restrain them. This is why Guyana continues to be plagued with crime, this is why corruption is rampant and this is why the streets were flooded last week.
Who does the government of Guyana answer to? They certainly do not answer to the people. If they did, then we would know what happened to all of the money that was suppose to have fixed the drainage system. We would see an itemised list of each repair and a justifiable cost for those repairs. We would know to whom each penny went, if the job was completed and if so, when it was completed. Yet we have none of the above.
What we do have is more broken promises and more missing money.
Until the people get a backbone and start demanding full disclosure of such projects, the government will never be held accountable for the proper allocation of money and an extensive follow-up to make sure the job was done correctly. Until the people stand up for themselves, they will continue to be jerked around – like they have been with the drainage system.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” I have always felt this statement to encompass so much of life. However, upon further reflection this week, I have realised that Guyana is the embodiment of this statement.
The governmental system has been allowed to grow wild and do whatever it wishes without accountability. We try to trim the evil parts of the system; we hack at this evil branch and that evil branch, but the root continues to grow new branches. The evil must be stopped at the core. We need to completely uproot the tree and then burn the left over pieces.
Once the evil is totally vanquished, we need to plant a new tree and carefully tend to it lest it turn evil as well. I understand the need to be loyal to the old system. At times it even seems like it would be immoral to turn our back on it because it is Guyana’s history – a part of each and every Guyanese. However, the old system is evil and the evil is consuming the nation.
Regardless of the propaganda that maintains the opposite, Guyana is not doing fine. You don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to see just how bad things have gotten. Has Guyana seen worse times? Sure. But that does not justify the miserable state of the country today. Fear, crime, corruption and poverty are everywhere.
We cannot continue to hack away at a branch here and there - knowing full well in our hearts that the evil is at the root and to this point it has been allowed to remain unchallenged. In the end, it is the people who pay for the corruption.
When the streets flood, the people are the ones who suffer. When crime goes unchecked, the people are murdered, raped and robbed. On the other hand, when the people start expecting accountability from their leaders - that is when power is restrained. I believe it is time to remind the government that it works for the people.
There is no doubt about it, leaders have a tendency to allow power to corrupt them. Of this we are certain. Which is why we need to be ever vigilant in ensuring that those in power are accountable to the law and to the people.
If the lust of power overtakes a public servant, then that person should be removed from office, for his or her own good and for the good of the country. No person or system, no matter how good we believe them to be, should be allowed absolute and unchecked power.
As always, writing has once again helped me to work through my thoughts on this matter. I still have not been able to address the depth of my frustration this week, but at least I have worked through the despair that often accompanies the frustration. I do not put my hope in the PPP, the PNC or another other party. I continue to put my hope for Guyana’s future in the people.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Last Thursday I read an intriguing letter to the Editor of Stabroek News from Deborah Osman Backer. This letter simply made my day. It was a perfect illustration of what every single Guyanese woman should be telling her daughter, best friend and next-door neighbour.
Osman Backer first reflected on the two most recent female wonders to hit the international scene, Germany’s new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Africa’s first democratically elected woman President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I share in the excitement produced by the huge strides made by these two women in the political arena.
In fact, I was having lunch and going over some research the other day in a restaurant while I overheard the conversation of two women sitting behind me who were talking about Liberia’s Johnson-Sirleaf. One lady said isn’t this wonderful and the other lady was just as thrilled.
Then one of them mentioned that Johnson-Sirleaf’s opposition was demanding a recount and both of the ladies started laughing, to which I was surprised. It was no secret that George Weah, a former soccer star, could not accept that he lost the election. Through snorts and giggles the first lady continued, “Imagine that the soccer player can’t believe he lost a presidential election to a Harvard grad!”
At this point I started snickering too. Johnson-Sirleaf didn’t just win the election; she creamed Weah with a whopping 59 percent of the vote with 97 percent of the ballots being counted. The ladies behind me were right; this was comical. I wonder what made this defeat so difficult for Weah to accept? Was it that he lost to a lady? Or that he lost to a Harvard graduate with a Master’s degree in Public Administration?
What was Johnson-Sirleaf’s campaign slogan? “Women, don’t sit there! Do something positive together with men!” To this I reply, “You Go Girl!”
Osman Backer, a Guyanese politician, seemed to connect with these international women wonders and wanted the rest of Guyana’s ladies to feel the pride of this monumental feminine achievement. It was also obvious that she wanted to inspire Guyana’s ladies to get more involved in politics too. To which I reply, “You Go Girl!”
There is a certain mentality that is hard to shake as a woman. It is the feeling of being insignificant and irrelevant to society at large. Most women feel the best they can do for their country is to stay home and raise their children to be upstanding citizens. While raising children is a very important role to play in any society, there is still so much more women can do.
A feminine approach to leadership is very different than the methods most men choose to employ. That is not to say one is better than another, but that both are equally necessary components of a balanced and effective leadership team. Any woman can look around the world today and pinpoint the missing elements in international politics, and almost every time the missing aspects are the ones that could, and should, be contributed by a female participant.
The lack of feminine leadership in the world has produced a lopsided worldview on so many levels. This disproportionate imbalance can only be remedied by an influx of women into politics, businesses and media. The feminine voice has so much wisdom and so much goodness, that the world is at a great disadvantage without it.
I know the obstacles that must be overcome for most women to rise to occasion and take their responsibility as leaders seriously. There are men who are constantly patronising and condescending. There are other women who want to know why you think you are so special. There are established laws and societal expectations that create an environment that is far from encouraging for any woman who wants to be a leader.
However, I have found the greatest obstacle a woman must hurdle in her journey out of obscurity - is herself. There is a deeply embedded fear that if we step into the big, bad world, it will eat us alive. This fear is partly a fear of the unknown, partly another allusion created by a patriarchal society and, sadly, partly true.
I am not going to pretend that the life of a female politician is easy, or that a businesswoman doesn’t have to fight to be taken seriously or that I don’t take my share of flack for the columns I write – after all, what can a woman know about Guyanese politics? I won’t lie to you and tell you that being a leader is simple, because it’s not.
However, it is rewarding and it is fulfilling. And most importantly, it is our responsibility. We cannot allow fear to keep us from being the leaders the world needs. There is a worse fear that plagues my mind – what will happen if I choose to ignore my responsibility as a citizen of the world?
The thought of what this world will develop into if more women do not do their part as leaders is what drives me to step out into the big, bad world. I am strong enough to make myself vulnerable and wise enough to know when to wait for the right fight. These are qualities that most women possess and all that is needed to start a successful journey of feminine leadership.
I now want to join Deborah Osman Backer in her challenge to women from her letter last week when she said, “I close by issuing an invitation to women throughout the length and breadth of Guyana to get involved in politics and public life so that together with our men folk we can quicken the transformation of our political landscape.”
Oh yeah, you go girl!
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Dear President Jagdeo,
I am quite sure that a man in your position probably does not have the time to waste on a mere peon as myself, so I will not bother you with a request to accompany me on a shopping trip like Khemraj Ramjattan or to request your presence the next time Freddie and I get our groove on. We do so love to dance.
However, I have a very important matter that needs your immediate attention so I decided to sit down at my desk this morning to pen you this letter. I believe it vital to maintain an open channel for communication and this seemed like the most expedient way to deliver my message to someone who is as busy as I am sure you are.
I did plan on contacting you while you were in the States a few weeks ago to see if you would do me the pleasure of accompanying my husband and me to dinner. I am in the DC area (did you know that?) and I am very sure you were staying no more than just a few miles from my home while in town.
However, life quickly became quite busy for me and you were well on your way back to Guyana before I had the opportunity to extend this invitation. Perhaps on your next visit I can treat you to one of the many wonderful eateries in the area? I think we would have so much to talk about.
If you don’t mind, Mr. President, I would like to jump right into the gist of my letter now. I simply cannot express in words how disappointed I am about the fact that Georgetown flooded again this week. I truly did believe that when, in dramatic fashion, you provided the money to fix the drainage problem there would be no more flooding.
I was warned by others not take that whole “horse and pony show” seriously, but I so wanted to believe that you cared about the people. I am usually a very good judge of character, but it seems that I may have missed the boat when it comes to you – your Excellency, Sir.
I even wrote a column praising you and your party for taking the initiative to do something about this problem. Now I am forced to eat my words and I have to face the jeers of those who warned me not to believe the drainage system was actually being fixed.
I’m sure Freddie is gloating and saying, “I told you so” because I had thought you to be a caring President who was going to keep the streets dry. I just hate it when he wins an argument. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I would rather eat a raw fish than to admit he is right.
However, as much as I like to save face, this letter is not about sparring with Freddie. I can take care of myself in a debate with the likes of Mr. Kissoon and his seat-hogging friends. This letter is about the people whose homes and businesses are once again in a deluge of water.
A friend of mine, Bryan Mackintosh, is a wonderful photographer. He put up some photos on his Website of the flooding this week and I barely stand to look at them. Right there it was though; Main Street was under water. How can the stores in the city possibly keep up with their losses if they have to deal with flooding every rainy season?
Bryan’s photos showed cars trying to drive through the water too. When I think about how hard it is for the average person to get a car in Guyana, it seems so unfair to see that these cars then have to drive through all of this water. Don’t you agree, Mr. President?
When you doled out the money to clean up the sewers, you said, "If the city looks good, I look good as President of the country." I know I gave you a hard time about this statement when you said it, but don’t be too upset – it’s my job to point out the obvious. As such, I am once again left to wonder how good you look this week.
Don’t worry, I won’t offer to get you some new shoes and a shave (it seems Khemraj is still sporting that blasted beard), but it does seem that it will be very difficult for you to look good when the nation’s capital is covered in water – again.
The word on the street is that you are upset with the Mayor and City Council over this whole flooding situation. I am sure they should be severely reprimanded, if not investigated. I do wonder what happened to that $50M if the sewers did not get fixed, which it would seem they did not. Does this mean another nice home will be going up in Pradoville?
In any case, the buck stops with you, Mr. President, and it was your job – as the one who promised progress – to make sure this job got done, and that it was done properly. Surely you have an established procedure to review the ongoing progress of any construction or maintenance project going on in the country at any given time?
In other words, you promised the country that something would be done and did not follow through. This is very disappointing and, if I may be so bold, very irritating. It is highly frustrating for me and I am sitting in a house that is high and dry. I can’t even imagine how exasperated the people feel – the people you serve.
Mr. President, I know you have Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud (who has been touting his new MBA acronym after his name like Peter likes to do) to help you with Public Relations situations like this, but I would like to offer just a tiny bit of advice if you don’t mind. It is not a good thing for the PPP to have flooding (again) only a few months before elections. I’m sure you already knew that, but again it is my job to point out the obvious.
Thank you ever so much for allowing me to air my grievances on this subject. We really should get together for dinner one day soon, okay? I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season and please give my best to Robert Persaud, MBA and the rest of your Cabinet and staff.