Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stella Says…Columnist Needs To Get Back On Track

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 20 Dec 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.

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