Friday, November 09, 2007

Stella Says…Tourism and Torture: Which word does not fit?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 09 November 2007)

November is tourism month in Guyana! Turn up that music, cut those dancers loose and put on your best smile for the world. Just imagine the vacation packages being assembled and the airline deals being formed. What an exciting time for the country.

However, given the fact that law enforcement continues to torture prisoners, I feel it is pertinent to point out that torture is not typically on the “to do” list for vacationers. In fact, travellers tend to avoid torture like they would a plague.

Hawaii is loved for its lush ocean waves and tropical island appeal, but it is not known for its torture techniques. Likewise, when a vacationer visits Italy, there is shopping and sightseeing to be done, but no one says, “Hey, lets fit some torture into our schedule today.”

Do you see how that word just does not fit into the tourism theme?

It is my assessment that when people plan to fork over some big bucks on a vacation, they tend to go to places where there is no chance of torture. Moreover, when a person is on vacation, I would venture to guess that picking up a newspaper and reading about the torture of one that nation’s citizens would put a damper on the holiday mood.

It seems the government has a choice to make – tourism or torture. If it is truly serious about turning Guyana into a hot tourist spot, it will be necessary to put a permanent end to the torture tactics of law enforcement.

When I was planning my first visit to Guyana, I did the same thing I always do – I Googled it. I like to know about the places I visit because I want more from my stay than just shopping and food. I want to experience the culture and know the people, which is why I do research on each place before travelling there.

I would bet a majority of vacationers in today’s technological world search the Internet for vacation information and can you imagine how they would feel when the news stories on torture pop up in their browser?

Most right thinking people tend to frown upon torture, as well they should. In fact, there are some who feel so strongly about this issue that they would never spend their vacation dollars in a country that allows its law enforcement to torture citizens accused of crimes.

Even for those who do not hold such strong feelings on the topic, there is still the question of personal safety when visiting a country that has law enforcement officers who practice torture. Who wants to take their children to vacation in a country where there is even the slightest chance they might be tortured?

Logic could easily deduce that if law enforcement officials torture the citizens of a nation, worse could be expected for visitors who are not protected by national rights. Even worse, the government in Guyana has not taken a tough stance on this issue by denouncing these extreme interrogation tactics.

It was quite a contrast to see tourism month start off in Guyana at the same time that details about the torture of yet another man being held by law enforcement played out in the news. Exciting Amazon adventures contrasted in the newspaper with oozing blood from a wound inflicted by law enforcement.

Moreover, the government still has yet to inform the nation about the progress of the investigation concerning those involved in the torture of two men last month. No one has been dismissed for these actions. No one has been charged for the torture.

This tells the world that torture is acceptable in Guyana. I wonder how many tourists will want to visit a nation that tortures people? For example, how many tourists have North Korea on the top of their vacation list?

I think vacationers may be looking for something a bit more fun and relaxing for their holiday escape. The government can do all it wants to promote Guyana as a tourist hot spot, but as long as it allows law enforcement to torture people – vacationers will spend their money in a country where they feel safe.

Tourism and torture are two words that just do not blend. If the government wants to allow torture, it can give up on tourism. If the government wants tourism then it must denounce torture. I know which one I would choose.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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