Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stella Says…If The Gov’t Gags The Media, the People Are Next

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 June 2010)

My column has always been from an observer’s point-of-view. I have long been an observer of Guyana on many fronts, but especially concerning the social and political issues. I have written numerous “Stella Says” columns from my safe desk, in central Texas.

The Guyanese culture is unique and intriguing, so much so that those who move away continue to feel connected to their motherland for the rest of their lives. Even this observer feels the pull of this captivating land.

When I quit writing this column two and a half years ago, I did not intend on a return to it. At the time, my health was at an all time low and it has taken me the better part of two years to get back to semi-normal life. But if I am to be honest, there was another reason for my quick departure.

The other reason was an overwhelmingly disillusionment with the way things were going in the country. I know, this is a paltry explanation by any standard, but it is – sadly - one of the reasons. Instead of staying the course, I ran from it.

I cannot offer any excuse for my cowardly retreat. I suppose at that time, with my poor health, I felt this was one fight I did not need to fight since I otherwise lived in relative comfort behind my safe desk – far from Guyana.

Soon after I quit this column in late 2007, my lower right lung collapsed and I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including wheat, gluten, eggs and dairy. I spent months re-learning how to cook without these ingredients, which are a staple in all of our diets.

I was also very slowly recovering from post-concussive disorder after hitting my head on the lock of a car trunk. Even three months after the hit on the head, the doctor could still see the mark of the lock on my head. Like I said, it has taken me all this time to get back to being healthy.

Throughout this recovery time, I started a bookstore that sells used, rare and collectible books. I love the bookstore and the slow pace it has afforded me during my recovery. However, in the past few months, my mind has been pushing me for more.

I started reading the Guyana dailies again – and that old fire was back in an instant. I might not be a Guyanese native, but I care deeply about this country and it is so difficult to turn a blind eye to the many injustices, the plight of the women and the rampant corruption.

I was forced to ask myself how I could have ever justified walking away. How could I have just quit?

The reason I was first asked to write a regular column for Kaietuer News in 2005 was because I initially wrote a letter to the editor incensed over the fact that the president of Guyana was suing a newspaper (Stabroek) for a letter it had published. Something caught Boss Man’s eye and he asked me to continue to write for the newspaper.

Look where the last five years has brought us. The progression from 2005 to 2010 clearly shows the government is not just stifling the media anymore, but wanting it shut it down completely. All the evidence shows the PPP/C has launched an all-out-assault on the free press of Guyana. Any objective observer could see this in an instant.

Therefore, I felt it was only right to echo the words from that very first letter (July 2005) to the editor in which I wrote:

“To maintain an open government system, it is imperative to encourage the free expressions of the people, as well any medium used to articulate such expressions.

…Democracy demands that the press be able to operate openly and freely without censorship or interference by the government.

Imagine if George Bush started suing people for criticizing him in such a way. American courts wouldn't be able to handle so many cases – and much worse has been said about him. Daily people call him a murderer and say he is trading blood for oil.

Surely, one must have a thick skin when seeking public office, but that does not negate the public's right to express their opinion.

In other words, Mr. President, if you don't want to be criticized – don't run for office.”

I am quite able to give credit where credit is due. Be it good (see my column from last Sunday where I applaud the PPP for passing the Sexual Offences legislation) or be it bad. And this situation with the government concerning the free press is bad. It is very bad.

I can see where this is going from my desk in Texas. The rest of the world can see it, too. If the people of Guyana want to continue down the road of true democracy, then it is time to tell your government to back off the nation’s free press.

Mark my words, if the people sit by and allow the government to silence the free press today, there will be no free press to stand by the people when they are silenced in another five years.


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