The nexus between political protest, ethnic rivalry, communal conflict and criminal violence in Guyana has been evident for several decades. It is no secret that over the past 50 years or so crimes of arson, assault, murder, rape, robbery and sabotage have been committed in pursuit of political goals, sometimes under the guise of civil disobedience, protest demonstrations and, most deadly, the 'Disturbances,' as the episodes in the mid-1960s are known.
Eusi Kwayana has been a witness to all of them, some of which are summarised in the appendix of his most recent book The Morning After. Along with Ashton Chase, Kwayana is a surviving member of the group of six elected PPP members of the Executive Council of 1953. He has been around for a long time and has published numerous papers and some valuable books about Guyana's ethno-political problems during these difficult decades.
According to Kwayana, "The Morning After is an essential record aimed at setting down as much of the truth as can be established with reasonable certainty; at setting down the sequence of events and the logic of the sequence; and the other circumstances as understood by this author... The Morning After is a theme which is intended to show that actions have consequences; that results do follow on the proverbial morning after." Kwayana insists that this book should not be approached as "a work of scholarship." He intends it to be "a work of truth."
Few would doubt Kwayana's truthfulness, but truth itself can be elusive and, being too close, it is possible that one might not be able 'to see the wood for the trees,' as the English idiom goes. Each writer collects evidence and must select some since he can never write everything he knows. It is in the process of selection that bias - personal, political, communal - would vitiate the truth of the record. In this book, the clash between the objective and subjective is evident from the start, and Kwayana's frequent use of the first person pronoun confirms his predispositions and prejudices; but, the reader has been forewarned to expect this.
The pursuit of truth must involve a relentless search for the widest range of credible sources, the rigorous analysis of evidence and a balanced account of findings whether or not they conform to pre-existent political prescriptions. In a matter such as the 'Violence' which had its epicentre in Buxton-Friendship, admittedly, much still remains to be exposed, explored and explained and this book provides many useful insights thereto.
Kwayana examines the 'Vio-lence' in Buxton- \Friendship in four chapters: the Chronicle of Major Events of 2001-2003; the Political Masterminds and the Destruction they Achieved; the Rage of the African- Guyanese Masses and the Failure of Response by the PPP and PNC; and, finally, What We Can Do. The book, therefore, starts as narrative; continues as explicative; and ends as prescriptive, suggesting ameliorative measures for constitutional and political change.
The book also contains substantial appendices on sundry subjects such as: Summary of Major Political Events in the PPP-PNC Relationship, 1953-2001; Some Political and Economic Aspects of the Ethnic Problem; Corruption; A Note on 1961 Proposals for Joint Premiership with Partition as a Last Resort; Letter to the Press by Andaiye; Cycling to a Better Place [Review of Kean Gibson's Cycle of Racial Oppression] and Pluralism vs Partisanship and the People's Movement for Justice. Though interesting, these sections, however, seem to have only tangential relevance to the topic. A summary of major incidents in the 'Violence' in Buxton-Friendship would have been helpful.
The Morning After, therefore, is not confined to a specific set of events in a particular place (Buxton-Friendship), over a certain period of time (2001-2003), but is regarded as part of a continuum and part of a pattern of political relations with their origins in the 1950s. The seriousness of the 'Violence' should not be underestimated; it ranks with the 1964 'Disturbances' and surpasses even the Rupununi 'rebellion' in terms of duration and number of murders. This book is both timely and worthwhile.
But Kwayana is not a dispassionate and disinterested observer. He writes with emotion because Buxton is his home, and with conviction because he is a member of the Working People's Alliance (WPA), a party that competed against the People's Progres-asive Party (PPP) and the People's National Congress (PNC) over the past 25 years. These credentials may be regarded as assets, availing the author of intimate knowledge of the territory and ready access to certain sources of information unattainable by outsiders. He is familiar with families and facts about Buxton and is sympathetic to the efforts of villagers and his colleagues in the WPA to improve political relations at both the local and national levels.
Kwayana traces the origin of the 'Violence' to a specific post-election incident in May 2001 and the heavy-handed response of the Guyana Police Force's Target Special Squad (TSS) known as the 'Black Clothes.' At that time, young villagers courageously resisted the police but, soon afterwards, some of them cowardly attacked innocent travellers, Indian-Guyanese, passing through the village. Later, weapons were brought into the village, outsiders also entered, and the 'Violence' escalated. After the escape of five prisoners from the Georgetown Prison in February 2002, the situation rapidly deteriorated, particularly with the killing of Leon Fraser, commander of the TSS, by persons unknown, and of the villager Tshaka Blair, by the TSS.
As the 'Violence' worsened, it became apparent that this was no mere episodic confrontation between villagers and the police; nor was it any longer confined to the Buxton-Friendship locality. Here, Kwayana admits that if narcotics and not politics were at the heart of the 'Violence,' "This book will be most useless," as he was not familiar with the signals of that trade. Hence, although he reports on the murder of Deputy Head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) Vibert Inniss, and of Errol Butcher, aka 'Taps,' who was once convicted for trafficking in narcotics, he does not fit them into the framework of a drug war. Where do they belong?
He also mentions the kidnapping of a businessman "known as Mr Brama" by a band of Buxton-based bandits but does not connect the dots by asking obvious questions about why the victim was selected, why he was held in a safe house a mere seven doors away from the residence of the Minister of Home Affairs, and why within seven hours of the victim's escape from captivity, seven persons were killed. He misses also the significance of the fact that the week after that escape, five more men travelling together in a car were murdered in the middle of Georgetown. Quite a bit of bloody action was taking place beyond the Buxton battlefield. But were these discrete events or were they connected?
Kwayana refers to emergence of a group of bandits known as the 'Taliban' in the village of Buxton and of their employment by certain "masterminds." Chapter 2 provides a detailed account of the introduction of arms and ammunition; encampment of the prison escapees; enforcement of the rule of terror including executions; and the enlistment of boy soldiers. The Phantom squad seems to have been a response to the Taliban squad which itself might have been a response to the Target squad, but details on the emergence and employment of the Phantom are sketchy.
At some stage, the 'Violence' became at least a two-sided contest between the Taliban and Phantom and, possibly, a multi-sided battle with the Target and other yet unidentified groups. But although the depredations of the Taliban are well documented, those of the shadowy Phantom and the shameless Target do not receive similar analysis. Indeed, this book was concluded after several reports on violence were made public but not much use was made of their findings.
The picture cannot be complete without some reference to the GHRA's Ambivalent about Violence: A Report on Fatal Shootings by the Police in Guyana, 1980-2001 and the reports of the Disciplined Forces Com-mission and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which investigated the alleged involvement of the Minister of Home Affairs in the direction of a death squad. How could the redoubtable Axel Williams be ignored?
By focusing over much on his village, too, Kwayana seems to miss much of the action that took place elsewhere. Numerous murders can be attributed to the Phantom, several cadavers of young men being found in public places with unmistakable marks of torture. This was the overkill that prompted George Bacchus to defect from the Phantom and to make certain charges which led to the establishment of the inquiry into Ronald Gajraj's conduct and to George Bacchus's untimely demise. Again, Kwayana does not connect the dots. Several other major events add to the complexity of the 'Violence': the mysterious deaths of Gopaul Chowtie on the East Coast and Axel Williams in Georgetown; the police raid on a house in Bel Air where a large cache of weapons was found; and the dissolution of the police Target Special Squad.
Despite his diffidence in dealing with the drug problem as a significant causal factor in the 'Violence,' Kwayana admits that Guyana's entrapment in the narco-trade and its distinction as a trans-shipment point for drugs cannot be discounted. He refers to the claims of others that agents of the drug lords "should be held responsible for certain incidents and killings." Are those claims valid?
Since he is concerned with causation, a closer analysis of the pattern of these killings would have been necessary to determine whether they were related to ethnicity, politics, narcotics, or were everyday murders, because he turns next to suggesting solutions. In Chapter 4 and the supplementary sections, Kwayana answers the question "What We Can Do." To reform our political culture, he suggests a re-consideration of proposals made by Shahabudin McDoom and Judaman Seecoomar and re-visits proposals for power-sharing, federation, partition and social transformation. But are these really the answers to the questions posed by the violence?
Kwayana has attempted to bring to bear his extensive experience and to apply his analytical skills on a complex problem with evident ethnic, political, criminal and communal ramifications. In so doing, he has promised "a work of truth" but, in the end, despite his sincerity, the question which Pontius Pilate posed to Jesus in Christen-dom's most famous trial might well be asked: "What is truth?"