Internet Radio

The Catholic Church in politics then and now

by Carl B. Greenidge

I read with utter fascination the account in the March 5th Edition of Demerara Waves an account of The Catholic Church’s contribution to views on the actions of the government and its Ministers in the aftermath of the debate on the two financial papers (7 & 8 under Bill#1 of 2012) laid in the House on February 16th.

For the purpose of this letter I shall assume that The Demerara Waves’ description of the statement issued by the Justice Peace Commission (JPC) is accurate.  First, I should like to say that one reason for the utter disrespect the Jagdeo and, before it, the Government of Janet Jagan showed for the Guyanese public, especially those outside traditional PPP areas, has been due to the almost complete absence of the civil society from the public arena after 1990s.

The Catholic Church, which had agitated so much for change in the 1970s and 1980s, seems to gone into hibernation. In the intervening years, various abuses of human rights, racial discrimination, and corruption have gone, not necessarily unnoticed, but without sustained comment, analysis or mobilization.  In most instances the abuses have been worse than the 1970s but, even if they were not worse, the silence smacked of double standards and even of partisanship. This silence left the impression that the sole purpose of the Church’s activities was to oppose the Burnham Administration because he nationalised the church schools and then led a Government which pursued Socialism and the welfare of the ordinary Guyana Citizen.

The issue that is facing us is not merely one of preventing the Government from undertaking corrupt acts and then forcing the Legislature to approve their actions. It is also about the respect for the rules of engagement and the rights of citizens and especially of members of the legislature to be critical of the Government’s behaviour without fear of retribution. This, not an election every five years, is the basis of democracy.

I only hope that the return of the Catholic Church to the affray at a time when liberation theology is on everyone’s lips will be evident and will not be a fitful return. At the same time, let me say to the public and those other elements of civil society who feel that they have already made their contribution and that it is for someone else to take up the struggle and the risks, that the time for action is now. Last year when I asked how they could behave like the Catholic Church, a Caribbean academic colleague told me that they were exhausted. Having put so much effort into the struggle to change the politics in Guyana in the 1998s and 1990s, they were so appalled to see what had evolved that they had simply given up.  Others, especially those who are locally based, feel that the systematic and vicious retaliation of the Government towards critics is not worth incurring. But it is not necessary to stand alone. Others are looking on and must join. It’s not a job for MPs alone or for the APNU and AFC by themselves. It is a job for all of us – the churches, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Guyanese of other religious persuasions, the Press, women and others.

When a Government systematically sets out to destroy the capacity of one set of its citizens for upholding their rights it also is attacking all of us. As we have seen with the PPP, today it’s the PNC critics, tomorrow its Yesu Persaud and tomorrow it is a Nagamootoo.  When you allow such abuses to start it is more difficult to have those rights restored than if we stop them being destroyed from the beginning.

I hope therefore that the initiative of the Catholic Church will not simply be a singular foray into social commentary but part of a systematic and regular review of the developments on the political front. By the same token, I trust that others will rally to the defense of such bodies when their right to express themselves is under threat. Democracy and its defense are about the effective exercise of rights not about the right to be passive spectators.

The job before us is one of bringing decency and honesty to the affairs of state. It will be a long one. It is one of having decisions take account of a wide range of views and not merely the narrow financial interests of a few, often corrupt, friends of the Government.  It is a job of ensuring that our resources are used for the benefit of all Guyanese and that we can have a pattern and level of growth that keeps them in gainful employment and allows them to contribute to the best of their abilities to the growth of the country and, in the process, bring back Guyanese skills and restores hope and pride to all Guyanese.