Many of us have been concerned about the criminalization of protest in Guyana, in particular African Guyanese protest. We have pointed to the difference in the responses of the government and some sections of Civil Society to protest in the two ethnic communities. We have also been dismayed by the seeming acceptance of this mindset by the PNC and presumably its partners in the APNU and sections of the African Guyanese Social Elite. We have argued that the right to protest is a human and constitutional right that should be protected. The threat of abuse of it by citizens or/and its degeneration into violence are real. But those threats should not drive a society to shut down the right to protest. In the same way that the threat of libel should not lead to the shutdown of newspapers.
The above comments are meant to contextualize the recent responses of the government and the Private Sector Commission (PSC) to the APNU’s announcement of its intention to engage in public protest. Let’s leave the government’s response aside for the moment—governments never like protests aimed at them. But the PSC is at it again. This organization needs to be called out. It is true that business organizations don’t like anything that threatens business. But in Guyana the dislike only comes to the fore when the public action is from one side of the ethnic divide. When the PPP was protesting in front of Parliament during the budget debate where was the PSC’s voice of doom? Where was the PSC’s voice of doom during the protests on the Correntyne and Essequibo? Where was the PSC’s voice during the protests in Letter Kenny a few days ago?
Why as soon as Mr. Granger announced the protests, there is the suggestion of violence and doomsday? Some may remind that there was violence in previous PNC protests. We now know that some of that violence was carried out or instigated by agents of the other side. But there were many PNC and APNU street protests since then that did not degenerate into violence. For instance, the only 2011 post-election street action that ended in violence was the one in which the police used violence. And for the record there were street protests on the Correntyne that ended in violence by the protestors.
So why this drum beat of doom when it comes to African Guyanese protests? Some of us are familiar with the otherization that is central to racist constructions. Is there an otherization of African Guyanese protests in Guyana? My answer is not important here. What does the evidence show?
Dr. David Hinds, a political activist and commentator, is an Associate Professor of Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University. More of his writings can be found on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com