I use this opportunity to express some thoughts on incidents of public disorder that occurred in Region No. 5 during 2020/2021.
The Mahaica-West Berbice, Region No. 5, of Guyana is a geographical area that has enjoyed relative peace historically. Residents of the rural farming communities that comprise the Region tolerated each other despite their different ethnic and religious identities and other differences. There is far more cooperation than conflicts within the communities and among them. Political leadership was the major contributing factor to the isolated incidents of public disorder experienced by some communities of the region over time.
One can speculate that such political leadership was, in significant ways, once again present and influential in the protests that commenced in that Region during the grossly unusual, by any standards, general and regional elections that lasted five months between when votes were cast and results were declared in 2020.
The deductions that I have made were done by navigating through publicly available information, and referencing them against my more than thirty three years of law enforcement experience. I am cognizant of the fact that modern technology in communications is like a coin with two sides. It brings with it both positive and negative sides. Electronic and social media appeal to people of all walks of life, but while they help persons to be better informed, enlightened and abreast with developments around the world, it is also serves as a medium for misinformation, propaganda and fake news.
The first set of contemporary disorder in the Region was in solidarity with other protests countrywide that were related to people’s dissatisfaction with the delay in the declaration of the March 2nd, 2020 elections results. In some cases, protestors got disorderly and blocked main public roads in places around the country. This was the case at Cotton Tree Village, West Coast Berbice, where the police who were deployed to restore order clashed with protestors, resulting in police Sergeant Iberan and Constable Fraser being chopped by protestors, and Constable Grant being beaten by them on March 6th 2020 – the said date and place where protestor Sewdat Hansraj was shot and killed by the police.
The second set of disorder began on August 30th 2020 simultaneously in Belladrum and Paradise Villages, West Coast Berbice and in Mahaicony. These protests were subsequent to the Police arresting Mr. Clairmont Mingo, the Guyana Elections Commission Returning Officer for Region # 4 of the March 2020 elections, on allegations of electoral fraud. Placards held by the protestors that read “Free Mingo Now,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “The Crime Chief is PPP Stooge,” are all indicative of political leadership of the protesters. In all three areas, protestors blocked the roads by burning tyres across them. Police Constable Ross was injured when protestors at Belladrum threw bricks and bottles at the police ranks who responded, and 49-year-old Collis Reynolds was injured by shotgun pellets as the police opened fire on the protesters in their efforts to control the violence.
The third and most intense wave of disorder commenced at Cotton Tree Village on September 6th, 2020 subsequent to the discovery of the bodies of cousins and murder victims Joel Henry and Isiah Henry. Their bodies were discovered in a clump of bushes near a coconut farm aback of the said village. The disorder intensified on the following day after a visit to the homes of relatives of the Henry cousins by leaders of a political party. Roads were blocked by residents of several villages and many suffered violence at the hands of protestors.
On September 8th, 2020, for example, a motor lorry valued $5.5 million driven by Owen Carmichael who was transporting a load of paddy, was stopped by the protestors at Hopetown Village public road. The protestors robbed him of his gold jewelry and cellular phone and parked the lorry crossway on the road before vandalizing it. On the said day, Brian Kendall was assaulted and robbed of several items which he had in his car, by protestors who were armed with guns and who had blocked the road at No. 4 village bridge, West Coast Berbice. Also, a house at No. 22 Village, West Coast Berbice was set on fire that day.
On September 9th, the following day, 17-year-old Harish Singh was murdered at the back of No.3 village. On the said day, Predipaul Harigobin was beaten and killed by protestors at Bath Settlement public road. Jagdat Khaloo, Ricardo Shiwlall, Devan Karran, Sathul Shivchand, Marlon Dharamai and Seve Karran were charged by the police with his murder in September 2020.
On March 30, 2021, Sooroojdeo Deochand was murdered in his home at No. 3 village. Mark Henry, a relative of the deceased Joel and Isiah Henry, was charged with his murder. Media reports indicated that his murder was an act of revenge for the murders of the Henry cousins. Then, on June 29th 2021, Phillip Anderson, Joel Gittens, Glaston Henry and Charles Scott were charged with the murder of Harish Singh. Once again, media reports suggested that Singh’s murder was an act of revenge for the murder of Joel and Isiah Henry.
I made my deductions of these horrible events while acknowledging the fact that the police are still collecting evidence in ongoing investigations and that several gaps existed in the related set of information that is available publicly. My take is that perhaps Joel Henry and Isiah Henry became aware of evidence suggesting that syndicates of an organized criminal enterprise were operating in their community. They understood the security threats posed to their community by such enterprise and maybe, driven by altruism, decided to do something about it.
It may have been either through motivation by adventure or by a lack of sufficient trust in the authorities, or both, that they apparently decided to act independently in taking away the incentives for the criminals to operate in their community by destroying their field of cannabis. The two paid the ultimate price for the heroic efforts. Akash Singh, Vinood Gopaul and Anil Sanchara were charged with their murders in January 2021.
The high level of mutilation of the bodies of the two Henrys, coupled with the X-shaped wound on the forehead of each of them, are indicators that the perpetrators did not just want to kill them, but they wanted to kill them in a way to make a statement to others (i.e. “don’t mess with us”).
Statement killings are the Modus Operandi of persons involved in organized crime, similarly as mass killings are the Modus Operandi of terrorists. Kaieteur News, in its September 15, 2020 edition, reported that the Henry cousins were killed elsewhere and dumped at the location where their bodies were found. While this also indicated a nexus to organized crime, the newspaper article also revealed a possible link between the murders and cannabis cultivation.
A lingering question in the minds of many is what was said to the relatives and sympathizers of the Henry families by the politicians when they visited that caused the intensification of the violence.
The New York Times newspaper dated September 11th 2020 stated that former president Granger backed the protestors and quoted him as saying to reporters “we have to establish some self-defense in our society to protect our children, protect our women, our young people” during his visit on September 7th.
President Granger demitted office as President of Guyana, which he held for five years, one month prior to this incident. What therefore was the threat that the residents of the community needed to defend themselves against? Why did he not establish a mechanism to protect them from such threat while he was in office?
In my privileged position as Commissioner of Police, until my retirement in 2018, I attended the weekly National Security Committee meetings that were chaired by President Granger. At no time did an issue of security of any community in Region No. 5 arise. Consequently, no security threat was defined, and no action plan was developed in the absence of such need.
Narratives such as race hate and communal conflicts were peddled after the former president’s visits. These narratives ignored facts and sought to justify the violence. A video that I saw, showed the father of one of the deceased Henry cousins dispel assertions that the community was experiencing any such race hate or communal violence. In fact, he (the father) said that some of his best friends are of East Indian descent and reside in the community.
Were the last set of protests related to race hate and communal conflicts or was it a case of people in small communities that allow for mutual monitoring responding to politically motivated sentiments with a trust developed through romanticized political leadership?
While mutual monitoring is premised on rational thinking that if a member does not respond in like manner as the group, the others will know, and the member will attract negative consequences, trust developed through romanticism of leaders is neither necessarily based on the integrity of the leader nor the leader’s honesty, selflessness, or concern for the welfare of the followers. Actions in such cases are driven entirely by emotions.
Was it also the case of a continuous trend of election-related violence in which the murders of the Henry cousins were used as a platform to express emotions relating to the outcome of the 2020 elections? It should be noted that post-independence Guyana has experienced violence prior to the declaration of the results in every elections until 1992 when the violence was present but occurred after the declaration of results. This latter trend continued to today, with the exception of 2015, when the only two recorded incidents of violence were on elections day. I allow you to draw your own conclusions in your own time.
To a large extent, wherever one ends up in life has a strong nexus to the actions they take on what was said by those they chose to listen to. I strongly believe that in this set of unfortunate circumstances, had residents in the region been advised differently by their leaders, that is, on the basis of careful analysis of the facts and visible indicators, Harish Singh, Predipaul Harigobin, Jagdat Khaloo, Ricardo Shiwlall, Devan Karran, Sathul Shivchand, Marlon Dharamai, Seve Karran, Sooroojdeo Deochand, Mark Henry, Philip Anderson, Joel Gittens, Glaston Henry and Charles Scott would have likely been living normal lives today.
Before public criticisms about cases built on confessions alone and a lack of forensic evidence, as I anticipate will appear in the near future, just remember that according to media reports, during the seven days of protests, the police were prevented from properly processing the scene where the bodies of the Henry cousins were found, while people were trampling all over the scene. That therefore, would have likely destroyed valuable forensic evidence that may have existed.
The circumstances outlined also behooves me to recognize the outstanding work of the detectives involved in the investigation, and their leadership, as well as to encourage the Guyana Police Force to work assiduously in closing the trust gap between the organization and the various communities of Guyana. Experiences around the world and in Guyana have revealed that public trust in the police serves to reduce the responsiveness of communities to leaders that have ulterior motives.
Seelall Persaud DSM MBA
Retired Commissioner of Police