|Interview With Prospective Presidential Candidate
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo, MP.
Where do we go? We just cannot say that we have this reality. We have to find closure on these issues and by whatever mechanism. We cannot be an ostrich political ostrich burying our heads in the sand and not accept that many of our acts of violence have political geneses and that it is the political nervousness in the system that have spawned some of the worse episodes of violence.
I recall the Walter Rodney period. I recall seeing the House of Israel goon squad. I was a victim of the goon squad which was unleashed against me. I was on a platform with Walter Rodney (1979 in Kitty). They threw formalin on me; I was hit down unconscious. Walter, I recall, was reviving me with cold water, telling me to go back on the stage. And I went without my shirt and I said, “Next time you want to remove me from this platform, you have to remove a dead body; I am not ceding this territory, because this is the forum for revolutionaries.”
And we went back and we spoke. Some of the people of the House of Israel said that “de coolie brave,” some said, “don't touch he,” and all of that. They were divided. I saw naked violence against WPA women. I have seen Bonita Harris and some others like Karen De Souza and (I am trying to remember this girl) they were chased and beaten with hockey sticks just outside of the Courts. And I was there, just perhaps a stone-throw away on the day when Father Darke was killed. I was there standing up with Martin Carter, our national poet, with his hands in the air. Now there has been a dark period. A lot of this was politically organized, centrally directed. But where do we go?
We say we need all of these to be investigated. Of course, I would like to see an impartial international investigation into the assassination of Walter Rodney. That is yet something that is incomplete and I would really, really like to see that the truth comes forward. There should be closure on this issue as there should be closure on the Sash Shaw issue and the Waddel issue. These things are still festering insecurity and nervousness in the political system that you have to address. So I agree that when you have violence of this sort unconscionable violence - in the society and violence that seems to raise allegations of ethnic preference for the victims or (preference may be a bad word) ethnic dislike for victims that it does not make the society stronger; it leaves a void in the society and that void can only be filled by one word justice. Justice has to be done. So it is not a question of who made the allegations or how often we repeat the allegations. It should not be said only for the purpose of blame; it should also be for the purpose of bringing closure and giving justice, as justice ought to be given in all these cases.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, you pointed to the fact that some of these activities by the House of Israel and so on were centrally directed and so on. Are you prepared to say that in some regards the killings of say the four hundred black people as they say by the opposition was centrally directed by some people in the PPP?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: I cannot say that there was central direction of anybody in the PPP for any of these killings. How could I? On what evidence am I saying that? I am an Attorney-at-Law; I deal with the evidence. I told you that I cannot invent the facts of people's death and how widespread it was. It was bizarre; it was something that was reprehensible on both sides - the killing of criminals or people in the criminal enterprise, and the victims. We may not be sorry for the criminals or never forget some of their barbaric acts setting fire to a crippled man mourning the death of his wife; or the stories of “inspector Gadget” and the episodes of rape, etc. These are things that will live with you forever. So I cannot say that anyone had directed those acts. I read what Mr. Roger Khan had said that he was doing certain work to help crime fighting. Maybe these are things that we need to investigate: whether Roger Khan had made an uninvited entry and he was on a frolic on his own; or whether he was invited to participate in the anti-crime suppression. But where is the evidence? It has to come out of an inquiry, and I believe that some time we may know the truth. I believe that distance gives us perspective.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: But at least one document namely a letter that was purported signed by the Minister was tendered as evidence in the New York Court showing that authorization was given for the purchase of a high-tech laptop that was used to intercept and locate people particularly suspected criminals people who were targets.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Oh, I heard about this laptop. As you know, I have a journalist inside me that wants to know. The first time I heard about this laptop, I have heard people say that this was a device to triangulate call and I am mystified as how you could have that done on a computer and trapping and tapping telephone calls, particularly cell calls and so on. There was a mystique about it.
But the Minister denied that he had placed any order. There is a letterhead and a signature that appears to have come from the office of a Minister. This should be admissible or accepted by a Court of competent jurisdiction. But it was accepted in a Court in another jurisdiction, not a competent court within our jurisdiction. It should have been one of our courts, Sir.
So these things will have to be now investigated. I am not saying the Minister makes a mere denial. There is an allegation against the Minister. The Minister has the presumption of innocence on his side, “look, I am not guilty.” Okay, but how do you go beyond that. I read the Commissioner of Police saying that they will be receiving the transcript from the trials that had taken place in Brooklyn and that they may use that in any prosecution that could be initiated in Guyana including the testimony of some of the people who have been granted 'asylum' and safe haven in the United States, like Vaughn and others who could come forward and in fact testify.
However, these are damaging allegations. It is from these allegations made against a Minister of the Government that we had seen the aftermath of the burning down of the Ministry of Health building. As I said, I am not a political babe; I am not naïve not to see a kind of connection, whatever way perverse or no way once I can make the connectivity. There is a connection somehow that it might have been done as an act of reprisal or it could have been done as an act of cover-up. But how do you get to that unless you have an investigation. So there is room for investigation of an entire period of our country's history to get to the truth.
Look, South Africa as painful as it is South Africa had done their truth and reconciliation commission. And I can tell you, I received a book from a friend of mine, the Minister in the Office of the then President Nelson Mandela, was a personal friend of mine, Yusuf Pahad. I invited Pahad in Guyana when I was the Minister of Information and we shared wonderful moments as my relationship with him went back to 1967, when he was fighting against apartheid and he was in exile, and he became the Minister of Information in South Africa, and he wrote a book or helped to edit a book of his cousin who was captured as one of the fighters in South Africa an Indian guy.
They (white police) tortured him and the allegation was that his torturers threw him down the eight or ten floor of a building while they had him in captivity. And all his parents were asking for was closure. A closure against an allegation that has always been attendant to acts of violence - suicide - that the man jumped and he committed suicide. You have so many like that: Biko the assassination of Steve Biko; the assassination of Chris Hanny who was tipped to succeed Nelson Mandela a young and vibrant revolutionary leader of the ANC. And so as painful as their investigations [truth and reconciliation] were, they came forward and they largely were able to bring some healing.
I saw the other day a documentary on CNN, where a woman was sitting side by side with someone who was accused of killing her husband and her five sons and they sat in the same hut after the killing fields of (which country is this) one of the other African countries Rwanda. She sat side by side and the man was questioned. What did he say? And he said, look he was sorry that there was this act of violence between Hutus and Tutsis; in fact, by Hutus against Tutsis and for what? That they belong to different tribes and you should be killed for that; they had ethnic cleansing. So there too people can co-exist if they are prepared to come forward and give people closure; what happened, and owned up to their own acts and crimes and so on.
So I suppose in Guyana, the time will come when we need to go through that painful exercise not for recrimination, not to find people who are guilty not to identify the guilty but to see how much we have all contributed to making our society less of what it ought to be. We ought to be better than what we are. But so many of us do things, from time to time, that depreciate the quality and worth of our society.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, some people who are associated with your party, very senior and middle level people say that at a particular period of time, the security forces appear to be ineffective in fighting violent criminals gangs and so on. Therefore they have to resort to extra-judicial means, the Roger Khans and so on. To what extent do you believe that was a plausible view and had you been in a similar position like the President, the Head of the Country and so on, what would you have done in a case whereby the security forces appeared to lack the capacity at one stage to fight heavily armed criminals who might have been largely targeting your constituency?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: The fact is that when the crime spree erupted in Guyana, there were parts ... yes, in Berbice, where you hear people calling names like Chaamaar and they call many other names of active criminals who would target the Indian communities. People who had elected or contributed to the elections of their party to power, they wanted results; they wanted to have an active crime fighting force. Unfortunately, the capacity of the force could not respond adequately and so you had innovation in the system; you had people being corralled as policing groups; community policing groups, neighborhood policing groups, and so always when a nation is challenged by dark forces, subterranean forces that you have to find unconventional methods to deal with that.
If I were the Minister of National Security, I tell you now, if I see the society being ravaged by wanton killings, by unconscionable crimes and criminal gangs then nothing would have stopped me to use unconventional methods. I would have called into support all democratic and patriotic forces, who would have helped.
Remember in 1976, when it was perceived that Guyana was under attack or might be under attack from one of our neighbors and we were afraid of the conquistadores coming with their jack boots into our country. The late Forbes Burnham had said then: every citizen should be a solider. We started then the People's Militia and the People's Militia was meant to be an adjunct of the security forces to have your own community protected.
We had a similar situation in the 1960s. I received the baton, which was the baton of protection, from the then Governor Luyt, the then Governor, who came to the Whim Police Station or the Whim Court at that time and I was a very young man, who was probably just seventeen/eighteen years old. I was a participant in a group to protect our neighborhood - to protect our villages. We erected barriers at the head of our streets so that people could not freely get into the village in their vehicles and get out. We were training in the backdams and on the seashore. We used the branch from a tree as our gun, and “left right, left right”, we learned not only to salute; we knew how to march; we walked into the mud to be fit. And so we were just like vigilantes protecting our neighborhood; protecting it from criminals particularly in those times when we heard about all the macabre events in Wismar. And there were villages on fire on the East Coast, Mahaicony, No. 11, No. 12 in the Bath area, villages were on fire.
Our Corentyne did not have so many episodes, but we did have, but not on that scale as other places because people came to defend their communities. So it was the same situation that replicated itself in a more organized way in the 1970s, when we had the People's Militia. And so when we came down into the crime spree period (2002) we had other complementary groups of community policing and so on. It was all intended to supplement the Police Force and to abate criminal activities, and to put the citizens on guard. So, my point is that unconventional methods in dealing with crimes are not peculiar to Guyana.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: You would have used including people who may have been suspected drug lords?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: I would have used any person who would have come forward to help, to support the security forces. It is not a question of knowing that the person is a drug lord. Sure, I would not use drug lords in fighting; drug lords need a security force to fight them. Why would I want to corral and incorporate drug dealers and drug traffickers in the anti-criminal activity, because they are in fact spawning crime, and therefore one has to be very careful how this process can happen. But like any small country with limited capacity at intelligence, you could be infiltrated. People can come forward with seemingly good intentions, because you know they say life is not made of good intentions only. It's journey is not paved with gold. People can come forward with good intentions, but they may have their own interest. In fact, they could have special interest in doing something. It does not mean that the State becomes liable when someone, who had probably volunteered out of frolic of his own, to do something to help abate criminal activities, is discovered to have an interest that is contrary to the rule of law and to the established system of a law-governed society.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Mr. Nagamootoo, Dr. Ramsammy's allegations, how would you have dealt with it have you been the President of this country? For instance, would you have asked him in the initial stage to step down and having regard to any sort of evidence in another Court of competent jurisdiction, would you have asked him to resign?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: If the Police Force came to me and said that we have garnered evidence, statements from potential witnesses and that we have credible reasons, something that is credible and say that we are proceeding against the Minister with criminal charges; at that point in time, I would ask the Minister to do one or two things: to either submit his resignation voluntarily or the Minister should be interdicted. If the first is not an option, then he should be interdicted until such a time that the trial is concluded and the trial ends one way or the other.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Why not ask him to step down and call in the Police and investigate?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Well, here again, it is acting on a folly if every time someone makes an allegation, you ask your Minister to resign... I remember a joke: Years ago I was in Yemen (and the genesis to the joke is what I have seen there). I was asking a friend named Mahmood who was a doctor, why do they get so many people dressed in black. You know, we were going about the marketplace and some (people) wearing a gown and they were walking like zombies in a black coat, like the coat I wear to go to Court now a black gown. He said, “Really and truly, those are the people without arms the males. The widows also wear black, but they have arms. In northern Yemen, when you are convicted of theft, they cut your arms off. So they have a lot of armless people.”
So, back in Guyana, (and here is the joke), I was in Parliament when the late Boysie Ramkarran was making a joke with the then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and somebody said why didn't we bring a law to cut off the wrist of robbers - the people who were choking and robbing in the streets. Ramkarran said, “Well if you bring that law in Guyana, then all the Ministers would be without hands.”
And so that is the situation. If you start a process of self-incrimination that every time someone makes an allegation against one of your Ministers you put him aside pending an investigating or pending a trial, you will end up without a Cabinet, because the allegations will never stop. These things will always come at you. So that I am talking about a process that is legitimate, lawful and credible. If the police came forward and say that we have enough information upon which we can act reasonably to apprehend and prosecute a Government official, at that point in time, I think it becomes necessary of a Head of State not to interfere with the process of the trial, or litigation, to be able to let the person step aside in one of those methods that I have said earlier. But I do not think that as much as that might be the better choice, people want immediate blood. If you long for justice then you must be able to do justice. You do not, at the drop of a hat, think that you could precipitate and influence a judicial process by saying that “look, I knocking him off”.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: You would have expected him to voluntarily go on leave.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Oh, well that is always a choice.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Would you have expected that?
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: It is not what I would expect. I will tell you what I will do. If I were an official and I am accused of an infraction in relation to my job; in relation to what I do as a Minister, then I would step aside to allow an investigation.
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: Voluntarily.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Voluntarily, I would take that path. Let me say this and I want to be unapologetic about this: I found Minister Leslie Ramsammy to be one of the most energetic and hands-on Ministers the Administration ever had. This man is a doer; he gets out there and he gets things done. I see him as an interventionist; he gets into situations and he makes sure that they are done. I believe that Leslie Ramsammy's alacrity, his energy, his getting out there and getting things done have also made him not only target of envy, but also for possible pulling-down. You know the man is getting too much of publicity and you know that he had complained that reporters were told to shy away from him and he was given too much of front-page space. So here it was a person, a go-getter is kind of identified for some type of media-bashing for what he does or that may be a wrong way to put it. He is prevented from enjoying the media frenzy, of feeding the media frenzy by what he does.
Here is a different picture. He is alleged to have done something which he said he did not do. So here is a man saying he did not do it; why should I make him suffer for saying that he did not do something. I am not saying that he should not be investigated, but I am not going at the drop of a hat put aside a man I know to be dedicated to his job. He is doing well as a Minister; he has done exceedingly well, better perhaps than many other people had done in this sector and that is why every day despite any type of banning of his performance that he excels and he gets back into the media. The man is like a cork in the ocean; you cannot put him down; he floats up again. So I believe that we have to be very judicious in asking people to resign.
In the case of [Ronald] Gajraj, for example, I think it was the right thing that was done at the right time. An investigation was proceeding into whether or not Gajraj aided and abetted extra-judicial killing and the finger was pointed at Gajraj and he was asked to step aside. When the investigation concluded, the Ian Chang Commission, it was evident from the findings that the Minister had done some things that he should be criticized for, but there was no credible evidence that he himself was involved or he directed and aided extra-judicial killings; he was restored to his position. And that is how the process may be ... [Interruption]
Mr. Dennis Chabrol: You will recall, Mr. Nagamootoo, when he was recalled to his position, the international community came out and was critical of that move, which may have influenced his decision to demit office.
Mr. Moses V. Nagamootoo: Well I believe that is what makes our democracy vibrant, when you have the interplay of internal processes and the exigencies of international opinion. Remember, as we read, I think John Donne said in the rubric that came as a foreword to A Farewell To Arms by Hemmingway: no man is an island entire by himself. We are all part of the main part of the continent and it goes on to say, for whom the bells toll.
Well, we are not alone; we depend on international charity international goodwill; the donor community helps us a lot. Our budget is in current deficit and we rely on international assistance for capital investment, grants, loans, soft loans and so on. So that the people who are the donor community who are giving us their taxpayers' money as an injection to boost our democracy, to keep it going, they have an interest that their money is not being spent in a country that cannot have best practices. All their assistance is trying to help us to have best practices in this and that area, particularly areas of human rights.
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