by henry jeffery

I’d bet my bottom dollar that a substantial number of those who wanted to see the PPP/C out of government and supported the coalition are now extremely disappointed with the performance of the latter. The fear of a PPP/C return remains, but outside of the more diehard ethnic supporters of the present regime, I doubt that that fear would last forever.

One thing politicians want least of all is to lose office, any office. The smallest ripple can turn into a political wave that drives them out. To bring the political class to heel and force them to perform the way they should, it must be demonstrated at a practical level that the voters are serious. The current local government elections provide a good opportunity to let the traditional parties know that Guyanese will not stand for a reincarnation of the former PNC or PPP/C governments.

20140115henryIt is with this in mind that I believe that Team Benschop for Mayor should be supported in the upcoming local government elections in Georgetown. Even if, as the traditional political elite is propagating, Mark Benschop is something of a wild card, perhaps nestling within this kind of character is a political activism that promotes the interest of the working people and makes him more deserving than anyone else standing to be mayor of Georgetown.

On Good Friday 1999, totally forgetting that beer gardens are not opened until after 6pm, I left somewhat early for my usual watering-hole, Rupa on Station Street. I arrived about 5.30 and had to drive around for a while. At six on the dot, Rupa opened and not too long after ministers Shaik Baksh and Tony Xavier and others arrived.

About an hour later, Mark Benschop and his Channel 69 crew came in and came up to Shaik Baksh and me, wanting to know why we were drinking on Good Friday. I am not a religious person and will drink any day I feel like, and Shaik is of a different religious persuasion, so we answered his questions as best we could, also pointing out that after 6 p.m. it was legally permissible to drink on Good Friday.

We concluded that no damage could possibly be done by the interview and were amused that he had missed Tony Xavier, a practising Catholic who was more likely to be concerned about being found drinking on Good Friday (we were not aware that Benschop had spotted Xavier, who had discreetly begged off).

As it turned out, our conclusion showed how little we knew about the media. Benschop presented the story of two government ministers drinking on Good Friday without indicating that we began drinking after six. His intent was to send a message that with role models like us, the legal and moral degeneration of the nation was assured. This piece of ‘clever’ (some would say duplicitous) journalism became a talking point and the butt of jokes for months. Indeed, only a few weeks ago I was again reminded of the incident!

Although he had previously not been a stranger, Benschop and his aggressive style of journalism, which was no doubt honed in the United States, have demanded my attention since. He had then just taken up permanent residence in Guyana and was doing ‘Straight Up’ a talk show on Channel 69, and the story (which, given the ethnic nature of our country, he still cannot shake off) was that he was brought back to Guyana by the PPP to be one of its mouthpieces.

Nothing was further from the truth, so before I begin looking at what Mark Benschop and his colleagues actually stand for we had better brief ourselves on the man himself. This is very important in our ethnically divided society, where once a person of one ethnic group becomes politically associated with political institutions that have traditionally been in the control of another, all kind of opportunities are open for ethnic entrepreneurs on both sides to distort one’s history and politically vilify one’s character.

Mark parted company with Channel 69 in typical Benschop fashion. Sometime in 2000, having advertised that Laurie Lewis, the then commissioner of police, was going to be on his programme, Lewis cancelled at the last moment. Benschop was quietly informed and went on the air and suggested to his audience that Commissioner Lewis had cancelled on the instructions of President Bharrat Jagdeo. The owner called Mark saying that the president was very annoyed and that he would have to apologise if he wanted to continue at the station. This Benschop refused to do so and thus parted company with Channel 69.

Having worked closely in New York with the former PNC health minister and owner of Channel 9, Dr. Noel Blackman, when Benschop returned to Guyana in about 1999 it was to Channel 9 that he first offered his services and after he left Channel 69 it was to that channel he returned. As he tells the story, he took to the management of the station the very proposal it more or less rejected in 1999 but the proposal was now accepted in about fifteen minutes.

The Benschops are a multi-ethnic/political family. His mother is of African lineage from Linden, the heartland of the PNC, and his father of Portuguese heritage with a UF/WPA political background. He was born in Linden, where his father worked in the bauxite industry, but spent most of his early life with Indian relations in Berbice before the family moved to the USA in 1985.

I believe that we can conclude from the career path Benschop chose, the way he chose to go about it and what we have come to know about him since, that he has a natural talent and desire to work close to people. He is of mixed heritage but is essentially of African ethnicity and thus in the early period of his life was unsurprisingly orientated towards the politics of the PNC. Nonetheless, as we shall see next week, this ethnic/ideological reference was insufficient to suppress his natural desire, perhaps strengthened by an adolescence spent in the United States, for personal independence of thought and social fairness.