David de Caires (1937-2008), Guyanese editor and publisher. Image courtesy the Stabroek News.
David de Caires, the founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Guyanese newspaper the Stabroek News, and one of the Caribbean's strongest advocates for press freedom, died on Saturday 1 November. As the news spread across the Caribbean and the Guyanese diaspora, there was an outpouring of tributes to the man who led the way to the re-establishment of the independent press in 1980s Guyana and thereby contributed to the return of democracy in the following decade. As the Stabroek News reminded its readers in an editorial yesterday, "the newspaper entered into a world where freedom of the press had been denied for ten years, and it played a major part in opening up the society."
Mr de Caires was clear from the beginning about the objectives of the newspaper, and while experience modified his style, he never deviated from its founding principles. From the very first issue the new editor committed the paper to espousing the cause of a free and open society in which the rule of law prevailed, and independent institutions were allowed to flourish. In 1986 that also included free and fair elections, and Stabroek News did not waste time in adding its considerable voice to the campaign for these.
Other tributes came from fellow journalists, politicians, and ordinary citizens — including, of course, bloggers. Many first heard the news of de Caires's death via the Living Guyana blog. One commentor there called de Caires "a true Son of the Soil". Another remarked: "The fact that [Stabroek News ] under De Caires's stewardship was roundly condemned as ‘biased’ by both sides of the political divide, while in power, speaks volumes about his, and the paper's, objectivity."
The New York-based Guyanese journalist Ryan Naraine made a poignant comment at Twitter: "the man who had the single biggest impact in my life as a writer passed away today in guyana." And the Media Blast blog posted a statement by the Guyana Press Association:
David's greatest contribution to Guyana's era of glasnost and perestroika … was the opening up of the media landscape after a period of considerable state-control and authoritarianism under various guises by the then administration.
At the Caribbean Beat blog, writer Jeremy Taylor reminded his readers of the risks de Caires faced when he launched the Stabroek News in 1986:
It's hard for many, especially in the younger generation, to grasp just how difficult things were in Guyana for an independent newspaper or a non-partisan journalist in those days. We take for granted freedom of speech and expression, the right of the press to publish and report. But in the Guyana of 25 years ago, that was a freedom that had to be struggled for, and that struggle was a very risky business.
Readers of one online Stabroek News article left a variety of comments. "I may not have always agreed with his newspaper’s editorials and thrust but admired his indomitable spirit and courage," wrote Aubrey W. Bonnett. "David deCaires was fearless, gracious and one of the few surviving gentleman," said Cautious. Shamir added: "Guyana, Caricom , and the World, has lost a true Patriot."
Antilles , the Caribbean Review of Books blog, posted a roundup of other tributes and reminiscences. And the young Guyanese writer Ruel Johnson made this simple statement: "David DeCaires is dead. Long live David DeCaires."