Just last month, three people were killed and twenty were injured in the mining town of Linden, Guyana after police fired upon a crowd of protesters who reportedly blocked the Wismar Bridge. The impetus for the protest was the increase in the electricity tariff, starting July 1st.
The three men killed were Shemroy Bouyea of Silvertown (eighteen-years-old); Ron Somerset of Wisrock (eighteen-years-old); and Allen Lewis of Wismar Hill (forty-six-years-old). The list of wounded is here.
A government press release offered condolences to the families affected but also laid blame on the opposition parties for the violence that occurred:
They organised and allowed their MPs, activists and extremists to lead protest against a thoughtful and sensitive programme for the gradual reform of the provision of electricity to the Linden community to deteriorate to such a point of violence and destruction.
The opposition Alliance For Change released a statement condemning the actions of the police and made some recommendations:
1. The appointment of an Independent Commission of Inquiry with international agency representation and involvement and a “Good Officer” to manage the process.
2. The immediate removal of the commanding officer and ranks involved in the incident.
3. The resignation of the Minster of Home Affairs.
4. A moratorium on the imposition of the rate hike pending a review by a panel of experts. This review to include the operational costs of BOSAI and an assessment of the impact on the poorest by way of a means test and to report in 6-8 weeks.
The release also stated that such actions were not without historical precedence in Guyana (this shooting inspired the founding of the People's Progressive Party, the ruling government):
The Alliance For Change notes attempts to turn these tragic events into a political football with racial underpinnings and reminds all Guyanese that in 1948 a similar situation occurred in which five sugar workers protesting for better working and living conditions were gunned down by colonial forces. Most appropriately this act of aggression was condemned by all the people.
Lindeners were not just protesting an incremental increase in their electricity tariffs. The struggle is greater than that. They are fed up and this proposed increase is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In a town with unemployment as high as 80% this means 8 of every 10 high school children leaving high school in Linden have a dismal future living in Linden. It means that 8 of 10 people living in Linden are without a legal and dignify way of earning a living to feed their children. You propose an increase in electricity tariffs yet Mr. Ramotar has not delivered one of the '2000 jobs’ he promised if elected. You call the people negative and ‘agitators’ yet you made sure that the same trigger happy Police Inspector that shot peaceful protestors just west of the Square of the Revolution is the man in charge for yet another peaceful protest. However this time you gave him orders to shoot with live bullets since he had practice with the pellets in Georgetown.
Talbot also added an ominous warning:
Look what is happening in Syria, what took place in Libya and Tunisia? Guyana will soon announce her arrival to democratic change just like the aforementioned but only when more people are willing to come out in their numbers united from all backgrounds and fight this injustice. Today it is Linden Friday it might be Friendship or Williamsburg.
These killings are a wanton slaughter of African-Guyanese by Guyana Police – acting like a PPP Gestapo Force. Afro-Guyanese are under subjugation by an ethnocracy. The peoples of the Caribbean region must express outrage at these killings and solidarity with the black population in Guyana
Burke also challenged Opposition Leader David Granger to be “more assertive” is his response to this incident:
I hope Mr. Granger as leader of the party that is the political representative of the people of Linden will relinquish his none-confrontational posture and adopt political measures to wrest from the government a genuine account of the chain of command and who issued the orders to shoot. He must also understand that his supporters expect him to ensure criminal prosecutions must be a consequence of any inquiry or a term of resolution of this horrific incident
Robin Singh explored the racial angle of this protest in a Facebook note:
I used to laugh at cricket matches as Indians would support Carl Hooper as the class act and the black would inevitably counter with Shiv Chanderpaul, the love was real and fierce, left to our own devices the Guyanese lives a life of peace and harmony, We do not understand every aspect of one another’s culture, indeed we do not always understand our own, are both major ethnic groups going to allow the abominations in the PPP to divide us?
DiploPundit, a blog dedicated to the monitoring the United States State Department, questions the manner in which the U.S. Embassy in Guyana is communicating:
Really, how useful are those social media platforms? To our last count, the embassy has two Facebook pages (one solely for the consular section). It has a separate photo gallery, streaming videos and is on Flickr, Twitter and Tumblr. And not a single one of these outlets has the link to the emergency message, that it’s own consular section presumably put out on July 19. Would a US citizen in Guyana know to look at the OSAC website for the embassy’s emergency message? (Note: As of July 22, 3:26 AM EST, no relevant update on the embassy’s website/social media fronts).
The Alliance For Change secured the services of Trinidadian pathologist Hubert Daisley to observe the autopsy of the three men shot, which was conducted by local pathologist Dr. Nehaul Singh. Daisley would make a preliminary report of his findings at a press conference with AFC leader Nigel Hughes. Daisley described some of the bullet fragment recovered from the bodies:
These were metal. They were capped with bronze looking caps, almost like gold but I think they were bronze. The core of these was [made] of lead. These were not rubber by any chance, they were metal…
(Attempts to bring ballistics expert Dr. Mark Robinson ran into difficulty when he was informed that he would need to secure a work permit, a process that could take up to three weeks.)
The assertion by the Office of the President that ‘at 5.00 pm on Thursday, August 9, Mark Benschop was warning Lindeners that the soldiers were coming’ is an outright, dirty and vile lie.
It is as much a lie as the one propagated by the PPP activists on social media that Benschop was in Linden on July 18th ‘instigating’ Lindeners to protests.
The second assertion by the Office of the President that ‘Demerara Waves falsely informed Lindeners that soldiers had seized control of the bridges, cleared the roads in Linden thereby disrupting and threatening the talks’ has also been robustly rejected…both the Joint Services and the Guyana Police Force own statements contradict the Office of the President statement and support the Demerara Waves and factual timeline of events.
That the Office of the President is seeking, even through the manufacture of untruths and blatant lies, to blame Mark Benschop’s internet radio station and Demerara Waves for ‘formenting the upsurge’ is as ludicrous as it is dangerous.
One can only surmise that the Office of the President, subjected to much condemnation, derision and scorn, by being disgraced for blaming APNU and AFC for instigating action in Linden that it now seeks to shift blame around, however irrationally.
In a follow-up post, the blogger questioned the motives behind “the ruling party’s now obvious insincerity in engaging Linden in realising a resolution to what those uncorrupted by Freedom House propaganda agree are grave concerns of the people of the township” and made a link between a government's lack of engagement with its citizens and its political longevity:
President Donald Ramotar’s refusal to visit the township even after a multitude of calls from even the Private Sector Commission for him to do so. It is the responsibility of the leader of a country to attend to the concerns of the people when all systems which have been designed for this purpose have lost the confidence of those people.