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Guyana: Linden Protests Intensify

The protests in Linden, Guyana have intensified with the recent burning of buildings – including the One Mile Primary School, The Ministry of Agriculture offices for Region Ten, the Guyana Energy Agency, regional offices for the Guyana Revenue Authority and a building owned by prominent People's Progressive Party supporter Philip Bynoe.

Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, released a statement condemning the burning of the One Mile Primary School, but her apportioning of blame drew the ire of some activists, who wondered why protesters were being blamed for the fire before investigations were complete – especially after the government failed to be so forthright after the three men were killed on July 18th or after ten-year-old Nkosi Henry was struck in the face by a rubber bullet while standing in his yard in One Mile Wismar, during an alleged Joint Services operation on August 12th.

Former boxer Randy Tello of Half-Mile, Wismar was also shot in the face with a rubber bullet. The police claimed that Tello was involved in tossing missiles at them, a claim his family denies. The police also reported that a knife and quantity of marijuana were found on Tello. Bloggers reported that controversial Police Superintendent Errol Watts had been pulled from Linden following this operation, though the police released a statement denying this. The Joint Services Coordinating Council also released a statement denying involvement in that particular operation.

“One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, Linden, Guyana; photo by nicholaslaughlin

Alliance For Change leader Khemraj Ramjattan, a former member of the governing PPP, asked Lindeners to not stop protesting and speculated about the origins of the fires:

I used to be taught at Freedom House how Hitler burned the Riechstag and then throw the blame on the opposition. It could very well be that that is what is happening (in Linden). I know their (PPP) operations and their methodologies. It is my firm view, I can’t prove it, but my firm opinion that there are state agents involved (in Linden) operating under the arrangements of some of the people in senior government offices that are creating these burnings. I cannot believe that Lindeners are going to burn a school that 800 students go to. It has to be state agents doing that. The PPP thrives on these situations and the situation has the capacity to bring back their supporters into their wagon and they want that to happen.

The state-owned newspaper, Guyana Chronicle, condemned Ramjattan's statement with an editorial entitled “Ramjattan has gone into pure, unadulterated evil” :

There have been agent provocateurs in this tragic and unfortunate series of incidents that will set Linden and the residents of Linden decades behind in its development; but they came directly from the joint opposition and their satellites in the private media and their affiliate NGOs, especially the WPA/APNU women’s arm, the Red Thread and the notorious Guyana Human Rights Association, which never has  sympathy for the victims of thieves and murderers, but show all concern for the rights of criminals, including those in the opposition collective.

In an article entitled “APNU [A Partnership for National Unity] Mis-opportunity” Gordon W.A. Richards wondered if there was a connection between the fires and the police actions; Carl De Souza republished it on his Facebook page (it is re-posted here with permission):

The burning of a school would be condemned by all right thinking citizens. The MOE put it over in such a way that the ill-informed would assume that the Linden protesters burnt down their own school as part of their protest. So the inaction of the APNU have allowed the PPP to create the impression that the Linden protest has moved from a peaceful protest against the high electricity increase and general economic marginalisation TO an anti-government, anti-PPP and eventually an anti-Indian protest. It is the job of the PPP infiltrators on the ground to create that mind-set by burning down strategic government buildings.

From the 19th of July to August 9th there was relative quiet in Linden and there were no other acts of arson. However, and with the clear intention to derail the talks scheduled to continue later that day, the police launched Operation Final Push at 2 am on the 10th August, 2012 at Wismar. The police fired tear gas in to people’s homes and at residents gathering at the bridge. Pandemonium broke out, and in the ensuing chaos, suddenly the arson starts again.

Also on Facebook, Alliance For Change leader Nigel Hughes laid out his case for rejecting the Government's terms of reference for the impending Commission of Inquiry, which included an investigation into the events leading up to the protests on July 18th:

In its simplest form if a citizen wants to protest against any issue however trivial he has a right to do so.

If he wants to protest against his neighbour’s green roof he can do so.

If he wants to persuade the rest of his neighbourhood to protest against his neighbour’s green roof he has to right to solicit their support.

If he succeeds and the entire community comes out against his neighbour’s green roof, they have a right to do so.

If they then peacefully assemble unarmed at the community bridge to protest where they are shot dead in cold blood by the local police how relevant is it to any investigation into the shooting to death of innocent community members that a neighbor started the protest over a green roof.

It was his right to do so.

Hughes further warned:

We would be entering very dangerous territory if we start to apportion blame for the organization of an activity expressly guaranteed by the constitution.The real reason the Government wants this included in the TORs is that they want to deter citizens from attending protests which are anti-government thereby effectively restricting the exercise of their constitutional right.

Bauxite mining operations in Linden, Guyana; photo by nicholaslaughlin

At Barbados Underground, the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy endorsed the Alliance For Change's position:

The Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) fully supports the AFC’s complete and unequivocal rejection of the PPP’s second proposed term of reference for the commission of inquiry into the Police killings of the three Lindeners.

This additional term proposes to inquire ‘into the role and involvement’ of ‘other forces’ in organising, mobilising and promoting the protest actions from their commencement and immediately after the shooting on July 18th 2012.

This is a back-door attempt by the PPP regime to investigate organizers of the protests, who broke no law and committed no crime. The only crimes committed were the murder and unlawful shooting of unarmed, innocent citizens by Police officers.

Yesterday, President of Guyana Donald Ramotar visited Linden in an attempt to squelch the ongoing protests. President Ramotar held a sparsely attended meeting with members of the community at Watooka House before visiting the Wismar-MacKenzie Bridge and the Bosai Bauxite Company.

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