GUYANESE across the ethnic/political multiracial divide in the Republic of Guyana are this weekend in a mood of apprehension following the eruption of fierce clashes between angry protesters and ranks of the Guyana Police Force in the bauxite mining town of Linden, well known political base of the main Opposition People’s National Congress (PNC), 65 miles south of the capital, Georgetown.
What was expected to be a peaceful, orderly five-day protest, as started on Tuesday, against a Government-approved marginal hike in subsidised electricity tariff for the Linden community, shockingly deteriorated into bitter clashes the following day.
The conflict erupted across a bridge linking the town of Linden and the Wismar community when the police resorted to force after, as claimed, coming under physical attacks from missiles hurled by angry protesters.
They had refused to disperse so that the bridge could become functional again to the benefit of the public. The confrontation climaxed with three civilian deaths from police bullets and a dozen injured.
The Government of President Donald Ramotar was quick to express regret over the loss of lives and injuries suffered. It announced an immediate initiative to establish an independent commission of enquiry, with an international component, to unearth the truth of what occurred on that bloody, tragic Wednesday and committed itself to take whatever actions necessary.
The European Union Delegation in Georgetown and other diplomatic missions were equally quick to welcome the Government’s move for an independent probe as well as reveal their own anxieties for constructive dialogue between the Government and Opposition to diffuse tension and generate confidence-building.
Like the Government and the Opposition, the foreign diplomatic missions would be conscious of the haunting human tragedies of murder, rape, destruction to property, and mind-boggling dislocation of at least 3,000 individuals, including children, compelled into an exodus from the mining region with the spectre of raw racism looming large in that horrific tragedy of 1964, often despairingly recalled as the “Wismar massacre”.
The eruption of the police/protestors conflict had coincided with ongoing political tension between the PPP-led Administration of President Ramotar and the combined Opposition of the PNC-led coalition of parties, (A Partnership for National Unity) and the minority Alliance for Change (AFC).
Together they control a one-seat majority in the 65-member Parliament, based on last November’s general election at which the PPP emerged with the largest bloc of votes but, unlike the four previous elections from 1992, failed to retain its overall majority.
The protests at Linden — which had occurred with the open support of both Opposition parties — coincided with a related major development — the temporary ruling by Chief Justice Ian Chang that the Opposition’s GUY$20 billion cuts from the country’s 2012 national budget were illegal.
Additionally, and more specifically, the chief justice authorised Finance Minister Ashni Singh to restore to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), a constitutional body, the almost GUY$100 million sliced by the Opposition during the budget debate and to secure this originally allocated expenditure for 2012 from the Consolidated Fund. The cut had effectively disabled the ERC from carrying out its stipulated constitutional functions.
Since the Opposition had criticised the Government for involving the court on the budget cuts, on the assumption of sovereignty of Parliament, its disappointment with the chief justice’s ruling was to be expected.
The scenario would be even more troubling for the PNC (dominant member of APNU) as the Linden tragedies and the chief justice’s ruling on the unprecedented budget cuts occurred while the PNC is immersed in final arrangements for a crucial delegates’ congress later this week at which a new leader is to be elected.
APNU chairman retired Brigadier David Granger is expected to be the elected successor to Robert Corbin, who is not seeking re-election, but plans on maintaining an effective influence as a party executive.
Granger’s primary rival is a former PNC Administration Finance Minister Carl Greenidge, and lively, controversial campaigning is underway.