Government and opposition officials in Guyana last week held the first major round of talks aimed at resolving the political impasses that followed last month’s police killings of three opposition supporters and injuries to more than 20 but latest indications are that the angry residents of the bauxite mining town of Linden are digging in their heels for a protracted fight with the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration which has so far bowed to only one of their key demands to review planned steep increases in electricity rates.
Since the July 18 deaths by out of control riot police, residents have locked down the town of 30,000 and have occupied the lone river bridge at the upper reaches of the Demerara River that provides access to the road to Brazil and to four administrative regions where most of the country’s gold and diamond mines, timber concessions and other crucial investment projects are located, sending up food, fuel and other prices.
Worried about the ominous signs from residents who have faced down heavily armed police and soldiers each day since the senseless police shootings, umbrella private sector organizations that usually support the PPP have asked it to invoke good sense and come up with a sustainable economic plan for the community that basically depends on the Chinese-run bauxite sector for its existence.
At the heart of issue were planned steep hikes in electricity rates for Linden from the beginning of last month. For most in the community, authorities were taking up the rates as direct punishment and spite for the overwhelming anti-PPP vote in the late November general elections. Government said it wanted the community to pay the same rates as others in the country, ignoring heavy subsidies it gives to pro government sugar workers year after year.
So they took to the streets to protest the increases in a well publicized five-day campaign that escalated on day four when police opened fire randomly after plunging the area in darkness, killing the three and injuring many.
This past Wednesday, the bodies of the three were brought to the city for a ceremony and later taken back to the district for services and internment even as residents continued to block access to the town and the key interior regions.
As an indication of how the situation could worsen, protestors have dug huge trenches across dirt roads that could have allowed ‘the enemy’ to circumvent the road blocks and still reach the interior.
Opposition officials say they will maintain the pressure on President Donald Ramotar and his cabinet after using their one-seat parliamentary majority to pass a no-confidence vote in National Security Minister Clement Rohee as the week began.
Additional rounds of talks are scheduled to address other access including releasing the state media control of Linden, an employment plan and others.