Guyana remained in a state of high tension this week following the callous riot police gunning down of three opposition protestors at the southwestern bauxite-mining town of Linden a week ago, as signs emerged that the issue could escalate in the coming days and protests could spread to other parts of the country.
Authorities simply switched off the lights to the town of 30,000, 65 miles from the city, and then ordered police under the command of Senior Superintendent of Police Clifton Hicken, to open fire on a river bridge filled with unarmed mostly Black opposition supporters in a development which many observers say is a new trend by the Hindu-led administration of President Donald Ramotar to use live rounds against Afro opposition protestors whenever they hit the streets for any reason.
Such high-powered and deadly weapons are never used against the mostly East Indian band of sugar workers who take strike and other industrial actions practically every week for various reasons, putting race at the front and center of the issue.
Ironically, Indian workers are currently on pay- and working-conditions strikes at various estates. Heavily armed police have not showed up nor have been ordered to open fire on them and are not expected to do so.
Trying to distance himself from the deaths of three people, critical injuries to about four and general wounds to more than 20, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee did admit that the Lindeners, demonstrating against steep hikes in electricity rates, were “peaceful”, unarmed and were harming no one when Hicken and his men opened fire on them as night fell. He said he gave no “direct order” even though officers way up the chain of command in the police system beg to disagree and plan to furnish evidence to the contrary.
Hicken is known to be a very ambitious police officer and is extremely cosy with Rohee. His wife has a top job relating to the work of the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP). He has since been reassigned to desk duties even as A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), the two main opposition groupings, have called for his dismissal and the firing of Rohee because it appears that both he and Hicken have become psychotic. Hicken had alleged that bottles and other missiles were hurled at police. Rohee stayed clear from such baseless allegations during a live TV broadcast late Sunday.
The gunning down of the protestors came seven months after officers in the city division had used rubber bullets an buck-shot to again shoot at opposition demonstrators; that time putting several bullet holes into the back of immediate past army chief Brig. Gen. Edward Collins, legislator James Bond and dozens of others.
No one was punished for that incident that had simply involved a peaceful march by about 200 people in the city to protest cheating at the November general elections. In fact Collins and others were charged with creating public mischief even as their wounds were slow to heal.
As government appears unsure as to what to do, Linden remains locked down by angry protestors. Even people who live in the township are unable to access homes from the city or airport if they were overseas.
But more important, the only way to the central and southern timber- and mineral-rich interior is through Linden, and trucks must cross the lone river bridge now fully occupied by Lindeners. People in the city are also sending food and other supplies to keep the protests going, pressure on government and to ensure justice in some form is achieved.
The APNU has, meanwhile, organized a major march and rally for the city and is likely to respond to mounting pressure from its supporters to retaliate in some form.
Lindeners including regional Administrative Chairman Sharma Solomon, say they have little doubt that average electricity rates are being moved from about $30 monthly to more than $100, more than those in the city and coastal areas pay as spite for Linden voting overwhelmingly for the APNU.
“There is no doubt about that, none whatsoever,” said Solomon who is already being identified as a future APNU senior executive.