GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- Criminal activities are reportedly spiraling out of control in Linden, Guyana, as some protestors continue to hold their ground.
According to the government, political experts and newspaper columnists are of the opinion that opposition forces are using Lindeners as pawns in a plot to win mileage out of the volatile situation which started off as a peaceful protest three weeks ago against the proposed phased electricity tariff hike in the bauxite town.
“You have elements who I suspect are utilising the protest activity for their own benefit and their own gain… the question is what control the leadership still has in Linden,” Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Parliamentarian Joseph Hamilton said in a three-man panel discussion on the National Communications Network (NCN) on Saturday.
Police have arrested three persons in connection with robberies in the Rockstone area, where motorists were ambushed after stopping at a section of a main road that was apparently purposely destroyed.
On Saturfay, vehicles transporting fuel and other supplies to frontier communities were vandalised in their attempts to pass the logs, and debris and other objects used by protestors to create blockades on the Linden thoroughfare.
Truck drivers and other motorists are reportedly being held to ransom while persons unknown to the town are being interrogated before passage is granted.
“The opposition parties have to come out and disassociate themselves now with what is happening on the ground in Linden. The extortion, the banditry, that is not the protest the good people of Linden had staged,” Member of Parliament Manzoor Nadir said.
Last week President Donald Ramotar, acting on the advice of Heads of the Joint Services postponed his announced visit to Linden after protestors resisted efforts by the security forces to clear the roads as instructed by the Commander- in -Chief of the Armed Forces.
Chairman of Region Ten, Sharma Solomon, was reported in the media saying at a public rally on the eve of the president’s visit that neither the president nor his aides informed him of the visit.
The chairman who recently took up the Region Ten post and has been integral in talks with the government at the Office of the President has not convinced Hamilton that he can handle the current situation.
“The Chairman of the Region is a young politician who doesn’t have the experience. It is his first entrance into politics at this level and secondly he is asked to fetch this burden… to deal with a matter that is a crisis in the Region and therefore as I see it there needs to be more experienced heads involved in the activities and the discussion,” Hamilton said.
Solomon is backing the Linden protest action as justifiable.
He has been more vocal on the issue than recently elected leader of the opposition People’s National Congress (PNC) David Granger who Hamilton believes is stymieing the opposition’s unanimous position on the issue.
“Mr Granger is playing what they call ‘hold me lose me’ on this matter because at one time APNU and AFC are taking responsibility and there’s another time when, in engagement with the government they say you have to speak to the people of Region Ten and the Regional Administration."
The July 18 protest turned ugly when clashes between police and protestors led to three persons losing their lives and buildings razed by fire. Sections of civil society, perturbed by the situation, made clarion calls for calm and President Donald Ramotar opened the door for talks with the leadership of the opposition political parties and the Region Ten administration to iron out differences.
The complement of Cuban and Chinese medical doctors who were supplementing the delivery of health care in the Region had to be safely evacuated as a result of the unrest and the quantity of pharmaceuticals are closely being monitored according to Hamilton.
The government offered to put on hold the July 1 deadline on which the electricity tariff hike was scheduled to take effect in Linden, and has moved to establish a technical team, comprising representatives of both sides of the political divide, to review options to the electricity tariff system.
Whether the work of this panel would be successful given the call for a complete abolition of the new electricity tariff structure remains to be seen. Nadir doubts that any negotiation will gain positive ground under the current volatile situation.
Speaking from experience in negotiations as former Minister of Labour, Nadir said, “You can’t negotiate under duress,”
A commission of inquiry has been set up to investigate the circumstances leading to the death of the three persons during the protest in Linden.