In a case with remarkable parallels to the mining massacre that killed 34 in South Africa in August, the South American nation of Guyana is dealing with the aftermath of it own mining massacre that occurred in July when police opened fire on a group protesting electricity prices, killing three.
The Guyanese were protesting the government’s decision to stop offering discounted electricity to the local residents—a boon that was granted in exchange for the locals allowing an aluminum mine to be located in their neighborhood. The electricity came from the mining operators, who used their own generators and sold the surplus to the locals at a discount—and gave it free to elders.
While the mine still has plenty of aluminium ore, global demand has dipped substantially, leading to massive unemployment in the region.
How much would the locals in this region of Guyana known as Linden be affected by an electricity increase? According to Christopher Ram, an accountant and newspaper columnist with the Stabroek News who looked into the cost rises, removing the electricity subsidy would mean price hikes of between 300 percent and 800 percent.
With 70 percent of Lindeners unemployed, they took to the streets to protest, leading to the July clash with police.
Linden is mostly black and is the gateway to the resource-rich interior, which is primarily inhabited by the Amerindian population. As the protestors blocked deliveries of goods into the interior, it has left many Amerindians with0ut food—and exacerbated already present racial divisions between the black population, the Indo-Guyanese and the Amerindians.
When demonstrators blocked the bridge that connects the interior to the capital Georgetown, that is when police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets into the gang.
“I will be a pensioner soon, that’s why we protested because we won’t afford it. I’d be dead if I needed to pay that,” said one woman.
But the fatal shooting has reopened these historical racial divisions.
After the shooting, angry locals blockaded the city for a month, cutting off the Amerindian communities and mining camps within the rainforest.
“The govt must have come and sat with people before they made decisions which impacted them politically, economically and socially, that is what ended in this example,” said Sharma Solomon, chairman of the regional government.
A team including legal experts from around the Caribbean is a part of the Commission of Inquiry looking into the deaths. The electricity price rises and the commercial situation in Linden may also be investigated.
“There has been a daunting of the Indian population over the lawlessness in Linden,” said Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, deputy chairman of the APNU.
“In addition they told the Amerindians that the rationale they did not have gasoline and food was because these people in Linden – read black people – were in effect making their lives miserable.”
But the govt. is adamant that there has been no discrimination on the heart of anything it has done.
“We’ve got other parts of the rustic which can be asking us ‘why should Linden pay a unique rate of electricity to us when the state guarantees equal treatment to all’,” said the country’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall.
“It is a fallacy that Linden have been discriminated against.”
The official inquiry is determined to last six weeks. On the Supreme Court in Georgetown, the jurists have started looking over the evidence.