It has been just over five weeks that the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been in power and already tensions between the two largest racial groups in Guyana have boiled over to such an extent that there are very real fears that the country is on the precipice of another round of serious racial strife.
Tensions have been simmering at higher than usual levels since the recently defeated coalition of former president David Granger was toppled by a December 2018 successful opposition no confidence motion and were heightened by the highly disputed March 2 general elections that did not produce an official winner until early August when the elections commission finally declared the PPP as the winner under controversial circumstances.
In recent weeks, the opposition coalition has been accusing the administration of President Irfaan Ali of widespread dismissals of supporters from the civil service and other state departments-charges the government denies — but tensions boiled over in the past week after the badly mutilated bodies of two Afro youths were found aback a coastal village about 50 miles from the city on Sunday.
Villagers immediately blamed PPP leaders for so poisoning the atmosphere with political vitriol that such a brutal incident was bound to happen. Relatives say the boys — ages 16 and 18 — were pounced upon by a large group of Indo men, beaten mercilessly, backs broken while they were attending to their family farm aback of their West Coast Berbice village on Saturday. A search party found their muddied bodies on Sunday.
Angry villagers immediately blocked the main east-west highway leading west to the city and east to neighboring Suriname, snarling traffic for miles, burning debris and paralyzing movement for several days.
Police on Monday fired teargas, rubber bullets and shotgun ammunition, injuring several people but the protestors refused to move, calling for justice. President Ali, Prime Minister Mark Phillips and Home Affairs Minister Robesen Benn all appealed for calm to no avail. Ali’s office said he was forced to abandon a visit to the area on Tuesday afternoon after one of his security cars was hit by objects. Benn said there was need for good sense to prevail even as authorities called out heavily armed soldiers to assist police in trying to unblock the highway and restore calm.
“The joint service ranks are there to restore calm and order and to open the west coast road in its entirety, and, unfortunately, there have been repeated incidents where motorists were attacked and robbed and their vehicles damaged; and other unlawful and unruly incidents which, on occurring, do not bring any calm to the situation and run the risk of bringing a general descent to lawlessness in the area,” Benn said. “I noted, with some regret, the statements from some leading political persons and some agitators who are characterizing the incident of the deaths, without any evidence, as racially-motivated, and, even worse, that certain villages have to take steps to protect themselves in a vigilante mode. I find this very unsettling and unfortunate that these statements have been made. I want to call on those persons to lend their efforts to have those communities and persons over whom they have influence, to desist from unlawful practices related to these events,” Benn said.
Police said seven people are being questioned in relation to the brutal murders and three more are being sought. Villagers say that this announcement has only confirmed their fears that the two youths were pounced upon by a large group of men in the backlands and brutally murdered.
For its part, the opposition coalition argued that “Guyana is in a state of shock and deep mourning following the heinous killings of Isaiah Henry, Joel Henry and Orlando Jonas.” The opposition coalition further noted that its legislators would boycott Wednesday’s scheduled budget presentation to be on the ground with villagers.