THE END OF LINDEN PROTESTS
It was an unfortunate climax, but the writing was always on the wall that the protests in Linden would have ended in chaos and violence.
The cause had been won, but the protestors had long forgotten what they were initially struggling for. The protests began to careen into activities that took on a life of their own and overran the original demands of the protestors.
What began as a protest over electricity rates eventually turned into mass outrage over the killing of three protestors and then to the waylaying of vehicles, the payment of tolls, and other financial opportunities for those who could exploit the crisis.
While the talks were going on between the Regional administration and the government, these activities were seen as lending to the negotiating strength of the people of the area, but no sooner had firm agreements been reached the confusion began, because those who were profiting from the protests had to put up a final resistance to see if their own” struggle” could continue.
The opposition parties had to have known that this would have happened. History would have taught them that it is easy to call a protest, but it is hard to call it off.
In 1999, the Guyana Public Service Union learnt that lesson when it called a general strike of its membership. After over fifty days on strike, during which its protests were taken over by political elements who used open intimidation against persons who wanted to work, agreement was reached for a tribunal to examine the wages issue. The union had won an important victory and was confident that the tribunal would have eventually seen the justness of their cause and ruled in their favour.
This in fact did happen, but when the strike was called off, those who were benefiting from the chaos that was being generated by the strike, opposed the decision to end the industrial action.
Those who were on strike seemed to be lost as to what to do and total confusion took over – the leadership of the union having to be escorted out of the union headquarters after a hostile reaction from those gathered outside.
The protests in Linden yesterday degenerated into violence, with many buildings being set on fire. One can only hope that there were security guards at work who can identify those who were responsible for the arson so that the necessary criminal charges can be laid.
There has been agreement on a technical committee to examine the electricity tariff issue and there has been an agreement at least between APNU and the government on the terms of reference. The tariff increase has also been put on hold and discussions are likely to continue between the sides on other issues.
The protest however has gone its own way, and now it will be difficult for its leaders to bring it back in line and summon the resources to be prepared for the commission of inquiry and the technical review of electricity tariffs.
This situation of confusion after protests has happened many times before. People take to protest, and in the end to call it off is a problem.
The opposition recognized this problem and that is why from very early they sought to make the Minister of Home Affairs a scapegoat. This was to deflect the protestors’ rage away from the political organizers of the protests. They quite shamelessly never called for the resignation of any top police official, but tried to make Clement Rohee the fall guy, because they could have predicted the political fallout when the time came to bring the protests to an end.
Already the AFC is sitting uncomfortable. It has taken the most disgusting position one can take: that the commission of inquiry could not enquire into the organization of the protests. This stance has two dangerous objectives. The first is to use this objection to see whether the protests can be sustained. The AFC in this regard should hang their heads in shame.
The second objective is to try to deflect criticism from the organizers of the protests because the AFC knows that in that process it could be burnt.
It does not matter whether the government and APNU agreed to a specific need to inquire into the organization of the protests. Any Commission of Inquiry into the events of July 18, last, would enquire into the organization of the protests, even if there is no specific clause to that effect in the terms of reference.
Equally, there is no need for the terms of reference to be specific about the electricity issue. That is going to be central issue of the inquiry, because that is the nature of commissions of inquiry.
So there is no need to quibble about what the commission will look at. The commission will look at everything, both things that are antecedent to the deaths of the men on the Wismar-Mackenzie Bridge and developments subsequent.
In the meantime, one has to wonder who the opposition parties will move a motion of no-confidence against for yesterday’s arson.