Racial tension intensifies in Guyana; Afro protestors take to streets

Bert Wilkinson | 9/3/2020, midnight
It has been barely a month in office for the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in Guyana.
Guyana Image by Ronny K from Pixabay

It has been barely a month in office for the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in Guyana, but supporters from the main opposition coalition grouping say they already feel the need to take to the streets to protest perceived acts of racial discrimination and injustice, at the hands of a party they claim is perennially prejudiced against them.

President Irfaan Ali and his cabinet were sworn in to office Aug. 2, exactly five months after nearly 500,000 Guyanese had voted in a highly disputed general election that triggered a slew of court challenges; a 33-day recount and audit of ballots; and a court petition challenging the validity and credibility of the results that gave the PPP a win.

But in recent weeks, leaders of the APNU-AFC coalition say the government has embarked on a campaign of vindictiveness and targeted action by the police, mostly against Afro elections commission officials who, authorities allege, had attempted to rig the polls in favor of the coalition.

In the past week, authorities have rounded up nearly half a dozen commission officials and have slapped them with fraud and malfeasance in public office charges, promising them jail time for their role in the electoral controversy and raising tension levels in the society.

Chief among those rounded up, denied bail and to be hauled before the courts this week is Clairmont Mingo who had acted as the returning office for the main electoral district that encompasses the city and areas east and south of the capital. Whichever party wins this district by a large margin is usually the winner of the elections. The coalition has accused the commission of incorrectly counting more than 13,000 votes in more than 40 ballot boxes which had had absolutely no supporting documents in them. The coalition has argued that action had allowed the PPP to be declared the winner of the March 2 polls.

The PPP, during the five month electoral impasse, had identified Mingo as the chief architect of alleged electoral fraud and has moved to ensure he is charged after being in custody for nearly a week.

The result is that fellow coastal villagers from Belladrum, about 40 miles east of the city, took to the streets at the weekend, blocking the main and lone east-west highway to neighboring Suriname as they protested for the release of Mingo, 69.

The blocking of the highway snarled traffic on both sides of makeshift barricades for hours, cutting up movement to the city and to the southeastern, rice-growing Berbice Region for most of Sunday as riot police stood guard.

Coalition officials say that Mingo’s scheduled court appearance, possibly at the beginning of this week, will likely intensify the coastal protest action especially if he is remanded to prison until a date for a full hearing is fixed.

Reacting to developments, the New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy called for countrywide protests to force the administration to back off, calling the decision to charge the electoral employees a “war on Afro Guyanese. This reign of terror against Black people in Guyana commenced immediately after the PPP government was sworn in,” the organization said as it called on other Afro villages to support Belladrum and alleged injustice against Mingo and others facing charges.

For its part, authorities say Mingo and the others have been lawfully detained and will in fact be placed before the courts in keeping with campaign promises.

“There is nothing unlawful with the police keeping him in custody until he is taken to a magistrate’s court where those charges will be read,” Attorney General Anil Nandlall said at the weekend.