GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Aug 13, CMC – The Guyana government has condemned “in the strongest possible language” the burning down of the One Mile Primary School in the troubled Linden area over the weekend saying that more than 800 students will be affected.
“Peaceful protest and freedom to assemble is enshrined in our Constitution and must not only be allowed but encouraged in any democracy. This government upholds that principle. No person in their right mind, however, can argue that to burn bridges, block roads and burn schools constitute peaceful protest,” the Ministry of Education said in a statement.
It said that every “peace loving person and citizen who recognises education as a necessary tool for poverty alleviation must condemn the burning of schools immediately.
“There can be no ifs and buts and conditions. This is wrong, will affect our innocent children, will create grave hardship for all involved, and must be unreservedly condemned. It will be challenging for the Ministry to place the more than said 830 children into schools that are already filled.
“It will certainly be challenging on the pockets of their poor parents to find transportation and other money to send these now school-less children to other schools given that the one closest to their home has been burnt to the ground,” the Ministry of Education said.
On Sunday, the security forces said they had cleared most of the roads leading to the mining town after using teargas to disperse demonstrators who had been resisting attempts to have the roads cleared.
Media reports said that at least three people were injured and the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) issued statement condemning the actions of the security forces.
“The PNCR condemns the Joint Services operations today, Sunday 12th August that has resulted in the shooting of several civilians who were peacefully demonstrating. The Party notes with alarm the militarization of the crisis which has only served to increase tensions in the area,” the party said in a brief statement.
It said it would continue to support the legitimate struggle Lindeners for human rights and economic justice.
Linden has been hit by protest action after residents there took to the streets to demand that the Donald Ramotar government reverse a decision to increase electricity rates and cut the estimated three-billion-dollar (One Guyana Dollar =US$0.004 cents) subsidy to the Linden Electricity Company Incorporated (LECI) by one third.
In addition, the bauxite pensioners say they no longer enjoy 300 Kilowatt-hours (KWh) free electricity but will be provided 50 KWh free and have been told they would have to pay for the remainder at existing market rates for other customers.
At least three protestors were shot and killed during clashes with the police on July 18. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned the killings and the government has promised a Commission of Inquiry into the matter.
Public buildings housing the offices of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, Linden Electricity Company Incorporated and the Linden Care Foundation have been burnt down and on Saturday, the branch office of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) was destroyed by fire.
The Ministry of Education said that the destruction of the One Mile Primary School would also result in pupils enduring further hardship as “they will be accommodating far beyond their capacity and hence teaching far below their maximum.
“Linden has the most trained teachers in Guyana with 93% of the primary level trained but, even so, now instead of the schools focusing on quality delivery they will now have to focus on mass and on counteracting the challenges posed by increased numbers. So in effect much more than the said 830 One Mile Primary kids will suffer.
“As we know schools are not built overnight, so this is a most tragic circumstance that will prevail for as long as the children are forced to attend these other schools.
“We will stand with our education officers, head teachers and teachers, parents and students throughout what will surely be a most difficult period. We are failing at the Ministry to understand how to burn a school could be determined to be an effective way to protest reform for the payment of electricity rates,” the Ministry said, adding that “we believe that the people of Linden are being used by the politicians who do not so much care about Lindeners as they do about advancing their own wild and undemocratic agendas.
“To burn a school is to remove the most necessary tool of poverty alleviation. To have burnt One Mile Primary is to attempt to condemn all the children attending that school to a life of poverty,” it added.