By Jeff Trotman
Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon yesterday repeatedly called on the people of Region Ten to hold the government accountable for the deaths of three men during the 32-day Linden electricity protest and to honour the agreement it signed with regional leaders to stop the protest.
Last week, word had circulated that some elements had planned a shutdown of the town to protest the visit by President Donald Ramotar to commis-sion the PPP office, but there were also several announcements on the radio that the police had not given permission for public meetings or protests in the town.
However, Solomon, Member of Parliament Vanessa Kissoon and others including RDC Councillor Leslie Gonsalves spoke at a public
meeting in the vicinity of the Mackenzie Market on Friday evening.
Although a press release from the Linden Chamber of Commerce had stated that the body had not endorsed a shutdown of businesses in the town, there was noticeable curtailment of business activity yesterday as many stall holders and vendors of both the Wismar and Mackenzie markets refrained from selling. The markets were shut tight by midday and most regular shops did not open.
Hundreds of people turned up for the demonstration, which was billed to start at 10:00 hrs, few yards from the compound of the restored PPP office.
In defiance of the police, the protestors marched in single file along David Rose Avenue and in Industrial Area, proceeding past the PPP office and congregated in front of a popular bar at Five Corners where they held a protest rally.
Kissoon opened the rally around 14:00 hrs with a prayer and a welcome address. While the second speaker, Gonsalves, was addressing the gathering, two senior police officers attempted to stop the meeting, but left after a brief discussion with the Regional Chairman.
Solomon, a devout Muslim and teetotaler, took the microphone after the police left and quipped that he would have to buy a lot of drinks. He then told the audience that he had told the policemen that he was there with the gathering to have a few drinks. He added that the congregation at the Five Corners and the meeting in front the Mackenzie Market on the previous evening had sent a clear message to the government that the people of Linden and Region Ten mean business and are bent on having the government honour the four agreements that were signed on 21 August 2012 to bring an end to the month-long shut down in Linden in protest against the proposed electricity rate hike.
“Your cause is a just and righteous cause, one that you should ensure you hold firm to,” he said. He pointed out that the 32-day electricity protest had saved Linden electricity consumers some $6 billion, as well as a catastrophic event from taking place in your community.
Alluding to the notion that most electricity consumers in Linden could not have afforded the shelved electricity rate hike, Solomon said: “You had two days of blackout and you know what that felt like. So imagine 17 months of blackout …. That is what you stopped and what you did last night and you are doing now is ensuring that your rights are not violated.
“You have every right like every Guyanese in this country to ensure that you have access to information. You have every right like every Guyanese around this country to ensure that you’re involved in decision making that affects your lives. You have every right like every Guyanese in this country to ensure that you chart an economic path that would better the lives of you and your children.”
Stressing that President Ramotar has done nothing to honour the agreements, neither has he visited the relatives of the three Linden martyrs, who were gunned down by the police during the protest, Solomon said “but today he has come to open a party office.”
Stating that he is not offended by the PPP having an office in Linden, Solomon said he respects the right of any party to be able to practice its politics without fear and any person their religion because those rights are enshrined in the country’s constitution and they must be respected. But the PPP was recommissioning an office that was repaired with money it received as compensation by the Commission of Inquiry for the damage done to the building during the electricity protest, Solomon said: “We don’t care what they do but we are bent on them honouring the agreement.”
He said the representatives of the region have been negotiating with the government for over 17 months and they are getting fed up. He said they have been building alliances with other bodies outside the region.
“Let me tell you something,” he emphasized, “they can lock me up for inciting. But whenever Linden goes, I can assure you that the rest of Guyana will go with you.” He added that Linden has not been struggling against the injustices of the administration in isolation.
Pointing out that there were a number of people, who had been injured during the “struggle” at the meeting, he called on his audience to give them a round of applause. He also reassured his audience that he spoke recently to the family of one of the Linden martyrs and they are steadfast in supporting the cause – that of having the four agreements honoured.
Noting that people have been standing up for their rights from the beginning of time, Solomon said whenever people stand up in Region Ten, they are persecuted such as the Kwakwani and Ituni residents, who, including a 15-year-old child have been hauled before the court because they protested against the bad state of the road.
He reiterated that by their show of protest, they are sending a clear message that they are aware that the government is insensitive to their needs.
Solomon said the government is propping up the failing sugar industry with billions of dollars while it allowed the bauxite industry to fail. Referring to the days when bauxite was the major foreign exchange earner for the country, he said the people of Linden took pride in acknowledging that earnings from bauxite were used to develop several areas of the country.
According to him, the administration sees Lin-deners as “free loaders” but Lindeners live in a God-blessed community and bauxite is on the rise again.
He called on his audience to ignore what was written in the newspaper about the business community not endorsing the one day shut down and he thanked the business community for participating in the protest.
“The number of the registered members in the Chamber is 21. I have had over 25 businesses that have called and indicated that they will comply with your intention. Many of them are here this afternoon – big businesses and small businesses – to say that they support your cause. I want you to understand that.”
He added that the business community has been intimidated and he has received calls from some businesses that irrespective of being open, they support the shut down.”
President Ramotar, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, government ministers Irfaan Ali an d Juan Edghill as well as a number of PPP top brass attended the recommissioning exercise, which attracted over 200 persons.