Guyana turns attention to racism
As elections draw closer in Guyana, the issue of race is moving higher up the agenda.
Guyana is politically divided between descendants of Africa and India and faces the prospect of pockets of intense violence.
As a result the Ethnic Relations Commission (or ERC), a body set up under the constitution has been trying to gauge public response to the issue, particularly on the densely populated East Coast Demerara.
The ERC's Chairman, Bishop Juan Edghill told BBC Caribbean Radio, "because of the ethnic security dilemma that exists on the East Coast Corridor, the commission has taken careful note of that and has said there is need for a face to face talk with the people of the East Coast."
A group of about 50 people attending a meeting set up by the ERC told them race relations in Guyana is a very complex issue.
Etched in the memories of residents of several predominantly East Indian villages on the Lower East Coast Demerara are the killings, rapes, kidnappings and armed robberies said to have been committed by people of the African-dominated village of Buxton.
One businessman told the commission, "I had the opportunity of having in my very office girls who were raped. One girl came in and told me it was a gang of eight Afro-Guyanese who came into the yard and raped her."
An East Indian resident however said she disagrees that all the criminals who have attacked the neighbouring East Indian villages are Afro-Guyanese.
"Indian people with black colour wearing masks, can come in and do the same thing. Bottom line is poverty. It's a dog eat dog world." She said.
Another resident, an Afro-Guyanese woman said she was forced to leave Buxton because she spoke out against an East Indian man being robbed.
She said Buxton has become a haven for criminals because of a lack of education.
"There are far too many illiterates in Buxton and it is their lack of education that it's causing them to take so many lives."
"I don't care who says that the people have come from outside. If Buxtonians have allowed strangers to come in to kill so many people there then shame on Buxton."
Though not in the same way, East Indians too have been accused of committing crimes against Afro-Guyanese?
One of the participants believes that East Indians are using their prominent role in Guyana's economic life as a weapon.
He told the commission that: "Their criminal activities are not only those activities in terms of robbery."
"We have robbery or acts of crime in the market place where sales of goods are priced unevenly or even the weights are not decently weighed on the scale."
While hearing about the race issue on Guyana's East Coast Demerara appeared to be an eye-opener and a way of getting people to talk about the problem, a number of the participants urged the Ethnic Relations Commission to conduct a scientific study about the issue of race as the first step towards finding solutions.