The South American country, already deeply split by a presidential election and an oil windfall, is tested again as three teenagers are slain.
COTTON TREE, Guyana — The gruesome murders of two teenagers and the apparent reprisal killing of a third have plunged Guyana into its worst racial unrest in years, coming just weeks after the nation emerged from a disputed election that had deeply divided its two dominant groups over the country’s newfound oil wealth.
The unrest is raising fears of a return to the violence between Guyanese of Indian and African descentthat split the small South American nation in the 1960s, and has unsettled it periodically since.
President Irfaan Ali, who took office in August after a monthslong standoff over the election results, said he would call on Britain and Caribbean nations to help investigate the killings to ensure impartiality.
“This is basically two countries living under the same roof,” said Ralph Ramkarran, a veteran Guyanese politician who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in March as an independent on a multi-race platform. “You don’t have people who are trusted by both sides. There’s no Mandela here.”
The discovery on Sunday of the mutilated bodies of two Black teenagers in an agricultural area populated predominantly by Indo-Guyanese had reignited racial tensions still simmering from the election. The Guyanese police quickly ruled out political motives and detained seven people, but they have not disclosed what led up to the killings.
Groups representing Afro-Guyanese immediately labeled the killings a hate crime and called on supporters to protest. Hundreds of Afro-Guyanese residents took to the streets this week in the northeastern Berbice region where the murders took place, blocking roads, burning trucks and attacking Indo-Guyanese passers-by and businesses.
The violence escalated on Wednesday, when the police said a 17-year-old Indo-Guyanese man, a grandson of one of the detainees, was killed while traveling to his farm near one of the protest sites. Another Indo-Guyanese man was beaten to death after opening fire on protesters later that day, the police said.
“These callous murders are not seen as isolated,” the Guyana Human Rights Association said in a statement. “Both sides are quick to see them as a continuation of earlier ethnic upheavals.”