Guyana Opposition Calls Nation a Police State as Tensions Mount

Oscar Medina and Kevin Crowley

(Bloomberg) -- The Guyanese opposition is seeking an injunction to declare this month’s presidential election invalid, amid violence on Friday night in which the police shot dead a protester.

President David Granger was declared the winner of the March 2 election. The U.S. and its allies cast doubt on the vote count in a key district and said they “question the credibility” of the results produced by the electoral authority, which showed a win for the ruling party in the area.

“Like the rest of the international community, we will not recognize the government if it’s sworn in,” said Bharrat Jagdeo, a leader of the opposition People’s Progressive Party. The party has filed an injunction against the nation’s Elections Commission and has demanded a full count, he said.

Attention to the small South American country has risen after a huge off-shore oil discovery became one of the biggest bets for Exxon Mobil Corp. Guyana’s crude production surged last year, causing the nation’s gross domestic product to grow at the fastest pace in the world.

The election has brought unrest among citizens demanding transparency into the vote count amid hopes, and promises from Granger, that the massive oil deposits would alleviate the nation’s poverty.

The oil industry was a central issue in the election. For Exxon, Guyana has gone from a nice-to-have discovery to one that’s critical to the company’s future cash flows and dividends.

‘Exceptionally Bad’

A Global Witness report criticized Granger’s government for signing an “exceptionally bad” contract with Exxon that deprives the country of $55 billion over the life of the deal. The opposition People’s Progressive Party candidate, Irfan Ali, has pledged to renegotiate oil contracts.

The oil project offers some of the highest returns in the industry at a time when Exxon is struggling to generate cash and grappling with climate change. Shares of the oil giant have fallen more than 30% this year.

The protester was killed after officers were attacked, authorities said in a statement Saturday.

“We’re a police state now,” Jagdeo said in an interview. “Protesters came out, seven were shot and one killed. Just when we’re approaching a future that can be clearly defined with oil and gas we’ll be in serious trouble.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Oscar Medina in Bogota at omedinacruz@bloomberg.net;Kevin Crowley in Houston at kcrowley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Jaramillo at ajaramillo1@bloomberg.net, Ian Fisher, Virginia Van Natta

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