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…seize boat, motorcycle and food items over illegal operations
…Village leaders cite breach of Amerindian People Act, demands Gov’t’s intervention
For decades, residents of Karasabai, in the South Pakaraimas District, (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo region) have been crossing over to Normandia – a neighbouring Brazilian city – to trade their farine, cassava bread, cassareep, peanuts and cashew nuts in return for essential items, in particular food, but trade along the Ireng River came to a sudden stop when a squad of police officers and soldiers seized a boat, a motorcycle and a number of other essential items from locals.
The incident reportedly took place on Monday, November 9, 2020 in the vicinity of the Ireng River, which forms part of Guyana’s western border with Brazil, and flows through the valleys of the Pakaraima Mountains.
The river is the primary route used by residents of Karasabai to connect with Normandia – the nearest town, as described by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. But, Commander of Regional Division #9, Superintendent Keiton King told Village Voice Guyana that the crossing at Ireng River is illegal, and the joint operation was intended to put a halt to illegal operations there in keeping with the COVID-19 Restrictions.
‘POLICE OPERATION UNLAWFUL’
In condemning the actions of the security forces, Shawn Kartright – Karasabai’s Toshao – told Village Voice Guyana, on Wednesday, that the unannounced visit by the ranks of the Guyana Police Force and Guyana Defence Force (GDF) is a clear breach of the Amerindian Act of 2006.
Part II (Entry and Access), Section 5 (1) of the Act states that: “A person, other than a person referred to in Section 8, who wishes to enter Village Lands shall apply for and obtain the permission of the Village Council.” Notably Section 8 states: “A person, who enters Village Lands to conduct official business for the Government or who is acting under the authority of any written law or is otherwise lawfully authorized (a) is deemed to have permission from the Village Council; shall obtain any permission or consent required by any other written law’ (c) shall inform the Village Council of the nature of his business and his expected length of stay; and (d) shall comply with the rules made by the Village Council…”
According to Kartright, the Village Council of Karasabai only learned of the visit by the joint services after being inundated with complaints that the properties of villagers were seized at the Ireng River by the police and soldiers, thereby stymieing trade activities.
“The Village Council was not informed [about the visit] nor did it receive a written document from the Guyana Defence Force or the Police, and I know for a fact that this is a breach of the Amerindian Act,” Kartright said, while insisting that the Council should have been informed about the operation.
The Toshao said that there was no need for the security forces to seize the items from the villagers, noting that apart from the boat and motorcycle, the food items, hammocks and the personal hygiene products seized were not intended for sale but for personal use among families. According to him, the incident has plunged the village into a state of shock, and have significantly affected the sale of the cassava by-products to Normandia.
A TRADITIONAL ROUTE
Marlon Edwards – A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Regional Councillor (Region Nine) – told Village Voice Guyana that the actions of the joint forces were “unacceptable,” “unlawful” and “disrespectful.”
Edwards said while the Ireng River is not an official crossing, like the Takutu River Bridge, it is a traditional and well established route that has been in use for decades. Further, he said while there maybe concern over the possible spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), it must be noted that the border at Lethem has been opened to traffic to and from Brazil, and the traffic flow at the border at Ireng River is significantly lower.
Edwards also bemoaned the fact that the affected villagers were on their way back home when their items were seized.
“The items that were seized are not illegal items, they are essential products, these are food stuff that the people really need. Those items were being brought from Brazil to Guyana to Karasabai to be used for personal use not to be sold, for personal use, things like milk, and hammocks,” the Regional Councillor explained.
He was keen on pointing out that the majority of the 1,500 people living in Karasabai are not government workers but rather farmers, who depend heavily on the trade with Normandia to purchase essential items. According to him, the seizure has brought further hardship on the people of Karasabai, who already do not have access to reliable supply of electricity, radio or television signals and telephone services as well as limited internet access.
“They are taking away the livelihood of the people, and it is bringing hardship upon them. How do you expect these people to feed, and provide for their families? How? Do you want them to go and steal? These people were not doing anything illegal,” the APNU+AFC Regional Councillor said.
Among those affected are 63-year-old Sarah Francis and her husband, whose boat was seized and remain at the Karasabai Police Station up to press time.
According to Francis, she and her husband use the boat to fish along the Ireng River, and the seizure by the police and soldiers has brought hardship to the family of three, inclusive of a child. “Now that they seize the boat, I don’t know how I will fish. I don’t know how I will eat, and they are leaving me and my family to starve,” Francis told this publication.
Another woman, 73-year-old Candida Veras, said trading between Karasabai and Normandia has always been an important part of the two communities, and there is no justification for the actions of the police. “Over there [Normandia] they don’t refuse, they does buy; residents even carry cassava bread, they [the Brazilians] does buy because Karasabai people does make nice cassava bread and they does carry it and sell it and bring back ration with that,” Veras reasoned.
The elderly woman said since the seizure, it has been difficult to source critical items, as she expressed disgust over the seizure of Francis’ boat. “Now, worse, they take away the boat; how are we going to cross,” Veras questioned while demanding the return of every item taken from the people of Karasabai.
“Immediately, I want back the boat in the water to help my sister Sarah, she is poor. She is not a Government officer, but by crossing people, she does get an income with that, and I don’t like that they took her boat; she and her husband struggled to get that boat, and we want it back,” Veras said.
Sixty-one-year-old Aloysius Rodrigues, a father of six, said it has had some rough days since the police and soldiers seized his items. Milk, slippers and hammocks were among items taken from Rodrigues.
“Rather than protecting us, they are putting us in hardship, and why I say this? It’s because they want to take away our livelihood. We depend on our bordering neighbour Normandia for basic food items, and that seems to be an issue,” Rodrigues said.
But Commander King told Village Voice that it must first be established that the crossing at Ireng River is an “illegal” one. Secondly, he said a number of restrictive measures have been put in place due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s important to effectively manage the border to prevent imported cases of the disease. “There are restrictive measures due to COVID-19, and Normandia is in Brazil. It is an illegal crossing, it’s illegal,” the Commander said.
Questioned whether the seized items would be returned to the residents, Commander King said some. “The boat would not be returned to them because they will continue to use the boat to cross [over], and the motorcycle has to be verified as per documents…The crossing is illegal and because of the COVID, that’s the reason why the patrol is being set up in that area,” he explained, while emphasizing that entry into Brazil via the Ireng River is strictly prohibited.
Commander King accused the Toshao of facilitating the ‘illegality.’ “There is an ongoing problem with the Toshao. He lives over on the other side (Normandia), and he would give persons permission to cross and that’s the problem they (the police) are having with the Council,” the Police Commander said.
Notwithstanding the position of the police, the Toshao, regional councillor and residents of Karasabai are demanding that the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs intervene, so as to have all items returns, and further to allow easy trading between residents of the village and the people of Normandia.