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…says inability to access Normandia putting undue hardship on the people of Karasabai
Approximately two weeks after the Joint Services put a halt to trade activities along the Ireng River, the Office of the Karasabai Village Council has lodged a complaint with the National Toshaos Council (NTC) with hope that its people would be allowed to trade freely with their counterparts in Normandia – a neighbouring Brazilian city.
For decades, residents of Karasabai, in the South Pakaraimas District, have been crossing over to Normandia 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 took place on November 9, 2020 in the vicinity of the Ireng River, which forms part of Guyana’s western border with Brazil.
Commander of Regional Division #9, Superintendent Keiton King had told Village Voice News that the crossing at Ireng River is illegal, and the joint operation was intended to put a halt to illegal activities there in keeping with the COVID-19 Restrictions.
In its letter to the NTC, dated November 23, 2020, the Village Council, while acknowledging that Karasabai-Normandia crossing is not gazetted, pointed out to several facts – one, that it is a traditional route used primarily for trading; two, the Joint Services did not inform the Council of its operation; and three, the decision to halt trade activities along the Ireng River is causing undue hardship on the people of the village.
“It is sad to note that the wooden boat belongs to a poor family and is used mainly for fishing and this has left the family in a state where they have to find other means to provide food on a daily basis,” Toshao Shawn Kartright said in the letter.
The boat remains at the Karasabai Police Station, and according to the Toshao, it has been badly damaged.
He told the NTC that the Joint Services, during their operation, left a young man and his ailing mother stranded having seized his motorcycle.
“The individual whose motorcycle was seized at the time was transporting his sick mother from Normandia back to Paipang Village and were left on the road when their mode of transportation was seized,” the Toshao detailed.
The young man and his mother were rescued by public spirited citizens who provided them with accommodation and meals for a period of three days.
Kartright said the Village Council has made representation to the Police, on behalf of the affected, to have the boat and motorcycle released but to no avail.
“We find it very disturbing that the police are very uncooperative with the Village Council and is showing no form of respect for the Toshao and other members of the Village Council,” Kartright told the National Council.
When initially contacted by Village Voice News, on the matter, Commander King 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.
But Kartright and his Council questioned how the residents of Karasabai will survive now that they are cut off from accessing essential items.
“Despite the COVID-19 gazetted order, which restricts travelling, our people have to survive and have been depending on Normandia for trading of their cassava products. A majority of the people are peasant farmers and is travelling to Normandia for genuine reasons. The recent actions of the police have brought more hardships upon the people and sadly placed them in a state of despair and desperation,” Kartright said.
Further, the Village Council drew to the NTC’s attention, the fact that days after the Joint Services closed the ‘Karasabai-Normandia Crossing,’ the National COVID-19 Task Force granted permission for residents of Region 9 to travel to Brazil for an election, notwithstanding COVID-19.
“We found it very disgruntling too even though the COVID-19 orders are being harshly enforced at the Karasabai-Normandia crossing, the international crossing at Lethem-Bonfim was recently opened to facilitate voters to travel to vote in the recently conducted Brazilian elections,” Kartright said.
The Village Council is now looking to the NTC to intervene on its behalf, and that of its people.