Last Updated on Saturday, 7 January 2023, 12:50 by Denis Chabrol
Just days after President Irfaan Ali fended off opposition accusations of racism against Afro-Guyanese such as the demolition of houses in Mocha, East Bank Demerara, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) insisted that the grant of titles to stronghold supporters raises concerns about apparent racial discrimination.
“ These actions are in stark contrast to the issuing of titles to “squatters” in communities deemed to be supportive of the government. The government cannot not know that the perception and reality of unequal treatment undermine its own stated mantra of One Guyana,” the WPA said. “The events in Mocha Arcadia, therefore, opens the government to charges of racial profiling and racial discrimination in the process of governance,” that party added.
The Ministry of Housing and Water on January 1, 2023 began issuing land titles to 44 mainly Ind0-Guyanese residents, who government described as “informal settlers” at Pigeon Island, East Coast Demerara. Government has also ensured that residents of Bath Settlement, West Coast Berbice, another governing party stronghold, receive transports for their lands that they had purchased from the Guyana Sugar Corporation 20 years ago.
In 2017, about three years before returning to office, Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall had successfully challenged the cancellation by President David Granger of several 50-year land leases that had been issued to mainly Afro-Guyanese farmers by President Donald Ramotar in 2014.
But the WPA said the incumbent People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration since returning to office in 2020 last year demolished the houses of a number of Afro-Guyanese residents in Linden. They were in the path of a new housing development at Amelia’s Ward. And, in mid-December, the government removed several mainly Afro-Guyanese-operated food caravans from New Market Street opposite the Georgetown Hospital on grounds that they were impeding the free flow of emergency vehicular traffic to the hospital.
“Further, the option of forced removal of mainly people of African descent whether it is in Linden, Mocha Arcadia or Georgetown where the stalls of vendors were recently demolished against their will, represent acts of brutality and terror that have no place in modern society,” the WPA said.
The WPA reasoned that bulldozing people’s homes against their will is a human rights violation, but worse, it is an act that reeks of disdain, and disrespect for citizens who have not offended the law or the government. “The images broadcasted to the world from that village brings back memories of South Africa’s apartheid era and justifies the charges by sections of the African Guyanese community that Guyana is an emerging Apartheid State,” that party that had been part of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said.
The WPA’s position came two days after President expressed anger at those who were levelling accusations of racism because it is a PPP government. He had noted that government had persuaded more than 20 other families to move from the Cane View government reserve to facilitate the construction of an alternative East Bank Demerara Road while seven others had been holding out for the past seven months while demanding hundreds of millions of dollars. He said government had offered free land and move-in-ready houses but the seven refused and their houses were smashed by an excavator on Thursday afternoon.
In strongly condemning the destruction of the dwellings at Mocha, the WPA said even if there were negotiations, the houses should not have been demolished to the detriment of ordinary working people. “The issue here cannot be resistance to “development”, as the government seeks to cast it. WPA wishes to make it abundantly clear that it is strongly opposed to any development at the expense of the dignity and rights of people. It is patently clear that the land in question is not an obstruction to the proposed new roadway,” the party said.
The WPA said it is also astonished by and roundly berates the president for his cowardly justification of the actions taken at Mocha. The Head of State and Government boldly justified the debacle as a form of ‘strength.’ Reacting to the President’s view that he could not have taken a softer approach to the Mocha issue or he risked being ridden over, the WPA said it now abundantly clear that Guyana is governed by a government whose praxis is driven by force and is normalizing such force. “WPA warns that indiscriminate government force leads to fear, fear leads to desperation, and desperation leads to instability.”
While government has labelled the persons “squatters”, the People’s National Congress Reform-led parliamentary opposition has said they are occupiers of their ancestral lands which had been bought by a collective freed African slaves in the late 1800s. The opposition did not file any court action since the issue first emerged seven months ago but on Thursday-the same day of the demolition- said it would do so and that the delay was due to the gathering of evidence.
The WPA reasoned that the occupants were evicted from Cane View, Mocha at all costs because of the potential value of the land for the benefit of allies of the governing party. “WPA thinks this is naked land-grabbing on the part of a government which has already been accused of transferring State and Ancestral Lands to its friends and cronies,” the party said.
The WPA said the withholding of funds from the local body, IDPADA-G coupled with the wanton demolition of African Guyanese homes and business places point to a deliberateness of action on the part of the government. “WPA warns that these actions are pregnant with ethno-political provocation which threatens the wholeness of our country.”
The excavator returned on Saturday, even as former residents rummaged the debris and found valuables including school uniform and school books, while livestock roamed the area freely.