US Congressman to raise Mocha residents’ concerns with Ali, other American politicians

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 May 2024, 21:04 by Writer

US Congressman Jonathan Jackson listening to Mocha resident, Nima Flue-Bess who is also an opposition parliamentarian.

Stacking the Mocha Community Centre with persons from elsewhere to meet with United States (US) Democratic Congressman, Jonathan Jackson on Tuesday appeared to have backfired after the American politician quickly took control of the event and allowed residents of the community to vent their concerns.

Persons from other East Bank Demerara communities and Albouystown, Georgetown as well as officials of the Ministry of Housing and Water and Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) were among those present.

After hearing several claims of discrimination against Afro-Guyanese, removal and eviction of residents from an area near a new highway, and flood due to poor drainage to support agriculture, Congressman Jackson told Demerara Waves Online News that he would be “sharing the concerns” with President Irfaan Ali as well as with the relevant US political mechanisms.

In addition to making “some formal comments” afterwards, the American politician, who represents the US State of Illinois, said he would also be bringing the concerns to US decision-makers. “Absolutely, I’ll share this with our colleagues, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as with the Leader of the Democratic Party and with my colleagues,” he said. Mr Jackson said he would also be encouraging them to come to Guyana on subsequent visits to “have an assessment and I’ll share with them as was reported to me by the residents that came out this morning.”

Asked how providing his political colleagues with that information could potentially influence change in Guyana, Mr Jackson deferred a response to that question but remarked that, “The first thing is that I will share with them but there will be change and change is happening now,” he said.

The US Congressman said President Ali encouraged him to meet with the opposition and visit the Mocha-Arcadia community. Mr Jackson said he wanted to understand “what this government must be held accountable for”.

Mocha-Arcadia resident and opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parliamentarian, Nima Flue-Bess told Demerara Waves Online News the meeting allowed her and other residents to highlight the reality of their community. “I am happy for the opportunity for us to highlight facts that are relevant. Sometimes persons don’t zoom in but the opportunity is there, now, for the Congressman and his other colleagues to have first-hand information, a first-hand view of what is happening and I would hope to see advocacy that change will come and all of Guyana will enjoy fairness, equity and justice from the current administration,” she said. She accused organisers of the meeting of planning to muzzle residents, and credited Congressman Jackson with facilitating a frank discussion. “I appreciate the fact that the Congressman demonstrated what democracy is about and allowed the residents to highlight their concerns,” Ms Flue-Bess said.

A number of residents said they did not know anything about the meeting, suggesting that there was very limited publicity about the event that was scheduled for 8 a.m. but started half an hour late.

At the outset of the meeting, Mr Jackson described the encounter as a “family dialogue” and said he was willing to listen to extensive and “candid” accounts from attendees.

Ms Flue-Bess presented a flash-drive containing videos to the American politician. She complained that community residents were in a “struggle and fight to save our lands that we have acquired from our ancestors.” In particular, she highlighted that residents’ homes on Cane View were graded on January 5, 2023 by government for the construction of a four-lane highway. She said farmers had been losing crops because of the failure to provide adequate drainage, non-renewal of land leases since the change of government in August, 2020 and government sending of persons to occupy ancestral lands at the front and back of the village.

Mr Rawle Aaron of the Planning Unit of the CHPA, told the meeting that seven of the 34 residents at Cane View had refused to be relocated while the 27 others were moved to other areas where they were given title to their own lands. “They were squatting on those lands. Those lands were owned by GUYSUCO. We’ve given them titles to their land and they live in Herstelling in Farm and they are all very comfortable,” he said. Mr Aaron said the Housing Ministry compensated them for their previously owned houses at Cane View, to loud applause by several attendees.

However, a number of Mocha residents disagreed with Mr Aaron’s claim that the Housing Ministry was continuing to work with “these residents” relocation and resettlement, ensuring that they have access to paid rather than stolen electricity and water as well as schools and better roads. The government official said the administration was willing to work with the remaining persons who have resorted to court action to ensure that they are comfortable. While many persons cheered, others said “he lie”.

Congressman Jackson listening to Lashonda Ellis whose house at Cane View was demolished after she refused to move from the location.

Former Cane View resident, 25-year-old Lashonda Ellis and mother of a three-year-old child, countered Mr Aaron’s perspective. She said many of those persons who took up government’s relocation offer did not have animals and businesses. She also said many of the relocated residents were living in incomplete houses and were still going to the Housing Ministry. Ms Ellis said she refused the government’s GYD$5 million offer because it was insufficient to rebuild her home for a family of nine that was demolished. “We have cattle, we have farm. Where we going to put all of this when they are relocating you to a residential area where you can’t do any of these things. Most of our money, our earnings came from these things, Sir, and the government has us in a situation whereby we can’t be comfortable and live the life that we want to live,” she said. Arguing that the “problem seems to be Afro-Guyanese problem.” She said she and her daughter were dragged out of their home without notice, resulting in the child still being traumatised by the events of that day. “No one has ever sent in a counsellor or do therapy with these children,” said Ms Ellis who unashamedly stated that she was still sleeping on the floor with her daughter.

“I am very upset at the manner and the way in which the government treats Afro-Guyanese in this country and this has been going on for years,” she said to resounding applause.

Public Affairs Minister Kwame McCoy seizing the opportunity to rebut claims of government discrimination against Afro-Guyanese

It was at that juncture that the meeting almost descended into a ruckus when Public Affairs Minister McCoy got up and said, “Mr Congressman, if I may, because I sit here and it is really an affront to my reputation as a member of this government. I take it very seriously, very seriously”. Mr McCoy said “we must be able to be factual and to be accurate” adding that the assertions were being motivated by the opposition. “Everyone will have a chance. This is my right to reply as a government…I am saying….For those who are claiming racism at the hands of the government, let us just think about whether the issues that are before us have anything to do with race versus what the reality is. I know you came here well-coordinated from the APNU arm,” he said.

Congressman Jackson then politely rescued the proceedings and restored order by saying he wanted to hear the residents only. “If I could have a moment please, what I would like to do and I thank you so much for your candour. I would like to limit this conversation to the residents reporting to me,” he said to resounding applause.

A PPP government supporter speaking at the meeting,

Moments later, the meeting was again jeopardised when a woman, who openly stated that she was now a ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP) supporter, charged that those who vented concerns were opposition supporters. “Most of the persons that sitting right now in the audience and standing is from the opposition. I was with the opposition. I walk over. I am now with the present government because of frustration because when we used to be using these very same lie, the opposition said they come they are going to drain we, they are going to throw we off the very said land. Tears come to my eyes….when the opposition they present us with letter and they are going to grade us and these same Black people like we who were in the opposition, I am speaking about. And this very said government came in and said they are going to do infrastructure and going to help us… So just want to say that this is not a one-sided something,” she said. That triggered an uproar among several other attendees who accused her of coming to disrupt the meeting. “Deh send she fuh bruk up de meeting,” one of the other attendees said.

Governance Councillor on the Mocha-Arcadia Neighbourhood Council, Stephanie Moore told the meeting that developments included the provision of farming equipment, several infrastructural developments including the rehabilitation of bridges, farming supplies and livestock, skills training through the Board of Industrial Training and jobs. She said Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) and small business grants were also available to residents of the community.