By Jeff Trotman
A dispute over building in Rockstone has become a symbol of deep division in the Essequibo River community amidst a contentious initiative for it to be recognised as an Amerindian village.
This has led to several confrontations in the Region 10 (Upper Demera-ra/Upper Essequibo) community, where the community council and a village group headed by a Toshao are struggling for power.
It is unclear how the process to initiate the transformation began and who initiated it but it has added fuel to the ongoing feud between the two factions in the village, which falls within Region Ten and is located nineteen miles from Linden.
A resident, who has been living in Rockstone for over ten years with his wife and three children, said that the situation has existed for more than six years and he warned that and unless the people who represent the respective groups speak to the community, the situation could get worse.
He said the current Community Development Council (CDC) Chairman, Sylvan Williams, was elected on 11 April 2012 and the village council began operating about two months later. While the CDC is a creature of the constitution, the government is being perceived by its actions to be giving more recognition to the village council. He said the government donated a bus late last year to the village council for use in the community as well as four financial grants, channeled through the Amerindian Ministry.
“We have issues where people operate disrespectful to residents and tend to do and say things out of context most of the time and it’s not being addressed,” he said, while noting that a few weeks ago he confronted some members of the village council, who were clearing a piece of the land that he had applied for a lease for six years ago and on which he has been living for about ten years. He said they told him that they were just clearing the area and he replied that the lands which they occupy have more bush. He said as a result of that incident, he was forced to fence the area—an unplanned undertaking–at great expense.
Tourism association building
Lynette Benn, Organ-ising Secretary of the Region Ten Community Development Committee, stating that she had major concerns, claimed that that a few PPP political activists within the community tell themselves they can speak to people anyhow. “As recently as two Sundays ago, we had some visitors at the guest house from the Office of the President and one of the residents stand up and tell us that they got to get things because them is PPP and we don’t have nothing to get and right now…All of this was reported to the police,” she recounted.
Benn said the village council recently moved to take over land owned by one of the oldest residents of the community. Benn, who is also President of the Rockstone Tourism Association, said people aligned with the village council took away the building that was occupied by the tourism association since 2006 and handed it over to the village council. She said the tourism association was formed in 2006 as an independent body registered under the Friendly Societies Act.
Benn also said the Rockstone Primary School was broken into “and some of our tourism records were removed from the building” and the matter has reached the Criminal Investigation Department, Eve Leary but no further action has been taken.
Patricia Hinds, Coordinator of the Region Ten Community Development Committee, sought to resolve the situation by organising a community meeting last week Wednesday to allow for open discussion to find solutions to the deep differences that have plagued the community.
Hinds learnt of the dispute during a visit by her and other Region Ten community leaders a month ago. She said they were confronted by “people with hammer and cursing” and when she asked the Toshao Rudolph Simon what was going on, he explained that the village has two factions but he could not do anything about what was happening at that time. She said that she asked him if there was any way the factions could come together and he said yes. She, however, expressed surprise that the Toshao along with a substantial number of his supporters did not attend the meeting, which was held at a main location in the village–the Rockstone Waterfront.
“We invited every person… to be here today because we wanted a resolution,” Hinds said. “We want a majority decision and we want to see how we can find a better community.”
“We run Community Development Councils… we bring people together of different backgrounds, or race for the common good. They are legal groups. They have their registration and they also do government contracts. They put up proposals and projects for their community’s benefit. But what has been happening, for some time, that has caused us to come, is that we understand that there is a (village) council and there is a community group that have a pulling and tugging,” she explained.
She said that during the confrontation in the village last month, a female resident showed her and the other visitors a letter from a person with PPP/C connections in which he stated that he was giving permission to a group of residents to occupy the building, which was being used by the Rockstone Tourism Association since 2006 as an office and store house. She said the person who showed her the letter claimed that she had entered the building from time to time and had taken out what she likes. “I tried to caution her,” she said. “But… tempers flying. They start to cuss… It was a disgrace.” Hinds added that the person who wrote the letter, who is a Linmine official, the CEO Horace James and Toshao Simon are all aware that everyone in the community benefits from the money generated by the community’s tourism industry, especially from the annual Rockstone Fish Festival. “People sell their craft. They sell all their stuff. The community groups benefit… the ladies sew up nice things and sell,” she said.
Stressing that the use of the building is causing serious conflict, Hinds said: “It not going finish. I now learn, again, when I come just now, they went back into the building and now take possession of the building.”
She said that the man who authored the letter “blatantly passed me straight and said nothing about the building as to whether it was a (Linmine) board decision and why the tourism people were not informed. They need some respect whether you’re in authority or not.”
Last week’s meeting also saw the attendance of Assistant Commander of the ‘E’ Division of the Guyana Police Force, Winston DeHearte, who promised Rockstone residents that the police will take appropriate action once they are informed of incidents of abuse and assault within the village.
He made the comments after listening to complaints by residents at the meeting but he stressed that the visit by the police was to look primarily at the level of crime and disorderly behaviour in the community so that the police could put systems in place to effectively deal with such matters. “You cannot sit here and allow things to happen and expect us to know out there and come in and take action,” he said.
DeHearte also advised the residents to contact him or the commander if they think that the police had not taken appropriate action after they had made their report. He declared: “The office is open from Monday to Saturday and we see anybody at any time to deal with concerns.”
He, however, said he would not touch on the issue of the building because such a matter is not within his authority. He, however, disclosed that he was informed that the building is owned by Linmine and he advised the executive members of the tourism association to follow up the matter with the Linmine official.
In relation to the alleged removal of documents and other things from the building, he said that he had already informed Benn to get a list of the items and to check with the man who had taken control of the building to determine whether or not he was aware that those items were in the building—then the police could take the relevant follow up action.
He said matters relating to land will have to be dealt with by the Lands and Survey Department or the Ministry of Housing. With respect to the division in the community, the senior police officer said the matter appears to be a political issue and the residents should contact the regional administration and other relevant government agencies to deal with it.
“In the event of anybody being assaulted, the police comes into play. But the most I could do now is to guide you as to where you have to go,” the Assistant Commander said. He was accompanied by three other policemen on the visit.