Nineteen for court following Essequibo rice protest

The 19 persons who were arrested early Saturday morning after a confrontation between rice farmers and the Guyana Police Force in Anna Regina, Essequibo have been ordered to appear before the court tomorrow.

Vice Chairman of the Essequibo Paddy Farmers’ Association, Taje Shewcharan, the organization responsible for organizing a morning protest on Friday, recalled yesterday that he had to be sent to the hospital for treatment after his arrest due to injuries sustained in altercations with police. He told Stabroek News that when 16 persons were being taken to the Anna Regina police station and three were taken to the Suddie police station, arrangements were made by farmers who were waiting outside to pay the $95,000 bail for all those arrested.

He said that farmers were looking out for one another and that the same could not be said for the rest of those involved in the industry including the millers, the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), the Agriculture Ministry and the Rice Producers Association. Shewcharan said that he was not aware of the charges that he will face tomorrow, but that farmers were on the road protesting the lack of payments by millers for paddy.

He told Stabroek News that the second crop harvest is about to commence, “late July, early August and we not getting paid yet,” for the first crop. He added that some farmers are awaiting payments from last year. The payment system has long been an issue for farmers despite attempts to improve it.

Shewcharan stated that police began to agitate farmers and that was when tyres were burned on Friday night across the Anna Regina High Bridge. He said that when the police began to make their arrests after lobbing teargas to disperse the crowd late Friday evening the force was excessive. He told Stabroek News that the arrests were politically motivated and that it was frustrating to think that such a large group of farmers would be arrested and potentially charged right before the second crop harvest.

Shewcharan stated that farmers were prepping themselves for lower paddy prices in the upcoming season. He explained that the GRDB was suggesting that the price for a bag of paddy could be reduced to $2500 in the second crop.

“Paddy price will be $2500 for a bag not $3000…it is costing us $2300 to produce that same bag of paddy we had to go out there, we can’t be working for $200 a bag for six months.”

He said that “I was born a PPP and up to this day I vote PPP, this was organized by farmers”. The Vice Chairman said that while the Chairman, Naith Ram was an Alliance for Change Regional Democratic Council Councillor this did not mean that the protest was politically motivated.

The paddy farmer told Stabroek News that as they await their court appearances farmers are concerned. He noted that the violent turn to the protest was alarming, however the fact that no representatives were sent by the GRDB or the ministry spoke volumes about the industry leaders.

Ram confirmed that he had carbon copies of all the letters sent to the GRDB, the ministry, and the Regional Democratic Council. He told Stabroek News that he wrote the letters before June 2 and gave adequate notice that the Essequibo farmers were planning a protest. He said that the group has largely been ignored and that the frustration levels must have boiled over on Friday night.

He said that tomorrow when he appears before the courts with the other 18 persons he will find out the charge because he is not sure what exactly they were all arrested for. “Up to now I don’t know what I was arrested for…after we were shot with tear gas I took cover in a yard and they [police] come for me,” Ram said.

On Friday, tensions erupted after police were called to disperse a crowd of agitated rice farmers who were protesting non-payment by millers. After a morning of peaceful protesting on Friday, farmers grew more and more agitated feeling that their concerns were not being taken seriously. Farmers claim the police began to intervene and use excessive force which made farmers lash out including blocking the roadway and setting tyres on fire. The police have since denied that they stripped Ram and noted that the persons who remained after the peaceful protest were under the influence of alcohol.

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