Burial ground vandalism unsettles funeral homes

Funeral home owners are worried about vandalism within Le Repentir Cemetery, which is running out of space for burial.

Two funeral home workers told Stabroek News yesterday that they are concerned about the activities of vandals operating within Le Repentir, where tombs are being broken into and articles, including human parts, are removed. In some cases, plots are reportedly being resold.

An official at Merriman Funeral Home said the situation has left several “mind-boggling” questions which need to be answered. She said the reselling of plots within the cemetery is virtually impossible, as the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) would have adequate records that give account for the layout of the cemetery. She said the Merriman’s Funeral Home, as far as she knows, has kept a record of burial activities within the cemetery. However, she added that persons who spoke to this newspaper on Sunday at the cemetery “may know more”. She said that in order for burial, a procedure has to followed, and it involves the relatives of the deceased making such arrangements with the authorities beforehand.

A survey of the cemetery would show many of the tombs with small holes. According to the Merriman’s official, there are numerous instances where the tombs are not constructed to specifications and several tombs have been known to “cave–in.”

Dawn Fraser, of Lyken’s Funeral Home, said that there is a ten-year grace period after which a family can undertake an “open and close” burial. She explained that the remains of the dead after that time period would be placed in a bag and positioned at the corner of the tomb. The recent dead will then be placed within the tomb and according to her, the records of these and other activities are kept by the M&CC.

Fraser said she has not heard of tombs within the cemetery being resold but, like the Merriman’s official, she acknowledged that the cemetery is “running out of space.”

Stabroek News made attempts to obtain a comment from the M&CC regarding Le Repentir Cemetery yesterday but repeated efforts were in vain.

Stabroek News understands that City Hall is aware of the shortage of space within the cemetery and the issue was discussed at various levels.

Fraser said that the present state of Le Repentir leaves much to be desired and she felt the authorities should focus on cutting down the bushes within the cemetery. As regards vandals retrieving valuables from the dead, Fraser said her business had received complaints from relatives of the dead in the past. According to her, the funeral home had seen a change in the manner in which persons are buried, that is, minus jewellery. She noted, however, that vandals may be after the valuables of persons buried decades ago.

Several tombs lay open and exposed to the elements when Stabroek News visited a section of Le Repentir on Sunday as a local scrap iron dealer renovated several tombs which had been damaged by vandals. Persons in the area related that the tombs within the cemetery had been vandalised for reasons other than to retrieve metal bars used in the construction of the tombs for the scrap metal trade.

City Mayor Hamilton Green told Stabroek News on Sunday that vandalism in the cemetery was an ongoing issue and City Hall, with its limited finances, has tried to monitor the situation. Mayor Green said that constables had been stationed at the cemetery but he added that the area was “not an easy place to monitor.”

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds placed a ban on the scrap iron trade late last week, citing damage done to state and private property and tombs. The Government Information Agency (GINA) stated that persons have been complaining about the illegal activity taking place in Le Repentir and in some cases the perpetrators removed the metal bars holding up the concrete. GINA stated that the Prime Minister was forced to take that approach “to curb the problem that continues unabated” with the upsurge in vandalism of “various articles, private and state property and commercial and building sites, containing metal.”

The ban was placed on the trade and export of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the Guyana Scrap Metal Dealers have since voiced concern over the most recent ban, several dealers noting that the ban was a huge setback to their businesses.

One dealer, who exports non-ferrous metals, told this newspaper yesterday that some 40 containers valued more than $76 million were waiting to be exported .He said the buyers on the international market are hoping that the authorities would lift the ban.

He said members of the association have received reports of persons illegally exporting scrap metal across the border to Brazil, since the neighbouring state has a “booming” scrap metal industry.

In the past, bans were placed on the trade and the authorities had called for the scrap metal dealers to help curb vandalism after several private and public properties suffered at the hands of vandals.

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