The WPA, the GTUC and ACDA have voiced support for Mark Benschop and Freddie Kissoon’s efforts to highlight the dangers posed by the overflowing city landfill, while condemning their arrest and detention as acts of intimidation.
The charges against the two men stemmed from a protest outside the Cemetery Road, East La Penitence entrance to the landfill, to demand better conditions for residents in the immediate environs. The landfill has been storing mountains of garbage, which has overflowed into the cemetery.
Despite Magistrate Chandra Sohan’s granting the release of the men on $1 bail each, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) demanded an immediate apology to them from the Guyana Police Force (GPF) for their prolonged detention. It dubbed their incarceration “a travesty of justice” when set alongside the recent actions by police, including the release of a man on station bail after the discovery of more than 21 kilos of cocaine on the West Bank of Demerara. The party said these actions confirm its view that the police “now appear to be controlled totally by their political masters and are prepared to carry out their bidding.” It added that what is even more alarming is that the alleged offence of Benschop and Kissoon does not incur a custodial penalty under the laws of Guyana. “Under what authority have the police acted?” it questioned.
The WPA said that the deterioration of the dumpsite must be placed squarely at the feet of government and the Georgetown City Council. It added, “We recall that in spite of the several warnings by City Hall about the need to relocate the site with urgency, the government has been dragging its feet on this important task.” The WPA further said it is noteworthy that it was only after Benschop and Kissoon’s direct action that government acknowledged its duty to Georgetown’s citizens.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) said the men’s arrest and detention was a repressive act by the government in its “pursuit of denying citizens their right to just expression and a say in matters that impact on their well-being.” In a press release, the GTUC said that once again the nation is experiencing the government using the law as a front to punish citizens for protesting the “wanton dumping of garbage in the middle of [the] city… a situation citizens of this country consider a health hazard.”
It noted that towns are managed by city councils but under statute the responsibility to citizens is first and foremost that of the central government. The GTUC said, “The issue of garbage collection and disposal in Georgetown has always been stymied by central government who micro-manages and gets involved in every decision as to how it should be done, when it should be done and where it should be disposed and who gets the contract, how and when the contractor will be paid.” It added that all these efforts are orchestrated to politically destroy the city council even at the expense of destroying the health of citizens.
Meanwhile, the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) said that it is clear that an untenable situation exists at the dumpsite, where an estimated more than 300 tonnes of garbage is dumped in a residential area everyday. While saying that the garbage dumping has become a significant health hazard to the lives of the surrounding community, it noted its solidarity with Benschop and Kissoon’s actions. “Le Repentir Cemetery is a sacred place,” ACDA said, noting that it is a site where the earthly remains of our ancestors lie. “This wilful desecration of must be condemned by all right thinking Guyanese.”