Businessman developing $50M airstrip in Region One

- to protect travelling miners

A privately owned airstrip is being developed in the village of Yakishuru, in Region One, in order to protect gold and diamond miners travelling in and out of the region.

The construction of the airstrip, estimated at approximately $50 million, is the initiative of Region One businessman Kennedy Smith, who said it is aimed at minimising the exposure to increasing robberies that miners face owing to the long distances they would have to trek while carrying millions of dollars in gold and diamonds.

Work in progress at the $50 million airstrip at Yakishuru, Region One (Barima/Waini). The private developer says it is intended to protect miners who would otherwise have to travel long distances by road and river in and out of the area. (See story on page 10)

“This initiative was birthed because earlier this year I could have lost my life… I was supposed to travel on one day to take gold to sell in town. News of my plans got out and I was told that a group of about 12 were waiting with guns for me at a nearby landing,” said Smith. For this reason, he added, he never discloses his travel plans, not even to his common-law wife. He stated that he just randomly chooses a date to travel and prays for the best. “Bush life is different to life in town, you can’t trust anyone—brother, sister, neighbour and even pastor. People are so envious it isn’t funny,” he said.

In addition, Smith noted that many times residents have to postpone travel plans either because rivers and creeks have dried up during prolonged dry seasons or due to rough waters after increased rainfall.

The businessman also stated that he felt compelled to construct the airstrip when he calculated the time and money that would be saved and its humanitarian value to the community.

“When I calculated the time and energy with the risk of being robbed on the way, it was well worth every penny,” he said, while also noting that on many occasions sick residents have to wait for many days for favourable weather to travel to the Essequibo Coast to see a physician.

A Brazilian miner, who works a leased dredge claim in Region One, speaking on condition of anonymity, lauded the airstrip’s development. “The gold industry is booming right now [and] there are times I am so scared to travel because I have on me over $40 million one time… It’s not the money is that these bandits are so ruthless up there now they would take your diamonds and gold and still kill you,” he said.

When asked if he felt the need to donate towards the development of the airport, he added, “I don’t think money is the issue but I guess if some time they needed my help I would give it.”

Referring to recent robberies, Smith said the increased peddling and use of illegal drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, in the interior locations had been triggering numerous robberies in the North West District. “Selling ganja and cocaine is big business up in the bush… drug dealers are selling what they would sell for $500 in the city for $2,000,” he said.

“The Amerindian people are the ones who mostly suffer. They head light, they can’t take it and so many of them become addicts and too many times I have seen they have to resort to crime to feed that habit,” he added.

Smith hopes that as Region One is highlighted through infrastructural developments, those in authority would expeditiously address social issues facing the area, which is populated mostly by the Amerindians.

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