Police yesterday cleared a six-day-old blockade of the Ituni road and arrested fourteen protesters but the law enforcers’ action sparked condemnation from the region and this and other matters are to be discussed today at a meeting of the Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice council.
As the community entered the sixth day of protest action for a better 36 Mile Linden/Kwakwani road yesterday, residents maintained that they were engaged in peaceful activity. However, police said that 14 persons, ten men and four women, were arrested early yesterday for blocking the road at Ituni.
“Nobody that protesting here have guns or any sort of weapon…,” one resident told Stabroek News.
According to a release from the police force, at about 4:15am yesterday, the police arrested ten men and four women who were involved in the blocking of the roadway at Ituni, and with the support of machinery from the Ministry of Works the logs used to create the blockage were removed.
Later, at about 8am, police added, persons used several coconut tree trunks to block the roadway at the Kwakwani Waterfront, but they were subsequently removed.
“The Guyana Police Force has shown considerable restraint in this matter and wishes to reiterate its respect for the rights of all citizens to protest peacefully on issues of concern to them,” said the police, while noting that a constable was assaulted while trying to arrest a man. . It was alleged by residents that one man was bitten on his nipple by a member of the police force.
“The Force has no objection to persons conducting peaceful protests, but when protests degenerate into unlawful acts infringing on the rights of other citizens, the police will as a consequence have to take the appropriate action,” it added.
Region Ten Chairman Sharma Solomon yesterday condemned what he called an attack on the protesters by the police force.
In a statement, he said the riot squad approached residents and instructed them to line up and enter the vehicle and they complied, resulting in the arrest of 15 persons, including a 14-year-old boy.
“The commander said that the persons were arrested for willful disrupting (of a) public way, unlawful assembly and loitering and will be taken to Linden Police Station as the commander awaits further instructions. The Kwakwani community is now invaded by police who are ruthlessly entering homes, looking for persons they consider suspect,” Solomon, said.
Sources say those arrested are to appear in a Linden court today to faces charges of loitering and blocking the road, among others.
Solomon noted that it was brought to his attention that last Thursday residents of Ituni, Kwakwani and other Berbice river communities had coordinated to protest the conditions of the Linden/Kwakwani road by blocking the road at two points, which included the seven-mile stretch of road between Linden and Coomacka, with the aim of preventing the flow of vehicular traffic.
Solomon said that it was upon investigation that it was learnt that the residents’ actions constitute a direct demand for government to address the terrible conditions of the road. “At this point, I wish to state that the RDC [Regional Democratic Council] in Region 10 is in full support of the residents’ demands,” he noted, while pointing out that at its last engagement at the Office of the President on July 10, 2013, the RDC drew attention to the unacceptable state of the road which serves as a lifeline for the people of the sub-region (Ituni, Kwakwani, Berbice River).
He added that the protest in the sub-region represents a community exercising its fundamental right and freedom to petition the government to fix the deplorable condition of the roads. “These roads continue to pose threat to lives, limbs, school children, the vulnerable (pregnant women and elderly), vehicles, and the community’s economic wellbeing. Roads are not only a means of traversing they are also a foundation for personal wellbeing and developmental opportunities,” he said.
Persons in the community say that they will continue to block the road until they have some sort of commitment that a proper road will be built. “We will stay on the road until we see some sort of improvement,” an angry resident said.
“We do a lot of things in this community without the help of the government; we bought a school bus for the children to ease the burden off of their parents, we fixing the internal road by ourselves. We want to know if these leaders have a vision, the main opposition has been trying repeatedly and the government seems to be doing nothing about it. I want to know if we don’t exist up here?” the resident added.
A resident, who spoke to Stabroek News, said that it is saddening to know that over the years the residents of Kwakwani have contributed to the economy and the current state of the road is deplorable.
“It hurts me to know how much contributions we make to this country as loggers and something basic as a proper road we can’t get up here,” the resident lamented.
“90% of stuff coming from Linden, those residents from Ituni could get stuff but we in Kwakwani have to walk a far distance to get our goods and still pay another set of money to get back to Kwakwani. It is unfair and a lot of pressure on the working class people. We protesting here for our rights”, the resident stated.
A truck attached to the Ministry of Education that was transporting food supplies to the Kwakwani Dormitory on Sunday was also forced to turn back after the protestors refused to allow it to pass.
Another resident told this newspaper that they have their own contractors in the community who can do a better job than the contractors hired by the government. “They are always pilfering the money for these contracts. We have contractors here with credentials and experience, we don’t want them to bring someone that can’t execute the work properly. We fed up with them always coming and do some slam-dash work on this road. Now you hear they say how they ain’t budget for the road this year and we have to wait till next year,” the resident said.
Solomon, meanwhile, said that the protest will continue until the government and business community understand the people of Region Ten are also entitled to be treated as equals under the law.