Ms Simona Broomes

Strange things happen in Guyana. Imagine that a woman who has been a miner in the interior for many years, and is familiar with the lawlessness which is part of life there, joins with other women to form a women miners’ organisation. Their particular focus is representing women in the mining industry and trying to help those who have been subject to abuse and exploitation.

And then imagine that the head of this association and her band of ladies soon discover on their interior excursions that in the forefront of the problems women (including some children) face in the hinterland is that of being trafficked for the purposes of prostitution – one form of trafficking in persons, or TIP, as its acronym is known.  But not only do they discover this, they decide to do something about it.

Further, imagine that this lady and her group start to rescue women as well as a few teenagers from situations where they have been forced to work as prostitutes in the hinterland. In February of this year it was reported that they had already rescued five women in their first year of existence, while in April they rescued four girls from a camp in the Puruni. In July it was reported that numbered among the six women they brought out of a camp in 14 Miles were teenagers. It should perhaps be mentioned that at the end of April, the association’s head had closed down her own mining operation in the Puruni backdam out of security concerns.

Finally imagine that the efforts of this dedicated lady – not all of which are mentioned here ‒ are recognized by the US State Department, and she is presented with an award naming her a hero in the fight against TIP by Secretary of State John Kerry.

As everyone is aware, this is the very truncated story of the efforts of Ms Simona Broomes and the Guyana Women Miners Organisation.

Following Ms Broomes’s award, Minister Robert Persaud on behalf of his ministry and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission was gracious enough to congratulate her, as was, it might be added, the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association.  Some ministries which one might have thought would have commended her, were less forthcoming, not the least of which was the Ministry of Home Affairs.

However, this tale does not finish with the happy ending of Ms Broomes being honoured and some government sectors and mining representatives acknowledging that honour. The denouement to the story came last week, when the newly invested hero was arrested by the police for assaulting a woman who herself had been charged with assaulting her as well as with trafficking in persons. So what exactly is going on?

Now the first thing to be said is that the assault allegedly perpetrated by the GWMO head happened some four months ago, and it is only now the  accuser appears to have remembered this and made a complaint to the police. Exactly how one can forget an assault for four months is puzzling, more particularly since Ms Broomes is alleged to have dealt the woman several blows about the body, hit her in the face with a 9mm pistol and snatched her gold chain weighing six ounces. Apart from anything else, which Guyanese would forget to mention at the time that they had lost a gold chain during a purported “assault”?

Well, Guyana’s Finest, operating with uncharacteristic dispatch following this allegation, invited Ms Broomes to CID, held her for five hours, and after telling her that they would put her in the lock-ups, eventually released her on $10,000 station bail. Crime Chief Seelall Persaud told this newspaper that Ms Broomes had been “arrested for questioning in relation to an allegation of assault.”  Arrested for questioning? What nonsense is this? Have all vestiges of common sense finally deserted the police force? While it is true that any allegation of assault would presumably have to be investigated, by what stretch of the imagination do the police consider that a claim made four months after the event by someone charged both with a TIP offence and with assaulting Ms Broomes requires that the latter be arrested in order simply that she can be asked some questions?

The cynical among us would say, of course, that this mode of proceeding was simply intended to place a blemish on Ms Broomes’s record and her reputation, not to mention undermine her TIP hero status.  If, for the sake of argument, that were the case, it would be incomprehensible why the police should want to do this. Of course, the even more cynical among us would probably suggest that the police were instructed by the powers-that-be to proceed with the arrest. But if again for the sake of argument that were the case, just who would it be exactly?

The government has been hostile to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report for years now, and has long disputed the statements contained within it. This year’s report, for example, was rejected by the government, which deemed it “riddled with fabrication,” and the administration went on to say it would no longer be submitting responses for the US Embassy survey.

In some earlier years it has waxed quite contemptuous, with Minister Rohee, to give one example from 2010, saying that “there were gaps and inadequacies in external reports.”  He went on to comment, “too often we have external agencies of the donor community compiling reports on various phenomena in our country as if we Guyanese do not have the capability and objectivity to compile such reports on our own.”  The coup de grace was delivered more directly, describing the US report as “a misrepresentation and falsification of the Guyanese reality.”  Then Human Services Minister Manickchand was even more forthright, dismissing it as “based on sheer ignorance and eyepass.”

So while the government over the years has been lethargic about locating TIP cases, along come Ms Broomes and the GWMO who do find some, which conceivably may just be the tip of the iceberg. Now it makes no difference that from the outset Ms Broomes has made it clear she wants to work with all sectors and especially with the government; given the sensitivities of the latter it will perceive itself to have lost face.

It may conceivably not be unhappy therefore to have her pulled down a peg or two as it sees it, and see something placed on her record, but that is still a very different matter from saying that specific instructions were issued to the police.

As it is, the GPF falls under Minister Rohee’s portfolio, and at the time of the Linden inquiry he was at great pains to emphasize that he did not give instructions to the police force. One does presume, however, that he can offer them advice on occasion and that he would not feel inhibited about doing so. Since their action in this instance gives the appearance of harassment, and by incidental extension also reflects poorly on the government since it conveys an impression of petty vindictiveness against a woman who has won international recognition, perhaps it is time for him to advise the Commissioner (ag) of Police that his force should come to its senses, and follow whatever route is possible at this stage to try and mitigate the damage which it has done.

As for Ms Broomes, the Communications Officer of the DPP has a suggestion in today’s letters column as to how she might proceed.

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