Timehri North residents are settlers not squatters

Dear Editor,

We recognise that the issue of our community is not the big selling story and that the lives of the residents, seemingly, hang in the balance. To add to our woes, there seem to be those who want a political take-over.

It was brought to our community’s attention on Sunday 18 August, at a political meeting held in our community, that a Member of Parliament from an opposition party had visited the President on behalf of our community as it relates to the assumed relocation of the citizens of Timehri North. Be it known, that at no time was a mandate given to any individual politician or political party, to speak to either a minister of the government or the President on any aspect of our community as it relates to negotiations for involuntary resettlement or any plan in this regard.

We wish to state categorically, that in 2011, even before that fiasco which saw untold damage and destruction to the lives and property of our brothers and sisters in Linden in June 2012, we had written to all political parties and social organisations seeking their support to assist us in our struggles over the onslaught by the Ministry of Public Works. Two of the three political parties responded, one almost immediately, as they had done some legal interventions since 2006, and were more au fait with the situation. The other party responded in 2012 after a second letter was dispatched. In interactions with both those political parties, we stated with much clarity that our request for assistance was based on the fundamental issue that our situation was a social one (a bread and butter issue, in a manner of speaking), and that we would welcome any input to assist in highlighting this, with a view to representing our people, so that justice is served in relation to government transgressions affecting our lives.

Our community was accorded pro bono legal representation by Mr CA Nigel Hughes and a free video called Under the Tamarind Tree speaks to the lives of the people in Timehri North. This documentary was aired nationally on Channels 6 and 9 and in Berbice. We have also been accommodated at a few press conferences to give vent to our side of this situation. Surely, should such an offer have been made by any other organization with a view to assistance, it would have been welcomed. At no time has any political inducement been offered publicly or a suggestion about political preference implied as a result of those mentioned services. And the peoples of our community appreciate and respect that greatly.

We, however, do not wish to engage in trite political shenanigans, which in our minds do nothing for the development of our communities or the lives of our citizens as a whole, instead taking away from our cause and principal concerns – bread and butter issues, stability and continuity.

In this sense we wish to put the government on notice that any negotiations with any political party as it relates to any involuntary relocation plan will be seen as yet another cul de sac and an attempt at making an imposition on yet another community, as was done to the people of Linden. We are not ambivalent about political overtures; after all we are human and Guyanese living in the Guyana political space. We do not intend to be played for cheap political mileage, while our humanity, our dignity and socio-economic well-being is trampled on. We are, and have been, the architects and enablers of our own situation.

Just to clarify some glitches in the use of language being peddled in the media when addressing our issues:

1) We are settlers, we are not squatters. Squatting denotes a certain lifestyle and accommodation that is distant and far removed from what we have in Timehri North. Whoever squats for in excess of 30 years ‒ isn’t that illegal?  The lands that we occupy are state lands that were left desolate and inundated with garbage. In actual fact, areas of the lands occupied were used by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) in those days, as a garbage dump with refuse of untold proportions emanating from and including, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Prison Service, Timehri Remand Centre, all the cargo flight agents, Guyana Airways Corporation, Pan American Airlines and others too numerous to mention.

The use of the word ‘squatters’ in this sense is inaccurate and creates a certain mindset among unsuspecting Guyanese so as to give leverage to the intentions of the government. Only recently, the government gave out in excess of 20 land titles to people in Khali Road, that is, that portion of land south of ours that runs almost directly in the flight path of the 11-29 runway and is in frightening proximity to the aerodrome, while ours lies adjacent to the aerodrome. Is this discriminatory or is it a geographical preference based on political affiliation? Let our citizens be the judge.

2) Minister Benn had stated, “A person who invades another’s property cannot be compensated for that” (KN July 16 caption over 400 house lots under consideration for Timehri ‘squatters’).    One should understand that this property to which the Minister refers is state property, and the people of Timehri North form part of this collective, the ‘state,’ of which the government is the custodian.

3) The residents were promised regularization by a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and that process was initiated. A Parliamentary Secretary is a constitutional office. At no time did the housing ministry revisit and withdraw that assurance. Therefore, Minister Benn’s action in bulldozing in excess of 26 houses in a single day in 2006 was wrong and  illegal, since he does not have the portfolio for housing. At no time was any notice served on the residents by the housing ministry. We have so far not received any word from the Housing Minister as it relates to the involuntary resettlement/relocation plan, and wish to have such a document emanating from the relevant ministry, not the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corporation.

Yours faithfully,
Daniel DA Fraser,
Sr Chairman

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