Dear Editor,

On May 10, 2015 our gold mining dredge in Konawaruk, Region 8 was illegally entered upon and shot up.

We were given permission to work on three blocks owned by the claim holder. In the process of mining we inadvertently ended up on the edge of another block owned by him. We were subsequently informed, after a visit by the GGMC officers, and by the claim holder’s Financial Manager that we are on the wrong block and we needed to move immediately. We then told him that we had already invested 40 drums of fuel to clear and prepare the land and we asked for just one month to work out that pit before moving. We had been paying the 10% rent for which we received receipts.

Despite those payments, we were told to vacate the land immediately and return to the three blocks he had originally given us permission to operate. We then visited his office in Georgetown and pleaded and begged for some time because we owed creditors and had invested so much already. Being unaware that we had stepped out of the boundary, I informed a senior employee that they had never marked out the boundaries of the three blocks for us, so we had no idea that we had entered another block. After begging and pleading didn’t work, we had no choice but to go the legal way.

On April 28, 2015 my Attorney Roger Yearwood secured an Interim Injunction (2015-HC-DEM-CIV-CD-518) issued by Chief Justice Ian Chang against the claim holder, restraining himself, servant and agents from interfering with, obstructing or in any manner preventing the plaintiffs from entering upon and mining the lands contained in Block#H/45/MP/000 during the subsistence of the oral agreement between the parties. This injunction was valid until May18th, 2015.

On May10, 2015, men entered the land and shot up everything in sight. There was a cameraman on the ground and the leading shooter, raised his shotgun, and the owner of the dredge placed himself in front of the gun to avoid bloodshed. At this point the shooter ordered the other three gunmen to start shooting the engines; then they moved to the fuel, resulting in a worker being shot in his head. At this point 26 shotgun rounds were recorded fired. The shooters were videoed picking up the spent shells as they fired. We were able to locate 6 spent shells and turned them in to the police.

The next day, 24 hours after the shooting, two police officers from Mahdia Police Station arrived at the camp. They took statements from four persons out of 19 and proceeded to another camp, ostensibly to arrest the shooters. My husband Mario Figueira, the owner of the dredge, accompanied the police to identify the shooters. After arriving and identifying the shooters, phone calls were made to a senior officer of ‘F’ Division. The shooters subsequently turned themselves in and lodged two of the four guns that were used. Two of the spent shells that we handed in matched the guns they turned in. They were then released on their own recognizance and told to report to the Mahdia station the following week. The case was called in the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court on June 7, 2015 and the men were placed on $150,000 bail each. The prosecutor did not object to bail, neither did he present the case. My attorney K A Juman-Yassin had to stand up and represent us. The case was then transferred to the Mahdia court.

Since then we have been attending the Mahdia court which only operates every three months. The trial has been set to start on January 18, 2016. We also sued the claim holder for damages. We have also written many times to the President and the ministers and have not received any positive feedback.

We have since not been able to work and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that Guyana does not have the capacity to handle. We have been getting counselling from friends and family. Our biggest disappointment is with the judicial system, the police investigation and this new government. We have been running everywhere for some relief, just a glimmer of hope, but none has come and we are left tattered and torn.

I would like the claim holders in Guyana that are doing the same things, if not to that extreme, to know that small miners work hard and take a gamble every day with their lives in the interior. They risk losing their families, money, lives, health and sanity. Then claim holders at their own whim and fancy just decide to come and bully them because they can. It is a terrible and prevalent practice and it needs to be addressed immediately. Everyone has the right to work; this is our land. No one man could work 1000 claims on his own. Let the small miners eat. We sell our gold to Guyana Gold Board; we support the local shops and stores; we provide employment and we cause less destruction to the environment. Have you ever heard of a small miner smuggling gold? Or causing a devastating environmental breach like Omai? Please Guyana wake up and see what is going on in your backyard; not because you can’t see it means it doesn’t exist.

Let us talk out against these claim holders. Let us come together.

 

Yours faithfully,

Alisha Figueira

Figaro Mining