Through the contraband trade Venezuela once fed Guyanese

Dear Editor,

Reading what is taking place in Venezuela under the Nicolás Maduro government aches my heart. This was a country I happened to live in under the Luis Herrera Campins government in the early 1980s, after things became rough in Guyana. This country was full of opportunity in those days and it opened its arms to thousands of Guyanese from all walks of life, even giving them jobs on the Guri hydroelectric power station dam in the Necuima Canyon in Orinoco.

Before going to live in Tucupita which is the capital city of the Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro, I was trading with contraband goods from Imbotero on the Guyana-Venezuela border to the Essequibo Coast. Basic food items were in short supply on the shelves in every shop, and jobs were hard to get. I was trading first from Crabwood Creek with flour, split peas, garlic, soap, salt, onions, butter, etc, etc. Those who were in the contraband trade will tell you it’s not an easy job. It was a real hustle and you had to give every policeman a top-up or your goods would be confiscated.

I had to wake up at 9pm at night and travel to Adventure stelling, then board the ferry at 3 am in the morning, travel straight to Crabwood Creek, buy my goods and head out back to the Essequibo Coast. I would reach my home at 1 the next morning, catch a little sleep, wake up early then walk the road and hide and sell my contraband goods. After a while things got rough; the police were seizing my goods and I would lose all the money I invested, but that did not deter me. I would sell another of my bulls and raise money. This time I decided to ply my contraband trade across the Guyana-Venezuela border in the North West District. I would take 5 bags of rice to Mabaruma and sell it; rice was scarce and I made a good turnover.

I would invest that money and buy goods. I had to hide my contraband goods in big jute bags (rice bags) between fruits and ground provisions to pass the Customs and police officers at Mabaruma and Charity. The trade became rough again and before I lost all my money again I decided to head out to Venezuela in search of a job. I boarded a contraband boat at Charity and went to Tucupita. I spent a short time with my Guyanese family who was living there then I went to live with a Venezuelan family of 6 who adopted me as their son. I couldn’t speak Spanish at the time of going there. The family began to teach me their language and after a while I became fluent.

I started to travel with this Venezuelan family to different states across all over Venezuela. This country was very rich in oil and food was plentiful. I even visited the ranches, farms and big cities. Things were very cheap in the shops, stores and supermarkets; the only thing which was a bit expensive was clothing. This country was feeding Guyanese with hundreds of boatloads of goods every week; the people were very friendly and they would open their arms to Guyanese.

There were a lot of American investments in Venezuela in the ʼ80s. I saw the fanciest cars and big skyscrapers, large cement and fertilizer factories, canning factories and soap factories; this was a highly industrialized country rich with everything.

Today when you read how these people are starving in a country which used to feed us in the dark days, it aches your heart. They deserve help now; they were buying our rice and paddy at a high price and supplying us with oil to keep our country going.

Yours faithfully,

Mohamed Khan

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