Residents of Mocha Arcadia, East Bank Demerara yesterday voiced their disapproval at the Ministry of Communities’ plans to relocate squatters from Lombard and Broad streets to the extension of Barnwell North.
At a community meeting organised by the Mocha Arcadia Neigh-bourhood Democratic Council (NDC) at the community primary school, residents highlighted possible social issues their community could be plagued with.
Many residents said that they are fearful that robberies and drug trafficking would be on the rise in the community. Other residents said that they are against the move since the lands in question are ancestral lands and it would be an intrusion on the government’s part if the plan receives the green light. A few said that they are children of original residents and to secure a piece of land has been an issue for them. Therefore, they said that it would be unfair and disrespectful if squatters from Lombard and Broad streets are given a free pass to occupy the lands in their community.
On July 31, Minister in the Ministry of Communities, Valerie Patterson-Yearwood, who heads the Department of Housing, announced that they would be partnering with Food for the Poor in a $72 million project to relocate the residents squatting in shacks at the corner of Lombard and Broad streets. Up to July 31, neither the NDC nor residents of Mocha Arcadia had been consulted on the plan.
Patterson-Yearwood has said that $42 million would be spent for the construction of 70 homes, while $30 million would be disbursed on infrastructure development, including a road. Each home was expected to cost $1.2 million and be 16×20.
At the meeting last night, NDC Chairman Rudolph Adams related that at a meeting with the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) last Monday they made their objections known and expressed the council’s disappointment at being informed of the plans via the media.
He noted that the consultation yesterday was held to listen to residents’ views and relay these back to the CH&PA.
Collin Reece said that he is against the plan for the relocation since “I know what is coming here. It is a different culture, people with different norms and behaviour and they are very difficult to control. The police in the city cannot control them you think the police sleeping at our outpost would be able to control them?”
Reece went on to relate that Mocha Arcadia is battling with its own social issues and should the squatters occupy lands in the selected area it would only contribute negatively to the community.
“I don’t think we would be privileged to leave our shops and doors open and sleep… criminal activities are going to increase and I can say this because I know what it is like on Broad Street… we have to protect ourselves,” the resident said, voicing his disapproval.
Another resident who did not give her name, expressed similar sentiments and suggested that the community only allows a few families to occupy housing at the proposed site.
Adams had told Stabroek News last week that “our recommendation to them is though we understand the Ministry’s mandate, we were asking that they distribute (to other areas), because they’re saying it’s 45 families…And perhaps we can get more socially out of it and so forth.” He related that the authorities at CH&PA committed to examining their recommendations and they are expected to engage in further discussions.
Troyden Lewis, a resident and a farmer who is also against the ministry plan, said that for years, residents have been waiting for documentation for their lands and to date they not been able to receive it. “If these people come they would get their documentation before us?” he asked, adding that the lands earmarked are what they use to farm on and are deemed ancestral lands.
Another farmer, Dexter Thomas questioned what would happened to farmlands they have already paid the Lands and Survey for while noting that some farmers are unable to use some sections of the land since it is a swamp.
Meanwhile, Vernon Prince told the community leaders and residents to make a “strong case” of disapproval and present it to the authorities. “We have to stand up for our rights and I am sure the government of the day would listen to us”, he noted.
Overseas-based Guyanese, Carol Williams called on residents to attend the Commission of Inquiry on Ancestral Lands and other Land matters on October 2. Williams explained that her research has shown that the lands proposed for use are
ancestral lands and it is “not fair for it to be distributed to people outside of this community.”
Also having her say was the NDC Vice Chairman Nima Bess. She stated that the transfer would constitute culture shock for the squatters since they would not be willing to adapt to the lifestyle of Mocha Arcadia. “We also have to look at the social implications that this move would have on us and them… it would be devastating,” she noted.
Last week, CH&PA, Chief Executive Officer Lelon Saul said “First and foremost, the consultation with the council was not timely. The residents of Mocha Arcadia, I think they learned of our decision via the media, which I think was bad. We should have consulted with them first.”
The CH&PA CEO explained that there is no intention of “imposing our will upon the people of Mocha Arcadia. It is an engagement and we want them to find favour with our position.”
The squatting area came to public attention after former Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence in September, 2016, led a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the area as part of their first country visit to Guyana.
A statement from the IACHR on the September 21 to 23 visit said in part, “During its visit to the neighbourhood of Lombard Street, the IACHR delegation was shocked by the extreme poverty and precarious living conditions of its inhabitants. The community comprises approximately 40 adults and 80 children with clear housing, sanitation, and health problems, as well as limited work opportunities and scant social services provided by the State. During the visit to the community, the IACHR was accompanied by Minister Volda Lawrence, who pledged to continue to work to improve the situation and opportunities of the community’s residents. The IACHR calls upon the State to adopt urgent steps to improve the socioeconomic (situation) of the Lombard Street residents and to create, immediately and without delay, conditions that allow them to exercise all their human rights”.