Chairman of Region One (Barima-Waini), Brentnol Ashley says the increasing number of Venezuelans is impacting negatively on the border communities and while the region is willing to provide help it also wants to secure the interests of local residents.
“Basically we would’ve had an influx, yes. And the main reasons they come is because of the crisis in Venezuela. Most of them are coming for food and medical services – medication and to seek the services of our medical practitioners,” Ashley said.
The Regional Chairman pointed out that from their observations they have noted that most of the persons who have crossed the Guyana-Venezuela border and have been entering the Barima-Waini region have been seeking help to fight malaria.
Ashley explained that since the Venezuelans are mostly coming from communities around the border, they often seek assistance for malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
He related that while they have no objections “to our brothers and sisters from Venezuela being here to access food and health services” the Region would like to see it done in a manner that will sustain the safety and security of the people of the region.
Ashley also stated that one of the main issues that the people of the region are concerned about is Venezuelan goods being sold on their markets which they say is heavily affecting businesses in the area since they are usually sold at a cheaper price.
“They would’ve raised concerns as it relates to products such as vegetables and livestock that they [Venezuelans] are bringing over in the region that is being sold on the market,” Ashley said, while stating that a lot of concerns have also been raised by the business community who have indicated that their sales have been dropping because of the introduction of cheaper Venezuelan goods on the market.
“They [businesses] are becoming stagnated. The local, regional and national economy isn’t doing much and to have an influx of Venezuelans bringing their products on the market isn’t helping the situation. They sell their stuff cheap,” Ashley noted.
He pointed out that they have noted the Venezuelans selling items including soap power, various utensils, toys, vegetables and livestock including chicken and other meat that they cross the borders with.
“…And this draws a concern … We are seeing it here in the market and the goods are coming in cheaper. They are selling those things and they buy other commodities to take back into Venezuela such as sugar and those other stuff that they cannot find over there so easily,” Ashley added.
He said that they are unable to make pronouncements on how healthy the livestock and vegetables that are being sold by the Venezuelans are since they don’t have any Food and Health Officers in the Region, which he said they are calling for.
“We have the Coast Guard here and GRA [Guyana Revenue Authority] Officers but as it relates to the health standards that these products and produce are we have nobody to say that, so it is basically being sold as a risk on the market,” Ashley said.
When questioned as to how open residents of the region are to doing business with the many Venezuelans, Ashley noted that while most are receptive some are concerned, especially about their safety.
Included in the persons crossing the border, Ashley noted, are Guyanese who would’ve gone to the neighbouring country and would also travel frequently across the border along with their children and Venezuelan natives.
With respect to crime, Ashley said that they have noted some cases of simple larceny and smuggling but they have not been able to gather any substantial evidence to incriminate anyone.
“We are concerned for their [residents’] safety and security and so the Region on a whole would’ve mentioned this to the President [David Granger], relating to him our concern and some of the recommendations. We called for an increased joint services patrol, for the placement of more immigration officers, food and health officers and so forth for the border communities,” Ashley added.
Not fully equipped
He said that currently the Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Police Force and the Region are not fully equipped to deal with any incursion or any other issues that could possible occur. He pointed out that when it comes to mobility and having an available fleet of vehicles to assist with any issues, none of the three of the authorities is properly equipped.
“GDF has one vehicle and an ATV and the police have ATVs but they are not working well. To respond to any situation we have to be on alert at the RDC and we also have a depleted fleet of vehicles so right now we only have about four in Mabaruma and from time to time we have to utilize that too to ensure our security forces are mobile,” Ashley pointed out.
When Chairman of Region 9 (Upper Takutu/Upper Esse-quibo), Bryan Allicock was contacted, he explained that the situation in his area is not as severe as his counterpart in Region 1.
Allicock noted that over the past week they have only noticed about a dozen Venezuelans in the region. He explained that they mostly come to the area to sell their goods and usually leave within a week.
“When one set comes another does go and this is the third set for the year. They stay just over a week and do their business on the road. They usually sell bows and arrows that they make and other craft. Then there’s the other type that usually sell plastic wares and other items and some would stop and clean your car and vehicles for a fee,” Allicock said.
He explained that they have not recorded any trouble that the Venezuelans might have caused and they are relatively quiet in the area, only “going about their business.”
The same has been related to Stabroek News by officials from Region 7.