In the backdrop of a raft of complaints from Guyanese fisherfolk working in Suriname, the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) will tomorrow inform the National Assembly that it intends to table a motion on the issue.
“We intend to raise this matter in parliament on Friday,” Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo told a press conference yesterday as he spoke about his recent trip to Suriname, where he met with the family of victims of last month’s horrific piracy attack that has left three dead and twelve missing. All of the victims are believed to be Guyanese.
“The reason I have been speaking about it, although we will raise it on Friday, is that I don’t want to win mileage in parliament for this tragedy. We are not carrion crows like some people are who pick on people’s tragedies. I am raising them, because I want the minister to know what will be in our motion, long ahead before we raise it in parliament and it is debated. So you have a chance to come prepared to address these issues,” he added.
The Opposition Leader had travelled to Suriname on Saturday, along with former Attorney General and PPP/C Parliamentarian Anil Nandall, to meet with relatives of victims of the gruesome piracy attacks on local fishermen which occurred on April 27th and May 3rd. Three persons have been confirmed dead and 12 are missing and feared dead. They are all said to be Guyanese.
Calling the murderous acts of piracy “an act of terrorism”, Jagdeo has called for swift collaborative efforts between the two nations’ governments in bringing justice for the crimes committed.
He had also, during the meeting, committed that his party will do all that it can, both in and out of parliament, to assist , including working with the Government to bring relief to this situation.
It is for this reason that he said that tomorrow he will notify the House that not only a debate on the issue was needed at the highest level, but there needs to be swift, tangible action from this country’s government and that information needs to be made public.
“I made it clear that we did not want to treat this as a political matter…we wanted our presence there to raise the level of awareness to government and to push them to act in a manner befitting …the horrific nature of this crime. It calls for exceptional ways in approaching it, not routine,” he said.
Further, he added, “We want to know what is being done on both sides, the level of collaboration between Guyana and Suriname on this issue, not just the backslapping that (makes it look like) we are collaborating fully. We want to know that the two security forces are collaborating at the highest level to ensure that we catch these perpetrators. We want assurances from the Minister. We want to know what is being done collaboratively to ensure the safety of people at sea. Unless they feel safe they will not go back out to earn their livelihood. We wish to find out from the minister what level of assistance he is prepared to give…we have been calling on them since Sunday to assist financially, so he [the Minister of Public Security] will tell us about that.”
Ninety five percent
Jagdeo said that while the Surinamese fishing industry is controlled by businessmen from that nation, Guyanese fishermen make up for some 95% of their boat crews. “Ninety five percent of all fishing in Surinamese waters are done by Guyanese for Surinamese boat owners,” he said.
But the waters the locals work in are very rough in terms of piracy acts and they have expressed that they work under duress, being in constant fear that they would be attacked given the prevalence of that crime in Suriname waters.
“Over the weekend I visited the Guyanese community in Suriname. We had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of Guyanese who have been affected, in one way or another by the tragedy. It is not that they are not being hijacked, they are not hijacked in Guyana’s waters routinely …. You can listen to the tape of the people who stood up and told of how many times it happens,” he related.
Key among the concerns of fisherfolk was the fact that when they are robbed and terrorised at sea and return to make complaints to the Surinamese authorities, their reports seem to fall on deaf ears.
“Listening to their concerns, their anguish and pain and fears leads me to believe that we are not treating this issue as seriously as it should be treated,” he added.
Critics have charged that the PPP/C governments headed by Jagdeo were unable to rein in piracy and there were frequent eruptions of such acts in Guyana’s and Suriname’s waters during that period.
Jagdeo blasted Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan for not being proactive when he heard of the tragedy. Jagdeo believes that Ramjattan only travelled to Suriname after learning that he (Jagdeo) was already there and meeting with locals. Ramjattan’s meeting of persons at the Guyana Embassy in Suriname and not in Guyanese communities also irked the Opposition Leader.
“Imagine eight or nine days after the `massacre’ as described by our president” then you go? You could have picked up a phone the next day you could have go on the internet. This represents lack of care, nothing else,” he posited.
“If they had gone and met with Guyanese on the ground instead of in the embassy, then they would have realized how serious this matter is and we would not have routine statements coming from the government in addressing this matter… What is the embassy in Suriname doing? How far it goes to protect Guyanese abroad?” he questioned.