Smuggling of drugs and arms and ammunition, and prostitution are just some of the illegal activities that the border community of Kaikan, in Upper Cuyuni, Region Seven, is currently grappling with due to the presence of Venezuelans, according to Toshao Marlon Williams.
Speaking to Stabroek News on the sidelines of day one of the 12th annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, Williams noted that Kaikan, which has a population of 380 persons, has seen an increase in illegal activities being carried out by the Venezuelans.
“The understanding people may have from this end, like those at the ministry, is that these persons are refugees. Some parts of our borders may be faced with that scenario of having refugees or their families returning looking for better living and so over in Guyana. But in my community the scenario is different: Venezuelans are coming in to do business. They would come to sell fuel and foodstuff to maintain their families. We understand the fact that the country is going through some hardship right now, but we also would find people coming to do illegal business, such as drugs—marijuana, cocaine— or are smuggling firearms. You would even hear of women coming over to do prostitution… Some ladies also double as drug mules,” the toshao explained. “We understand that this is happening because of what is taking place on the other shore right but what is happening right now is that the community is under threat whereby we are prone to diseases, we have people known at the Syndicatos doing illegal businesses,” he added.
Williams noted, too, that while the village would have depended on the police and Guyana Defence Force for protection and the enforcement of the law, many have complained that both security bodies have failed to effectivity carry out their duties and, therefore, they have taken small steps to protect their home.
“We have had issues where we use to allow them (Venezuelans) to do their business because we didn’t want to stop anybody but we have had cases where they started to steal from the homes of community members, thieving clothes, going in peoples’ homes and thieving food stuff, fruits from people’s trees. Recently, what we decided as council is to find ways and means to control them and that is what we did before I came up here,” Williams explained.
One of the systems they would have put in place was moving to ensure Venezuelan traders are in a centralised location within the village to conduct legal business. “Most of the people (villagers) are accustom to getting things from across the shore but instead of having them going all over the village, we have them at one place and when they finished we send them back,” Williams related.
“None of them are actually living on Guyana’s shore, they just come to do business and then they go back over. But the thing that is affecting the community is drugs are being brought across to Guyana,” he added.
Williams also said they would have recently introduced a Community Policing Group with help from the Ministry of Public Security, whose administrators had travelled to the community to introduce it formally.
“It is voluntary but… we are dealing with people who have guns, so I see that as one of my main concerns. I would request that the policing group have more training and be better equipped to handle these situations,” the toshao said.
“We have had a recent issue where they caught a Venezuelan with a certain amount of marijuana. This has been happening for years but the security men, soldiers and police here were not so effective in doing their jobs since they are not really interested in the concerns of the community,” he added, while noting that illegal activities are also reported to be taking place further down the river, outside of their titled land.
In terms of the pressures on the health resources of the village due to the presence of more Venezuelans Williams said they do not restrict the Venezuelans from seeking medical attention at the community health centre and as a result it does put a strain on the resources.
“We do not restrict them from coming because sometime earlier in the year the President was there and in his speech he said we do not want to close doors to people coming in. We understand that we were in a situation like this some years ago, so services, like health, are open. We assist them with medical supplies and so,” he added.
He further noted that requests are often made to have an increased drug supply to cater to the needs of the Venezuelans who seek treatment as well as villagers who may be in need.
When asked if there are still instances where staff at the health centre are harassed by unruly Venezuelans seeking medical attention, Williams said they have since managed to have better control over such situations.
“At the moment the flu is going around and villagers are affected relatively fast..,” he added, while noting that he planned to approach the Ministry of Public Security during the week-long conference for assistance to address the issues mentioned.