Mocha Arcadia residents raise concerns of discrimination, victimization and fight for ancestral lands with US Congressman

Mocha Arcadia residents raise concerns of discrimination, victimization and fight for ancestral lands with US Congressman

By Svetlana Marshall

Residents of Mocha Arcadia and surrounding communities on the East Bank of Demerara did not hold back on voicing their concerns this morning when they met with visiting US Congressman, Johnathan Jackson.

Many of them highlighted issues of racial discrimination, victimization, injustice in the housing sector, underdevelopment and inhumane treatment meted to a large section of Guyanese by the current administration.

In the presence of Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy, Opposition Member of Parliament, Nima Flue-Bess told the US Congressman that after 130 years, the people of Mocha Arcadia are still battling to save the lands they inherited from their ancestors.

MP Flue-Bess, who is also a resident of Mocha Arcadia, said the situation hit rock bottom on January 5, 2023, when the Government bulldozed the homes of a number of residents in Cane View – leaving the majority of them homeless, and without a livelihood. 

She presented the US Congressman with information and details of the demolition exercise, and the treatment meted out to the residents of Cane View, as their homes were demolished.

Jumping to the defence of the Government, Rawle Aaron of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA), told the US Congressman that after identifying the path for the highway, the Government contacted 34 families, and of that number, seven of them chose not to relocate. He said the 27 families, who opted to be compensated by the Government, are now living on titled lands in the housing communities of Herstelling and Farm, comfortably. 

But Lashona Ellis, who was among the Cane View residents severely affected by the demolition exercise, told Congressman Jackson that Government’s offer was simply unacceptable. 

“For me, we didn’t collect the money because $5M can’t build a house for nobody in Guyana; $5M cannot build a house for a family of nine. We had cattle, we had farm, where are we going to put all of this when they are relocating you to a residential area, where you can’t do all of these things. Most of our money, our earnings came from these things, and the government has put us in a situation whereby we can’t be comfortable and we want to live,” Ellis said. 

Ellis said to date, her three-year-old daughter remains traumatized after witnessing the destruction of her home on January 5, 2023. With nowhere left to go, Ellis and her daughter had cause to seek refuge at relatives and friends. “I am still sleeping on the floor with my daughter,” she said.  

To compound the situation, Ellis said more than a year ago, she paid for a house lot and to date, she cannot be shown the plot of land by the Housing and Planning Authority. 

Another resident, Mark Hyman, said he repeatedly visited CHPA on numerous occasions to find a resolution, after telling the Government that its offer was insufficient. He said with little notice, his cattle farm was destroyed, leaving his animals exposed and a number of them missing.

“I start back again, in the back dam, but right I suffering with the water level. I am suffering, and I just asked them to assist me to build back my thing, let I get through back with my livelihood,” Hyman said. 

  Shevon Eastman, who was arrested as she attempted to safeguard her home during the demolition exercise, said her home and shop were demolished with nowhere to go. 

“They came the 3rd [of January] they broke the bridge; they came the 4th and they told us that they got to break the building. I said man, I am going to become homeless. When the police told me they have to break the place, I said you don’t have to because these people promised me a land at Great Diamond to relocate, and if you guys are not giving me this land to relocate to Great Diamond because it is in preparation, how can I move?” she recalled. 

The issue of flooding in the community was also raised.

“2020, they said they were building a bridge and they blocked the drainage canal, all the farmers lost. 2022, deliberate flooding was done to this community from water being drained from other communities into the canal, and there is no pump there. So, all the water is being flooded on our farmers, and thirdly, 2024, now in this rainy season, I am witnessing again the loss of many crops as a result of works that were not done during the dry season,” MP Flue-Bess said, while calling for residents of Mocha to be treated equally.

An elderly woman from Peter’s Hall, Vashi Fredericks, said the people of Peter’s Hall are also suffering at the hands of Government. 

“Concerning Peter’s Hall residents and the bridge that is there, it is a lot of disadvantage going on, terrorism and bullyism, I tell you that much. There was no legal document that came to us when this bridge start. They started the project and then they came to us, we had to move out in three months…the government had no policy for us, no principle, nothing at all,” Fredericks said, 

Another resident, told the US Congressman, that there is no “One Guyana”. He said the Government is using tax payers’ dollars to further divide the nation, and it is evident not only in Mocha but across the country. 

“The system of apartheid and slavery is still evident among us. This government sir, appointing a few of us, if you notice how this place divided. You see us as one, but we are not one. The government is using each other to divide us, pick a few, give them a few pittance and they turn against us. There is no development, all the efforts are to destroy us,” he said. 

It was pointed out that in coordinating today’s event, the Chairman of the Neighbourhood Democratic Council was not informed, but rather the Government hand picked a Councillor to represent the NDC at the meeting. 

An attempt by Minister McCoy to justify the actions of Government and reject claims of racial discrimination was met with loud heckling by those who attended the meeting.

Congressman Jackson said he wanted to understand the plight and concerns of the people.

“I would like to limit this conversation to the residents reporting to me,” Congressman Jackson said, much to the satisfaction of the residents present.

After hearing the views of the residents, Congressman Jackson said he will make the concerns of the residents known to President Ali, as well as his colleagues in the US. 

“I will share this information with my colleagues, the ranking members of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Leader of the Democratic Party and with my colleagues, and I will encourage them to come down here,” the US Congressman said. 

Congressman Jackson held separate meetings with the Government and Opposition during his visit.

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