Georgetown calm, businessmen cautious

Guyana Chronicle
June 18, 1999

COMMERCIAL Georgetown wore a grey look yesterday but the city was calm with show windows barricaded and store entrances and markets partially open, as fearful business people operated cautiously in the wake of Wednesday's raids by roving gangs.

Armed Police maintained patrols and no serious incident was reported.

At the municipal markets, hardest hit by attacks by armed gangs of youths who Wednesday robbed several stall owners and others at Bourda, Stabroek and La Penitence, vendors opened stalls partially.

There was a reasonable turnout of sellers at Bourda but it was clear they were prepared for more trouble.

Chief Constable, Ms. Gail George yesterday said the unit has beefed up security at the markets.

Constables are patrolling 24 hours a day, she reported.

The Chief Constable said that although the Constabulary does not have the full contingent of constables, it has been handling the situation well.

They are working in collaboration with the Police, George added.

"I am afraid to sell. But I got to mind my children", a female vendor said.

The situation was the same at Stabroek.

A vendor there said word was out yesterday morning that the gangs were on the move again.

Many hawkers closed their stalls and hurriedly left the market.

Several such false alarms went off yesterday at the Stabroek Market and vendors said they were very tense as a result.

"We are scared. Everything happen so fast yesterday (Wednesday). One minute you selling and next thing you know, these boys ripping off your apron", a woman said.

She said a gang stole all the money she had made for the day and it was necessary for her to go out again yesterday and do business so that her vegetables would not spoil.

Outside the Stabroek Market, was the usual vibrant activity characteristic of the Stabroek square.

Food vendors continued to sell snacks and drinks and clothes hucksters were also evident.

The La Penitence Market building on the other hand was almost empty with just about half a dozen stalls open.

Most of the business at that market was being done at the two rows of stalls outside the building where more vendors had come out.

Also affected yesterday were mini-bus operators who were plying routes almost empty.

A Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara bus owner said he was waiting for two hours for a full load of passengers to take to Georgetown.

"It's slow. People are not going to town", he said.

Instead of the usual 10 trips per day, this bus has only been making four trips daily since criminal activities began in the city.

A conductor from the Plaisance park in Georgetown, said buses have been going to Georgetown with half a regular load.

The situation was the same with other routes, including Kitty/Campbellville.

Gangs Tuesday attacked mini-buses, smashing windscreens and robbing passengers and others around.

A sense of peacefulness prevailed yesterday around the Magistrates Courts and areas nearby, including the South Ruimveldt and Campbellville/Kitty parks, at around 9:30 hours.

As small bands of striking public servants continued to gather outside the closed Magistrates' and Supreme Courts, along the Avenue of the Republic, Police presence on the streets had decreased.

At around 10:00 hours between seven and 10 striking workers were standing outside the court along Avenue of the Republic, while a Policeman monitored them from behind steel barricades.

Across the road at the High Court, steel barricades remained along the Avenue of the Republic and South Road and King Street junctions. And five Policemen were on alert.

A group of about 20 striking public servants stood behind the restricted area at the corner of Charlotte Street and Avenue of the Republic as three Policemen, armed with batons secured the area.

Additionally, several stores near the courts, which were affected by terror around the city earlier in the week, were open for business yesterday.

And, at around noon, mini-buses, taxis and private vehicles began driving through the city in their usual numbers.

General Secretary of the Justice of the Peace Association (JPA), Mr. Amad Bacchus, in a statement yesterday, said the workers have a legitimate right to strike for their demands, but should do so in a peaceful and organised manner.

Bacchus said the JPA was disturbed that innocent persons were caught in the wave of violence and mayhem.

He said his organisation received reports from several mini-bus drivers that their vehicles were attacked by "small roving bands of young persons."

Business places around the city reported a shortage of some food items, as the now seven-week old public sector strike continues to take its toll.

Of main concern is salt, which businessmen say has skyrocketed from $750 per bag to $1,500.

Ms. Sharon Norton, a Supervisor at Bounty Meat Centre, told the Chronicle yesterday that consumers have begun buying more salt than usual.

She said the costs for other commodities, such as powdered milk and margarine, too, have been hiked because of increased prices from distributors.

According to Norton, Golden Cream Margarine, which was bought wholesale for $139 a pack prior to the strike, is now $167, forcing a retail price of $200.

Prices for local commodities remain stable, but since foreign items cannot be cleared from city wharves, prices for those have escalated.

A check of the Water Street outlet showed some shelves have limited numbers of certain goods, such as Cheekies diapers, soap powder, Trin Chloro bleach and sausage.

Norton said the store was probably doing 50 per cent of its normal business, since people were buying mostly meat items and basic commodities.

She noted that if the goods continue to be held up at the wharves, the store will be forced to cut staff.

At Kwality Super Centre on Regent and Camp streets, a representative told the Chronicle that the current industrial unrest was forcing business places to close earlier than usual.

The supermarket, normally open until 20:00 hours, had to be closed at 19:00 hours this week.

Additionally, the cafeteria is being closed at 19:45 hours now, instead of 21:30 hours, since there are no customers, and because of the general situation in the area.

The Kwality representative said the centre was now doing about 30 per cent of business on any given day.

He pointed out, too, that the main door of the premises remained closed yesterday and the day before.

"Business is badly affected...the full staff is not working because of the situation," he told the Chronicle.

Store owners along Regent Street have thrown up several protective shields, such as steel plates, plywood and zinc sheets to prevent any damage to the buildings.

Gangs stoned several stores during rampages earlier this week in which glass windows were smashed.

Police said an explosive device, suspected to be hand grenade, was thrown at Bhena's Footwear on Regent Street, damaging the front of the building. Glass on the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry across the street was also damaged and there was an attempt to set the Courts branch nearby on fire.

Police used teargas and fired shots to disperse mobs which also stoned police patrols.

A few stores remained closed yesterday, but the majority had a small opening to allow customers entry.

And a number of clothes vendors displayed their merchandise as usual along the pavements yesterday.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples