Normalcy returning to East Coast
In three days there were 40 road blocks
Convoy ran the gauntlet

Stabroek News
April 16, 2001

Traffic flowed easily along the East Coast and West Coast Berbice on Thursday and Saturday, in contrast to earlier in the week when there were incidents of what could be termed 'highway robbery', physical abuse of travellers including five policemen on duty, and damage to property.

Although the vehicular traffic was not as heavy on Thursday as one would have expected on the last day before a long holiday weekend, it was an improvement on the situation earlier this week and last week. There were no roadblocks and no fires along the main thoroughfare.

A squad from the Police Tactical Services Unit had escorted four Banks DIH trucks, which were taking supplies, from Thirst Park to New Amsterdam. The squad remained in New Amsterdam after they had completed that duty.

At intervals along the coast, armed mobile units of the Guyana Police Force were visible.

A police press release issued on Wednesday said that on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, there were some 40 road blocks along the East Coast Demerara, of which over 30 were set on fire. These fires have caused extensive damage to the road surface and bridges along the way.

At least two trucks were set ablaze on Monday at Ann's Grove and Nabaclis and there was an attempt at torching the Gem Cinema at Enmore, but quick action on the part of neighbours who spotted the fire in the building and the guards on duty saved the building from being gutted.

The persons attempting to light the cinema afire gained entry by breaking open a side door. They used a dried coconut thrush soaked in kerosene to set fire to the cinema's screen. Manager of the cinema, Karamchand Ramdhanie, could not estimate the damage, but said that security has been intensified.

Among property damaged on Tuesday night was the old post office building at Ann's Grove. Two ranks of the Guyana Police Force were injured when the stairway to the building collapsed as they tried to save the building from being gutted.

Meanwhile, village leaders of what began as a protest on the East Coast Demerara are currently in discussions with the police towards finding a way to deal with the criminal elements who have infiltrated the protest.

This act of collaboration, which is to identify the criminals and turn them over to the police is to preserve the integrity of protests on the East Coast Demerara, a village leader told Stabroek News.

The police have arrested a number of persons for varying offences including causing public terror and have warned in a release that they would continue to take appropriate action to arrest persons for unlawful activities.

Stabroek News travelled along the East Coast road and spoke with a number of persons who were affected by the blockades at villages including Buxton, Friendship, Paradise, Haslington, Nabaclis, Victoria, Belfield and Ann's Grove.

Wednesday was also relatively quiet as some of the protestors said that they were easing up for two to three days to ensure that children writing the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations were not inconvenienced and possibly to observe Good Friday. However, smoke was still evident from logs at the side of the road and several places along the way.

Many residents along the East Coast Demerara said they had elected to stay home and not take chances. The police also asked persons who had no legitimate business outside their homes to stay home.

Stabroek News also spoke with villagers engaged in the protest as well as drivers of mini-buses who ply the route from Mahaica to Georgetown regularly and some of the persons who were directly affected by the protest, acts of vandalism and robberies.

Among them was Naraindat `Ryan' Persaud of Jonestown, Mahaica, the driver of a truck which was torched at Ann's Grove; and Nabbie Mohamed, owner of another truck, who was intent on going through the blockades and was "roughed up" and robbed at Golden Grove of money and watermelons.

Mohamed, 56, of Stewartville Railway Line, West Coast Demerara said that his losses amounted to over $400,000. He was travelling with his sons Mustaq Mohamed aka Rasheed, who was driving the truck and Yomil Q Mohamed and his 11-year-old grandson Fizul and a friend.

The oldest Mohamed said that in spite of warnings he dared to travel and bulldozed 13 burning barriers in an effort to get to his home on the West Coast Demerara before he was stopped at Ann's Grove on Monday night. Persons who had turned back, he said, told them before they got to Golden Grove that they could not pass because of the fires which had been lit on the road. Two persons who had dared to pass the blockades coming from Georgetown, he said, had the windscreens on their cars smashed.

They reversed and stayed at the village before Ann's Grove where some persons cooked for them. There were about seven vehicles at the same place waiting for the road to clear. At about 9:00 pm, he said, they were told that they could pass. The truck being a heavy-duty vehicle, he said, took the lead. As they bulldozed their way past Ann's Grove and other areas before they got to Golden Grove they were pelted with bottles and bricks. When they got to Golden Grove they were stopped by a large crowd, which barred them from passing. He said that some persons demanded money to pass and when they got none, they took away $51,000 from him and about $37,000 from his younger son and $11,000 from his older son. A passenger from Guava Bush was robbed of seven gold rings valued at about $18,000.

Mohamed said that the thugs got onto the tray and began to throw the watermelons on the road smashing them in the process.

He said that earlier in the day he had bought $180,000 worth of watermelons which he was taking to markets along the East Coast Demerara and in West Demerara. When he saw the damage being done, he said, he made up his mind that they were going to drive through regardless. As they drove through the three tyres were damaged and the truck's windscreen broken but they did not stop. Mohamed said that the tyres were new and he had paid $200,000 for them.

After escaping the crowd, he said, and in spite of the damaged tyres, his son drove to Enmore and made a report at the police outpost there. They spent the night there. During the standoff with the crowd, Mohamed said, they lost their travelling companion from Guava Bush who escaped from the crowd by joining a sugar estate vehicle, which was behind them.

The businessman said that it was the first time he was "working" the truck since he took a loan from a city bank to do business. "All the business money gone. Now me owe people," he lamented.

Mohamed, like other travellers, noted that the protestors were stopping everyone, regardless of their ethnic origin, but they were only robbing persons of Indian origin.

On Monday Stabroek News was caught up in the blockades at Buxton. However, persons were helpful. But this newspaper noticed persons were being asked for a toll to ensure "safe passage" through the village. They paid mainly in $100 bills to the youngsters who made the demands and who would immediately pocket the money and move on.

After being helped through one barrier after another without paying the toll, this newspaper was greeted by "give we something fuh de struggle" at one of the last barriers. However, a person recognised as a village leader told the youngsters to "stop it". They heeded him and moved away allowing the Stabroek News staffers to continue moving through the maze of small streets safely and without being harassed.