Medical team takes Buxton to heart
Stabroek News
April 25, 2004

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Guiana - Bitter Harvest - 25 min 00 sec [8 April 2004]

It’s just after nightfall in Guyana, a country on the northern edge of South America. The streets are deserted – people here are afraid. A spiral of racial violence is strangling the country.

PTC This wall is a good indication of what’s going on in Guyana at the moment. There are a lot of wanted posters particularly for murders and people who armed. It’s thought that these people on the run are responsible for a lot of the shootings going on here at the moment.

COMMMurder footage This former British colony is racked by economic insecurity. And as the uncertainty increases, impoverished Guyanese are turning on each other. Killings that they call ‘street justice’.


GVs of Georgetown Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. The average income is under twenty dollars a week. This abject poverty is fuelling killings where both Indians and Africans are dying. Ethnic tensions and gang violence have led to over 200 murders in the last year.With a population of just over 700,000 bloodshed has become commonplace.

COMMZaiba driving to the city morgue You don’t have to wait long to get news news of another killing.Someone had called us to say a body had been found in a sugar cane field. We headed for the city morgue. When we got there, the body was just arriving in the back of an old hearse.This is everyday business for the local news station. Another camera crew was already there

ZAIBA PTC I don’t really want to take a look to be honest. I can see his feet and that’s all I need to see. Apparently he’s been shot in the head.

COMM Horror has become mundane in Guyana, part of everyday life in the former colony.

SYNCRadio Announcement The police have no idea so far who this man is. He appears to be about 35 years old. The man was wearing a silver chain with a tattoo on his left shoulder with the name Raulston

COMMGVs of Guyana The nationalised sugar industry is Guyana’s biggest employer. Money from exporting the crop, mainly to Europe, has helped to prop up an otherwise crumbling economy. But now that economic lifeline may be severed.The World Bank has told the industry to cut costs. And that means cutting jobs.

SYNC ZAIBA This is the sweetest thing ever. It’s bad for your teeth

COMM There’s nothing sweet about the future for these workers. A longstanding arrangement to sell sugar to the European Union at subsidised prices is also under threat.

COMM At the Wales plant, it’s the last day of the harvest.

SYNC BRAMBLE If this thing close how many people will suffer? You have about 1700 people working on this estate.

SYNC ZAIBA And how many are there in Guyana?

SYNC BRAMBLE Oh you have eight. An average of 20,000 workers. And you have over 60,000 people depend on this 20,000.

COMM With a population of less than a million the economic impact of losing over five thousand jobs will be severe. But many believe that closures will exacerbate the ethnic violence that already exists between Africans and Indians.

SYNC ZAIBA What will happen if the sugar industry closes down?

SYNC WORKERS It will be like a ghost town. You will have more crime. Definitely more crime. You will have more crime because people out of job. This is a both race cooperation. Both race work here. If this close I try and take away what you have. That will be the ending of it.

COMM For the moment Indians and Africans work side by side on the sugar plantations. But in the towns and villages racial violence is already staining Guyana’s landscape. I headed to the house of an Indian family whose father had been murdered a few days ago.

ZAIBA PTC Francis Singh’s family are holding a Hindu ceremony this morning to pray that after his violent death he be allowed to rest in peace.

COMMIndian ceremony For many families in Guyana, life still revolves around the customs and ceremonies of their forefathersFrancis Singh was a bus driver who was shot in the head as he drove through a village called Buxton. His family think he was killed simply because he was Indian.

ZAIBA PTC These four boys wearing white shirts are Francis Singh’s sons

COMMTruck sequence After the ceremony, one of the sons, Prem showed me the bus that Francis Singh had been driving

ZAIBA SYNC You’re saying that your father was killed because he was an Indian driving throuh Buxton. If he’d been African he wouldn’t have been touched.

ZAIBA SYNC Were there any passengers with your father?

SYNC SON There were nine passengers in the bus. One in the front seat, one in the left hand seat and eight in the back

ZAIBA SYNC Were they Indian?

SYNC SON No one was Indian. All the rest were Negro.

ZAIBA SYNC So none of the Africans were targeted in the bus? Just your father?

SYNC SON No just my father

ZAIBA SYNC And has there been any investigation by the police?

SYNC SON Well the police say they investigate but me no hear nothing

SYNC ZAIBA The police aren’t investigating? They haven’t arrested anyone even though there were nine witnesses in the back of the car?

SYNC SON Nobody investigating

COMMVan followed by entrance to Annandale Prem isn’t hopeful that his father’s killers will ever be caught. He has little faith in a police force where 80% of the officers are African In Guyana, ethnic divisions are visible at all levels – political allegiances, employment and where people have settled. This is a divided land.I headed to Annandale, an almost exclusively Indian township a few miles outside the capital Georgetown.

ZAIBA PTC It’s really when you start heading out of the capital into the rural areas that you start seeing real signs of segregation. There are whole villages here that are occupied solely by Indians or Africans

COMMShop Many Indians have set up their own businesses. They say that at times of economic hardship their wealth makes them prime targets for some Africans.

COMMHoles in wire grid A few months ago, a shop-owner, Basil Singh, was serving at this counter when a gang of blacks came in and shot him dead. His wife witnessed his murder.

SYNCMrs Singh He was a very nice man. Everybody talk good about him. He was very jolly to every customer. I miss him so much

COMM Basil Singh was shot seven times. His son Muneshwar was shot in the thigh

ZAIBA SYNC You tried to help your dad and you were shot as well?

SYNC SON Yes I was shot as well. I fell to the ground. They escaped. They gained entry and they fled to Buxton.

COMMShop scenes Buxton is the neighbouring African village and – according to these shopkeepers – it’s where most of the trouble comes from. A few months before his murder Basil Singh’s shop along with other local businesses had come under siege. The constant feeling of racial insecurity has made some long for the old colonial days.

SYNCMrs Singh When it was British, things wasn’t like this, and things were cheaper. You could get everything more nice. But now things have changed a lot. We want the British to come back We feel we’d be more safe.

COMMNight shots In Guyana segregation can be heard as well as seen

ZAIBA PTC It’s funny when you’re in Annandale all you ever here is Indian music. When you’re in Buxton it’s reggae

COMM In the last year over 20 police officers have been killed in Guyana. Their patrols have become less visible and people are now arming themselves.

SYNC ZAIBA Do you have a gun? Do you have a weapon?

SYNC SON Yes I have a personal weapon. Not a policing weapon. My own personal weapon

COMM Basil Singh’s killers are still free. His son is worried about future attacks.

SYNC Is that an automatic?Yes And it’s loaded now?

COMM He told me that his friends had formed a group to patrol the streets

SYNC Are they on patrol now?Yes they’re out there

COMMBOYS WALK OFF WITH GUNS IN HAND But these men aren’t lawless vigilantes. They’ve been given permission by the police to set up an armed patrol unit. They’ve been trained to use their weapons and have licences for them

SYNC So this is the licence you carry and you carry it all the time? I just want to keep my feet away from the bottom of your gun. So the serial numbers are there. Do the police ever come to check your weapons?

SYNC MAN Yes when the police patrol come. They go OK

COMM You don’t have to walk far in Annandale to come across stories of violence.

COMM Michael’s house was raided by gunmen who took his father hostage

SYNC When your father was kidnapped did they ask for a ransom, did they ask for money?


SYNC ZAIBA Was any of it paid?

SYNC MAN No. They killed him. He was fighting with them

SYNC ZAIBA So they killed him anyway?

SYNC MAN Yes - five shots on the face

SYNC ZAIBA So why did they target him? Was there any reason?

SYNC MoneyThey knew he had money?Yes But they still killed him anyway?Money take too long to come. We don’t keep that kind of cash at homeBut you’ve got guns nowGuns? That’s a joke. Man got AK47 and M70And what have you got? Three gunsShotguns - they shoot bird

COMM They took me to Annandale’s frontline. The barrier symbolised the racial disintegration of the country.

SYNC So why have you put barricades up?So they can’t come back inBuxton’s on the other side, is it?Just overBut they could easily jump overWell they won’t take a chance because they get this. The first time they come to attack we don’t have weaponsSo this is the only way you could defend yourselves before - put up barricades?But now you’ve got guns, things are easier for youAll the streets that lead up to Buxton you’ve put barricades up?Mot of them are barricaded to stop people coming in

ZAIBA PTC This is like being in Northern Ireland. The only thing is in Guyana the differences are racial not religious

COMM In an effort to combat poverty, the government has set up a number of new housing projects. But there have been problems here too. One of them got a visit from the Prime Minister.

PTC We’re following the Prime Minister’s convoy into a township called Colingden. There have been a spate of attacks against Indians there

COMM Prime Minister Sam Hinds is an African in a predominantly Indian government.

SYNC PM I’m pleased to have the opportunity to tour with you, visit with you, and to give you assurance we are aware of this place and your needs here

SYNC Basically we need lights. Once we get the lights we’ll be OK because we’ll be able to see who stooping, crawlingWe need a telephone so we can communicate with the police very fastWe need lightsThe entrance that these bandits use we have to put up a wallWe have to do things the right way. Not just saying it

SYNC PM I hear you and I promise to work as hard as I can - every hour of the dayI’m not going to fool you. If I don’t have the money, I can’t get it done

PTC This is indicative of the kind of criticism that the government is coming under at the moment Colingden is predominantly Indian area. There’s a big crime wave problem here. It’s very near Buxton and the people here are obviously very worried

COMM The Prime Minister went to look at the problem for himself.

COMM The government’s solution to ethnic violence- to erect more barriers and to hand out more guns seemed like a dangerous one.

SYNC Prime Minister, can I ask you something? Do you think that setting up these policing units and arming people will lead to vigilante groups?I think community policing groups has been a good event in Guyana for a number of reasons. It supplements the police force. It also creates some identity and good relations among the law-abiding public and the police. So we see some positives in it and hopefully it helps the community to take a position against crime and criminals.

COMM I decided it was time to go to Buxton to find out how they saw the problem

PTC You see quite a lot of traffic going up and down this road. But it’s really rare to see people move between Buxton and Annandale

COMM Three years ago when an Indian-backed government was voted into power, there were riots in these streets.Indians in neighbouring villages were attacked but the people of Buxton say they too are suffering – victims of economic discrimination. Unemployment here runs at over 70%.

SYNC WOMAN They need jobs. And that is our greatest problem. We need jobs. If they will create jobs for us because you’ve got all these private sectors opening businesses and most people they are taking on is one ethnic group. Indians. If they take on black - it is one black they are taking on and the rest is Indian. So we are suffering.So the Indians are getting all the jobs?Is getting all the jobs. The contracts - the Indians getting the contracts. They might take down a few laymen but if you walk around Guyana you can see it. But the government’s not doing anything to help?No nothing to help. Because who dying? Me race dying.

COMM Although the majority of police officers are African, some in Buxton see them as agents of an Indian government. This lack of trust is exacerbated by allegations that some officers are taking the law into their own hands.The current spate of violence seems to have started with the death of a man Shaka Blair, shot by the police over a year ago. The police claim that they acted in self-defence after Shaka fired first.His cousin took me to the house where it happened.

SYNC RANDOLPH BLAIR Can you just tell me what happened the night he was shot?This is where he was - where they shot him and dragged him down the stairs. They shot him and dragged him and took him away.So he was shot by the police?Shot by the police. And this is where the whole thing started in Buxton.So Shaka’s death sparked off all the violence that’s going on here?Yes

COMM Poverty and disaffection have led to a growing drugs trade here. Gang warfare means that Africans are killing Africans.Shaka’s immediate family have fled Guyana, fearing for their lives.

SYNC RANDOLPH BLAIR After his death I think people realised that it was the police it was alleged it was the police that done that. So people feel that they have no alternative but to take things into their own hands and protect themselvesCan you just show us where there have been a couple of shootings round here?Just at this spot here a man died. A rasta guy. He was watching a video and he was shot. This building was burned down earlier this year. This small house is a recent killing about three weeks ago.What happened there?People came in and killed about three guys. We don’t know who it is.Do the police ever get involved?The police came and removed the body. They say that investigations are going on.But no-one ever gets arrested for these murders?Nobody ever gets arrested

COMM In such a lawless atmosphere, there are as many rumours as fact. This young man, Randy Joseph, says he’s the victim of a gang called the Phantoms, said to be working in conjunction with some sections of the police. Whether the gang actually exists is unclear, but it’s the name now given to everyone’s worst fears.Randy says he was picked up by the police for no good reason, and then handed over to the Phantoms who tortured him and sliced his tongue in two

SYNC My son RandyHelloWhat did they do to you?They beat me, shocked me up and I got black outThey electrocuted you? And they tried to cut your tongue off? Did you recognise the people who tortured you?Yeah I recognised themThey were local people?YeahBut you say you were taken from the police station by police officers to this phantom house?YeahAnd that is where you were tortured?

COMM The Phantom death squad have entered Buxton’s mythology – any unexplained crime is now their work

SYNC Who do you think these people are? They are ordinary people, just like you or me. But they’ve been paid to kill people.Paid by who?I don’t know but somebody is paying them. And the government they know about the phantom, they’ve got to know about the phantom because they’re not doing anything about it. Everyday life is going down and there is nobody interested in human life Who are they killing?Well they’re killing African people. Everyday African people dying. They may get a few Indians like one or two but the majority is like five or ten black people. And they get one or two Indian.

COMMGVs of police station The government has set up a Commission to investigate killings by the police. Its report found an extremely high number of deaths – 62 in two years. The Commission’s recommendations – fewer armed officers and more training have yet to be implemented.

SYNC DEPUTY COMMISSIONERLEON TRIM Tell him to calm down. You don’t know what are the facts. Let us look at the facts of the matter……

COMM At the police headquarters news was coming in of a shooting that had occurred that morning. A police officer had shot a passer by on a main road in the capital.

PTC The information is still coming in. But he doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on.

SYNC ZAIBA Have you not lost control of your police officers. Like this shooting this morning - there seem to be a lot of shootings by the police here

SYNC LEON TRIM I wouldn’t say that we’ve lost control. But some police officers - you know we are human. From what I understand it was an accidental discharge and those things happen. Those things happen in any police force.

SYNC ZAIBA But what about these allegations about the phantom groups - that the police might be involved?

SYNC LEON TRIM Who are the phantom groups we don’t know. We are going to get those people eventually and we are going to put them behind bars

SYNC ZAIBA And the police aren’t involved in these groups?

SYNC LEON TRIM If policemen are involved they are also going to face enquiries and they will be dealt with severely by law

COMMZaiba in funeral parlour It was five days since the young man’s body had been brought to the morgue. I heard that he was going to be buried. The police had now identified him: Raulston d’Avilar, a tattoo artist.

SYNC PRIEST He had a lot of potential. But they had to come and blow his life away.

ZAIBA PTC Raulston was just twenty years old when he was killed. They’ve had to dress him in a high collar in his coffin to hide the fact that there was an attempt to decapitate him

COMM The police claimed that Raulston had been part of an armed gang – they’d arrested five other members

COMM Like many relatives of Guyana’s dead, Raulston’s aunt still insists that her nephew was an innocent victim

ZAIBA SYNC He was very brutally murdered though

AUNT SYNC Yes - it was in the news we saw it. We didn’t know anything and we weren’t even certain it was him. It’s not as if he had a problem with nobody.

ZAIBA SYNC And he worked and wasn’t involved in any gangs?


PTC I wonder how many of these other graves are victims of shootings. They seem to be a common occurrence here

COMMUS Embassy As the body count increases and the economy falters, confidence in the government is evaporating. For many Guyanese there is only one permanent solution. It’s estimated that every year ten per cent of the population are emigrating.

ZAIBA PTC This is a real visible sign of people desperate to leave Guyana. It’s 6.30 in the morning and there’s a long queue already outside the US Embassy. And most of the people queuing up for visas are Indian.

COMM With a forthcoming election comes the likelihood that disaffection will further fuel ethnic violence. Legally or illegally, people are voting with their feet. What is left for those who remain is an uncertain future.