President David Granger, on Friday declared Whitewater, Barima-Waini (Region One) and other communities near Guyana’s border with Venezuela, frontline communities in the fight to ensure the country’s territorial integrity.
The Head of State was at the time speaking to residents following a briefing at the new patrol base, which was set up by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) in the community on February 14, after the Regional Intelligence Committee reported in a letter to the Head of State some security concerns as a result of the current situation in Venezuela.
According to a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP), these reports were acted upon swiftly by the Government and the base was set up in less than 72 hours.
Guyana’s border with Venezuela is nearly 800 kilometres long and villages such as Whitewater, Baramita, Kaikan and Arau are all border communities.
Addressing the villagers, the President said “you’re like our guardian, you’re like our shield, you are in the frontline and let me tell you this, since Guyana became independent in 1966; 52 years ago, our western neighbour, Venezuela, has been claiming this very land that you’re living on. You all are not Venezuelans, you are Guyanese but Venezuela has been claiming this land all the way up to the Essequibo River,” he said.
Outlining that the country is readying itself to defend its territory at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Granger said “we know that nearly 120 years ago an International Tribunal decided where the boundaries should be between Venezuela and Guyana and we have been struggling for the last 52 years, and only last month the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) decided that this controversy would go to court and we would settle it.”
According to the MOTP, one resident, recounting his own experience and reports of threats to his life, said that members of the Venezuelan criminal gang, ‘Syndicatos’, have been coming across the border with their weapons, threatening residents and burning their lands. “The business people, who are living in Whitewater are not safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, Regional Chairman, Brentnol Ashley posited that “the intervention of regular patrols and [security] persons being there in those communities would help to alleviate some of the security concerns that residents themselves would have raised with us… In Whitewater for instance, the Toshao and Council would have reached out to the RDC with these concerns too.”
In addition to that, he said “at the landing called Mora Landing, which is a very far distance of about three hours walk back and forth, we were told that Venezuelans were setting up a fuel depot there, which is illegal, so the presence of our Joint Services on patrol in those far flung areas is important.”
The village of Whitewater has an area of over 74.8 kilometers. Residents of the community depend largely on farming, fishing, hunting and small entrepreneurial ventures for their livelihoods.