Private developer accused of wreaking havoc on Sarah Johanna squatters

Some of the protestors

By Lakhram Bhagirat

A private land developer is accused of wreaking havoc on squatters at Sarah Johanna, East Bank Demerara (EBD) after he claimed that the land, they are occupying reportedly belongs to him. However, the squatters are contending that they have been living there for over three decades.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was on Wednesday when the developer, took in heavy duty equipment and escorted by ranks of the Guyana Police Force’s Timehri Police Station, attempted to block the main drainage canal as well as excavate a farm which one of the squatters planted.

The residents then resisted the attempt resulting in a standoff which ultimately led to a protest exercise by on the Sarah Johanna Public Road.

When INews arrived in the village, the squatters – mostly women accompanied by their children – armed themselves with placards voicing their dissatisfaction with the actions of the Police and the failed promises by political leaders.

They claimed that they have been occupying the area for almost three decades and many of them have built their lives there. They are now accompanied by their children who have also started families and are living on the land. The squatters are contending that for over 25 years they have never encountered any issue with persons claiming ownership.

However, that changed in the last few years when one Patdial and another Fazal (both deceased) claimed they owned all the lands in one of the streets called Royston Avenue. They attempted to get to get residents – who have access to water and light – to remove from the area but their efforts were resisted.

Over the last year, Patdial’s nephew (name provided) approached the residents claiming that he purchased 13 house lots at the back of the squatting settlement and that he needed to have access to them so that he could have it developed.

The residents, at that time had already built their community amounting to over 100 households to the point where they constructed their own roads, allowed the man access. The man then said he would widen and rehabilitate the road network in the community. Instead, what he did was to renew his claim to the entire are from the Demerara River to the canal at the back in the farmlands.

“When questioned on how he gained possession of this enormous portion of land that no one have showed interest in for over 25 years, (name provided) got very hasty and flashed two transports dated 2019 but refused to have anyone inspect whether it is authentic or not. Interestingly, attached to the transport is a proposed plan of the squatting area that strongly resembles a box drawing on an art page lacking any blue prints,” the resident said in a letter to the Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission (GL&SC).

The letter was delivered on Tuesday and signed by 110 residents. In it, they outlined their issues and called for a determination of the ownership of the land.

According to the residents, the man is making their lives miserable. He has uprooted their houses, threatened women and children.

On October 29, 2019 Chairman of the Caledonia – Good Success Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), Dwarka Nauth, wrote to the suatters ordering that they remove their homes within 14 days (November 11, 2019) or it will be dismantled and they would have to bear the costs. That did not sit well with the residents who began protesting the NDC Chair’s decision.

On November 04, 2019 the Chair wrote to the squatters again and inform them that the notice has been withdrawn. The residents contend that this was after a series of meetings were facilitated with them and Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy.

“They (McCoy and NDC Councillors) met with us together and they say we will look after the land – either we buy the land over (name provided) and sell it back to you people or we will have you guys move to somewhere else. We will look after house lots for other places but we haven’t heard anything but we are still waiting.

Apart from that, we heard him tell the guy (name provided) that he shouldn’t do anything on the land before the issue is resolved yet they are planting poles and inserting water lines,” resident Suchelle Giles said.

Giles, who has been living in the area for a number of years, is the one who has been leading the effort for the issue to be addressed. She said on Tuesday she led a party to the GL&SC where they met with officials there after being redirected from the Central Housing and Planning Authority.

Meanwhile, Minister McCoy during a telephone interview with this publication on Wednesday indicated that he would be sending someone into the community before the weekend. He said that the visit will be to facilitate an update on the situation before he and Attorney General Anil Nandlall meets with the squatters.

Minister Kwame McCoy

“I will be meeting with them in about two weeks’ time – end of this month or early beginning of the new month – to meet and further find a solution to this problem…Myself and the AG plans to meet with the gentleman and the squatters and for us to go through the situation. The bottom line is from all of this is that we are going to help them to settle their lives in terms of where they live,” McCoy committed.

On Wednesday, the residents reported that they felt as though all hope is lost and they had no other option than to take to the streets to have their voices heard. They reported that the Police attempted to intimidate them when they came out by ordering them to the Station under the pretext of addressing their issues.

“Today he was going to grade through the aunty farm and we know she is planting and so and we can’t allow them to do that and the police is right there enforcing that he damage the lady farm and when we became noisy they told us to go to the station. We didn’t go, we came out here…we know that the police station does not resolve land matters and they telling us that we have to go to the station with documents,” Giles contended.

Simone Soy said she has been living in the area for 25 years now and it was her farm that the developer was attempting to bulldoze on Wednesday. She said that the farm provides her livelihood and that in a time when employment is scarce due to the COIVD-19 pandemic, she cannot allow that to be destroyed.

She is calling on the government to bring an end to the issue and regularize the area.
Soy and her 10 children live in the squatting area with most of them now owning their own plots.

Her son, Deon Naitram said he is a father of three and that they now constantly live in fear of what Azim and his men may do while they are at work. He is a new baby and is unable to work because his wife would call him in the middle of the day to tell him that the men are there intimidating her and attempting to break down their home. Azim and his men already dismantled Naitram’s house once.

“I build back and now he coming back and play the bully role…me family can’t rest in peace because the officer them coming on one side and never taking our side because we don’t have money to pay no body. We not them rich kind of body that to take out a daily bread from we pocket to give them to stand up for us. We are poor and we are fighting for our rights. We want justice. We want to remain here because we work hard for what we got and we have nowhere to go,” he said.

Ronna Calvan has been living in the area for nine years now and according to her, the developer offered her the plot on which she is living on but with a $3 million price tag. The woman said she works as a security guard and has four children to take care of and simply cannot afford to take care of her children.

“We are living here for years and people in front living for over 25 years and have no transport. This man, come in here saying that he own all of these lands and breaking down the places and brining a lot of Officers giving us a hard time. He telling us we have to move and come to the station and I don’t understand. I do not know officers at the station got anything to do with lands, we need help at the back here. We live here for long time to give up our land,” Vanessa says.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Samaroo said he has been farming in the area since 1974 and has about five acres of farmlands.

He has been the main supplier for a number of supermarkets in Region Four (Demerara – Mahaica) but over the last few years he has seen his farm and equipment destroyed. He reported that while the developer is claiming ownership to the plot of land, he has not formally approached him and ordered to evacuate. [Republished from the Guyana Times]