Georgetown, Guyana – (February 16, 2018) President David Granger, today, 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. 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, which the President described as Guyana’s guardians. “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.
The Commander in Chief told residents that the borders between Venezuela and Guyana have already been decided that the country is readying itself to defend its territory at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). “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. I am very sure Whitewater, that after this matter goes to court you’ll be able to live in peace and that you will not have any more provocation,” he said to loud applause.
However, President Granger told residents that while there is an end to provocation in sight all branches of Government, along with the security forces and residents must work together to defend and protect the country, nothing that Government will do everything in its power to ensure their safety. “We want to make sure that you are safe and I’m here because I’m concerned about your safety. I’m here because I don’t want anybody to attack you; I don’t want anybody to hurt you; I don’t want crimes to be committed against you,” he said. The military presence is intended to neutralise any illegal activity and provide a 24 hour guard system to ensure maximum security.
Residents of Whitewater and surrounding satellite villages are pleased with this development. 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.
President Granger, who was accompanied by Chief of Staff of the GDF, Brigadier Patrick West, member of the National Security Committee, Brigadier Bruce Lovell and Commander; ‘F’ Division- Senior Superintendent Ravindradat Budhram called on the army, the police and the regional administration to continue to work closely together with the central Government to ensure that citizens of those frontline communities are safe.
Turning to the residents, he urged them to create Community Policing Groups (CPGs). “The police and the army cannot be everywhere. We want you to be able to protect your own community so… I’ll ask the Chairman [Regional Chairman] to sit down with the army, the police and the Toshao so that we can decide on how best we can help you to protect yourself… Every Guyanese must feel safe in his or her own country,” the President said.
Meanwhile, Regional Chairman, Mr. Brentnol Ashley explained that not only is the Region faced with threats from the Syndicatos, but it is also dealing with Guyanese, who are returning home as a result of the crisis on Venezuela through illegal ports of entry. He added that there are also instances where Venezuelan farmers and traders cross over into Guyana’s territory to sell their produce and other commodities.
“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, 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 Regional Chairman said. Mr. Ashley also called on residents to give their full cooperation to the GDF and other Joint Services ranks and urged them to be vigilant and to report promptly, any possible security threats.
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.