RPA head charges…

RPA General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj

Friday’s protest-turned-violent in Region 2 was politically motivated

THE violence on Friday that followed a peaceful protest in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) was premeditated and politically motivated, according to General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association (RPA), Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj.

In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle, he explained that officials from the RPA and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) met with farmers and millers in Region 2 as recently as last Thursday, and both parties agreed to a resolution on the issue of late payments.

“Two of the major millers who owed farmers outlined a payment schedule at that meeting, which farmers agreed to…. With that settled, another $400M would have been paid out before the end of the week, and the farmers were comfortable with that. Overall, the paddy produced for the first crop was worth $23.3B, and $19.9B was already paid out, which is not a small amount of money,” Seeraj said.

Seeraj said that of the $23.3B, farmers in Essequibo produced over $4B; and of that sum, only approximately $1.4B was left to be paid off. “It was not a case where payments were not made,” he said.

‘It was not a case where he had a personal interest; this was a legitimate problem, which was addressed, being turned into a political issue. Notwithstanding what was said at the meeting and that an agreement was reached, he still went ahead to lead an uproar, because it was premeditated’ – RPA’s Dharamkumar Seeraj

The RPA Head explained that there was knowledge of a protest action planned for Friday, given that the police received a request for such a move since June 30, and neither the GRDB nor RPA officials were opposed to a peaceful protest to register farmers’ concerns over a legitimate issue.

However, up to the last meeting with farmers, the farmers noted that they were satisfied with resolutions reached.

The Guyana Police Force (GPF) has said that the protest march and meeting commenced at 10:00hr, and proceeded peacefully with about 200 persons, including farmers. At the conclusion of the protest march and meeting, at about 12.30pm, most of the participants of the march had left, but some remained and began consuming alcohol.

At about 17.15hrs, those who were imbibing and others, including Ram, boarded their motor vehicles, tractors and trailers, and proceeded to drive along the middle of the main roadway in the vicinity of the villages of Reliance and Land of Plenty, Essequibo Coast, at a very slow rate.

On reaching a short distance before the Land of Plenty Bridge, at about 18.00hrs, the men continued breaching the laws by proceeding to block the entire roadway with the use of their motor vehicles, tractors and trailers, and to set fire to tyres and other debris that had been thrown on the roadway. A utility pole was also used to block the roadway.

By this time, the crowd had increased to over 400 persons, and efforts by the police to get them to remove the vehicles from across the roadway proved futile.

Missiles comprising bricks, bottles and other articles were thrown at police ranks who attempted to remove the burning obstacles from the roadway, causing the police to cease efforts in that regard.
The police continued to appeal to the persons who had blocked the roadway, but to no avail. Tear gas was then used to disperse the crowd; and the vehicles involved in blocking the road were impounded, and 19 persons, including Ram, were arrested. They have since been released on bail.

Seeraj contends that the violence that followed this peaceful protest march was clearly politically motivated, particularly given that a resolution had been reached to the problem that is alleged to have started the protest.

He added that the Alliance For Change Councillor Mr. Naith Ram, who led the violence, was himself paid off for his paddy.

“It was not a case where he (Ram) had a personal interest. This was a legitimate problem, which was addressed, being turned into a political issue. Notwithstanding what was said at the meeting, he still went ahead, because the uproar was premeditated,” the RPA Head said.

Seeraj said that RPA officers in Region Two reported that the old tyres that were burnt to block major roadways were kept in car trunks and brought to the protest site.

Seeraj noted that a number of infractions had been committed on Friday. “A number of illegal things were done on Friday, and this was after the peaceful protest. First of all, heavy-duty vehicles were parked on the Anna Regina ‘Heritage’ Bridge, which is a bridge that you cannot even drive a car over. The tyres that they burned were in their car trunks, and a police officer was even abused and ended up at the Suddie Hospital,” he said.

The RPA Head also addressed the claims by Ram that he was stripped by the police, which the GPF has since emphatically denied. Seeraj said, “Our information on the ground is that he (Ram) started undressing from the road, and then moved into a street and took off his clothes before claiming that he was stripped by police, and allowing persons to take pictures of him.

“Even if you look at the pictures, there are no police (personnel) in the background, and if (the police) had stripped a person, you would have seen evidence of some force, at least a ripped button or two, or a torn pocket or something. The photo was obviously staged. There is no evidence of force, anyone can see that.”

He decried the fact that a real problem, which was addressed, was turned into an issue to secure political mileage by such violent means, creating much discomfort for people going about their business.

The RPA General-Secretary also slammed Kaieteur News for what he deemed irresponsible reporting, particularly in citing that RPA and GRDB officials were unavailable for engagements with farmers.

“Both the RPA and the GRDB have offices in Anna Regina. Up to last week we had two meetings in Region Two, one in Golden Fleece and one in Better Hope. We have always been available to farmers. We have always had engagements with all our farmers. This has never been an issue,” he said.

Seeraj also said that meetings with senior officials of both the GRDB and RPA are scheduled fortnightly. “It was at one of those very meetings — during the engagements we have been said to be absent from — that Mr. Naith Ram threatened the General Manager of the GRDB. His exact words were: ‘It won’t take a day work to throw you over a trench,” Seeraj disclosed.

The RPA Head staunchly maintained that the Association has always been on the ground supporting farmers in all the rice producing regions. “We even, in recognising the difficulty farmers were having with payments, made $22M in seed paddy and fertilizer available to farmers at preferential prices, and this is something that is continuing,” he said.

Seeraj concluded that the violence after a peaceful and legitimate protest had no real basis, but was rather politically motivated.

(By Vanessa Narine)