It was a sad day
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Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes praying with Joel Paton and his relatives on Emancipation Day.
Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes praying with Joel Paton and his relatives on Emancipation Day.

…Guyanese miner recounts execution of colleagues in Venezuela

JOEL Paton, the young miner who came face to face with death when an armed gang invaded a mining camp in Venezuela, leaving three Guyanese dead, is on the road to recovery.

The 19-year-old, who hails from Supenaam, was shot five times while his colleagues Vernon Eudoxie, 63; Cologne Solomon, 23; and Samuel Moses, 19 were shot and killed on the spot in “Imatake Backdam” across the Venezuela border on July 20, 2017. After undergoing two surgeries at the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) to remove the bullets

Joel Paton

from his body and subsequently to install steel into his leg to aid walking, Paton was discharged from the public hospital last Friday. However, he is expected to do a third surgery. A bullet had pierced his scrotal sack.

On Tuesday, Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes, visited Paton at his relative’s Robb Street and North Road residence in Georgetown where he is staying at the moment. As part of her Emancipation visit, Minister Broomes presented the 19-year-old with a fruit basket and an undisclosed amount of cash to assist him with his transportation expenses.

While the youngster may be able to recover from his physical injuries, the emotional scars that came with the fatal shootings may never be erased. “It was kind of sad,” Paton repeatedly said, as he jogged his memory to that fateful day. “We heard that they [the gang] were coming to take everything that we had…So we were moving to come back to Guyana,” he recalled during his conversation with Minister Broomes.

It was just around 03:30hrs on July 20 when the gunmen, suspected to be Venezuelans, made good on their threats, pouncing on the miners while they were sleeping in their mining camp in Imatake Backdam. The area is located some three hours from the Guyana/Venezuela border by foot. Days before the attack, the Guyanese miners had started relocating their mining equipment and machines to Guyana. “The evening, I brought back the tractor to shuttle the last load. We were supposed to leave early in the morning.”

Paton was keeping watch, but having worked the entire day, he fell into a “dose” just about 03:00hrs and before he knew it, he was awakened by the sounds of gunshots. Four Spanish-speaking gunmen had descended upon them.
The ex-policeman – Solomon – was the first miner killed. “He was shot to the head. I was the second person to get shoot,” Paton pointed out.

Luckily for him, as against being shot to his head, the 19-year-old was shot to his hand which was covering sections of his head. Determined to kill him, the gunmen preceded to shoot him in four other sections of his body. Paton was shot approximately five times, to his right hand, left leg and thigh, in his hip and through his scrotum. “After they keep shooting at me, I just jump out of the hammock and lie down on the ground like I dead,” he recalled.

Eudoxie and Moses were then killed. The 19-year-old recalled that Moses was trying to run away when he was shot in his back. Another miner was in the camp and he, like Paton, pretended he was dead. After the gunmen had existed the camp, Paton handed the other survivor a handgun, who began to shoot at the invaders who ran off without taking anything.

“It was kind of sad,” the young miner emphasized, while recalling seeing one his colleagues’ motionless body lying outside of the camp. “It was kind of sad, seeing my friends dead because we were planning to come out the same day, we did come out eventually, just that they didn’t make it out alive. It is kind of sad,” he said softly.
News of the shooting had spread to neighbouring camps and by “day clean,” Paton, who was bleeding profusely, and the dead men were being transported to Guyana, but the journey was “a rough” one according to the survivor. “It was kind of rough, because the road was really bad. We travel the whole day, we left like 05:30hrs the morning, all the time I was just bleeding, all the time,” he recalled.

Paton said just when they crossed the border the tractor developed a technical problem; as such, they were left with no other choice but to travel out of the area on an excavator. “We travel on the excavator; I was lying on the dead bodies to cushion myself because I was bleeding.”
From the Barima River, four bikes then transported them to Port Kaituma. The entire journey took more than 24 hours. “Just before I got to the hospital, I felt like giving up. I was covered in blood and just feeling weak. I didn’t believe I was going to make it.”
After receiving initial treatment at the Port Kaituma Hospital, Paton was air-dashed to the city where he received immediate medical attention at the GPHC.

Although he was contacted by the police in Port Kaituma, Paton does not believe that “anything will come out of the story,” since it occurred in Venezuela. Asked if he sees himself returning to the industry in the future, the 19-year-old said “it is hard to say now,” but it is not likely.
Meanwhile, Minister Broomes, in reaching out to Paton, encouraged him to stay strong. She noted that Government is concerned for the health and safety of all miners. Having worked as a woman miner for approximately 28 years, Minister Broomes said she too had experienced threats to her life, but they were never so extreme.

“You are a young man, full of life and energy, you will be ok,” she told Paton in the presence of his father David Paton. Before taking her leave, Minister Broomes prayed with the Patons.’ David Paton had also expressed his gratitude to the minister and by the Government for their continuous support and encouragement. Tuesday was the second time Minister Broomes visited the young miner since the incident.

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