Most Guyanese are unaware that when the Dutch created Canals #1 and 2 westwards on the West Bank of the Demerara River to irrigate agricultural land further inland, they created Canal #3 opposite on the East Bank between Plantations Providence and Herstelling going eastwards to do the same for new coffee plantations behind the riverfront plantations. Arcadia and Mocha were the first of six new plantations on the south bank of Canal # 3, mirroring six others on the North. Haags Bosch, for instance, was a plantation on the northern side. Arcadia and Mocha were purchased sometime after 1860 by freed Africans.
They came to my notice in 2017 when the APNU/AFC Government included them in their $2.6 billion Rural Agricultural Infrastructure Development programme (RAID) along with three other African-Guyanese villages – Ithaca, Buxton and BV. It was in line with our decades-long recommendation for affirmative action in depressed African-Guyanese communities, and we wonder why it was not extended to the Indian Guyanese communities in the just-shuttered sugar estates. Happy days appeared to be here again in those communities, from glowing reports by the DPI. This was buttressed when the new PPP Government repaired major roads – including Burnham Blvd – in the village to the tune of $192M, and launched several empowerment programmes.
However, the bonhomie was ruffled late last year when the Opposition PNC protested vehemently that the President and his government were “going directly to the people and bypassing the NDC” controlled by them. Especially when residents booed the said NDC Chairman’s intervention to Pres Ali’s presentation. On that visit, the President reminded the Mocha/Arcadians of the 4-lane Eccles-Diamond bypass highway that would intersect their community and raise real-estate values. Since 2021, notices had been served to 37 squatters in Mocha abutting the planned highway.
The conventions surrounding Government’s powers of eminent domain were strictly observed, even though technically the squatters had no ownership. The land was for “public use”, and the Government offered market compensation for their properties, alternative house lots in surrounding communities, and other assistance to construct new homes. Twenty-eight squatters accepted, and have now moved into their new homes. The seven holdouts claimed strong economic and social reasons for their decision, since they were living there for decades. The Government attempted to address these objections: for instance, leasing land to cattle and sheep/goat farmers, but to no avail.
Sadly, these objectors were used by the Opposition parties to escalate the situation into the unfortunate confrontation that developed like a Greek tragedy when the seven houses were demolished by an excavator. There was a very poignant scene when a female shop owner described her struggles to make a decent living for herself and children. Matters could have escalated further after an incendiary device was hurled into the excavator driver’s cab. Luckily, he escaped alive, and the flames were extinguished before the $50 million piece of equipment was destroyed.
Two additional holdouts have accepted the Government’s offers for relocation, while the others have evidently been convinced that they should be paid hundreds of millions, which the lands would allegedly be worth after the highway is built.
Several opposition commentators allege that the land would be sold to the “Government’s friends and cronies”, which in my estimation would be criminal, if true. One of them named businessman Nazar (Shell) Mohamed as “the crony”. I called the gentleman, and he categorically denied the claim, agreeing this would be unethical.
All Governments have had to deal with the problem of squatters. I remember returning in 1979, after a 7-year overseas stay, and hearing the agony described to me by several friends and relatives when their squatting houses behind Meten-Meer-Zorg were destroyed two years earlier by the Riot Squad on the orders of the PNC Government, even though there was no ‘public use” imperative. Ironically, the scheme was eventually rebuilt and named “Prem Nagar” (City of Love”) after the 1974 hit movie of the same name.
In October 2017, the APNU Coalition destroyed 20 structures of mainly African Guyanese at Field A, Sophia for “aesthetic reasons”, but the now Opposition political protestors were mute.
While the Government has touched all the economic and social bases in the unfortunate matter, by choosing to ignore the ethnic nature of our politics, it has raised an “ants’ nest”.
I again commend the institutionalisation of ethnic caucuses in both major parties to explicitly represent the interests of those outside their ethnic corps.