Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali during his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly.
United Nations

A nasty political row is simmering in the aftermath of a week old decision by Guyana’s Indo-dominated government to impose visa requirements for Haitian nationals with the opposition linking the move to an alleged continued pattern of racism against people of African origin.

In a move that had long been signaled by the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP), President Irfaan Ali ordered Haitians to obtain visas before entering fellow CARICOM member state, Guyana, while promising-but so far not imposing-similar restrictions on the thousands of Cubans who settle in Guyana or for those who come to pick up American tourists and permanent visas. Still thousands of others fly to Guyana as suitcase traders to sell merchandise back home. Many remain, obtain jobs and live in Guyana without any hassles.

Opposition spokesman Aubrey Norton said Wednesday that while authorities point to a thriving human trafficking and smuggling ring involving Haitians transiting Guyana to neighboring South American countries like Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname, statistics the opposition has shown that there are way more Venezuelans in Guyana than Haitians. Most of them sneak over river borders illegally, and are welcomed by authorities despite the fact that Venezuela has vowed to annex the entire western Guyana by any means necessary.

“We are aware that more people who speak Spanish, Venezuelans and Cubans, are being trafficked than the Haitians. This is all part of the psychological warfare that the PPP is unleashing on Afro Guyanese. This is a clear case of racism,” Norton said.

He spoke hours after Attorney General, Anil Nandlall took to social media to defend the move by the government, contending that the Haitians are being smuggled in inhumane ways through Guyana as he pointed to the recent discovery of a group of 50 in southwestern Guyana. He said they had been abandoned by their handlers in tough terrain with no food and water for a week.

“What we are dealing here with is a human rights tragedy. The opposition has failed to recognize and address the grave issues of human rights violations, international smuggling of persons and trafficking in persons (TIP),” he argued.

When he first confirmed plans to impose the visa requirements mid last month, Nandlall in an offhand manner had promised to also take similar action against Cubans but the opposition and many in the Guyanese community appear to think this was only said to appease them and to make believe that the two groups are to receive the same treatment. Far from it, says Norton. Still, Nandlall has said officials have already complained about the situation to the Cuban and American embassies.

“We have to take this issue to CARICOM as it is a clear violation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguramas. The PPP is talking about smuggling but we are well aware that the biggest smugglers that we know are people connected to the PPP. It is typical of their style of corruption,” argued Norton, a former lawmaker. The treaty is the founding guiding document for the 15-nation CARICOM trade bloc.

Minister of Security, Robeson Benn added to the state narrative recently, noting that more than 30,000 who arrived in Guyana in the past three years cannot be accounted for.

“We know that they are not in Guyana. There are many reports of them going over the Corentyne (river to Suriname), perhaps to French Guiana. We know that many of them are said to be going to Brazil. We understand and we believe that there is a strong element of human trafficking and people smuggling related going on. We will have to institute a system of visas being issued before any of those persons coming to Guyana, to make sure that those who are coming to Guyana are coming for legitimate purposes relating to proper business in Guyana or settlement in Guyana and/or return to their country having conducted business in Guyana. We cannot continue a system where persons passing through the country and disappear,” Benn said.

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