Government has started to move additional troops to the western border with Venezuela to deal with criminal activity involving heavily armed Venezuelan gangs crossing the border, harassing locals for food and money and engaging generally in lawless activities officials said at the weekend.
State Minister Joseph Harmon said government had noted complaints from local intelligence committees in several border communities about members of a so-called “sindicato gangs” crossing over into border districts of the Caribbean community nation and shaking down locals for items which are in short supply in crisis-hit Venezuela.
President David Granger flew to Whitewater Village near the border on Friday and expressed concerns about the situation, saying that the intelligence committees had written him complaining about an increase in criminal activities mostly involving “sindicato gang” members. He said authorities have acted quickly to deal with the matter.
Regional Chairman Brentnol Ashley said officials are aware that the gangs have murdered at least two Guyanese in the past three months and have robbed and mugged dozens of others crossing the border back into Guyana on several occasions in addition to creating fear in communities. These including Guyanese families who had been living in Venezuela for years while returning home because of the economic crisis.
“So we asked for the help from the government. In one case, the police had to ask some armed Venezuelan soldiers to peacefully go back home. They had come for food. They complied without any incident,” he said.
Granger, a retired army general who won elections in 2015, skirted around simmering tensions between Guyana and Venezuela linked to their decades-old border dispute telling a town hall meeting at Whitewater that he wanted them to live without fear but reminded them that they are on the frontline in relation to Venezuela.
“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,” he said.
Granger complained that Venezuela has for decades been claiming ownership to the western Essequibo Region, “this very land that you are living on. You all are not Venezuelans. You are Guyanese but not Venezuela.” The United Nations recently sent the case to the World Court for final settlement.
The regional chairman also said that many Venezuela, both gang members and normal citizens, have at times “engaged in lawless behaviour because of alcohol” as he appealed to authorities for more troops and police to maintain law and order.