Guyana Police Force ranks are currently under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from Haitian nationals journeying from Linden to Lethem, from where they are being smuggled across the border to Brazil.
It is being alleged that the ranks involved received as much as US$200 from each member of a group of over a dozen Haitians to allow them through several checkpoints during one recent trip.
The owner of the bus, who was unaware that the vehicle was being used to transport the foreign nationals, said he subsequently learnt of the unauthorised trip from the driver and noted that the information given to him suggests police collusion in a clandestine smuggling operation involving persons inside and outside of Guyana. His subsequent complaint to police triggered the investigation.
When contacted for comment, Commander of ‘E’ Division Linden Lord informed Sunday Stabroek that he had received a report about the matter and has already commenced an investigation. “Ranks are writing their statements and we are investigating it to see if there is any truth in it,” he said, while noting that he has collected at least six statements for the “start” and will be collecting more from the ranks at the Mabura Hill checkpoint. Thereafter, a report will be compiled and sent to the police legal advisor.
The Commander said based on his understanding the Haitians “did pass through” and the claim of ranks taking money from them is the main focus of the investigation. The force’s Office of Professional Responsibi-lity does not appear to be involved in the investigation at this time.
Sunday Stabroek obtained a passenger manifest, prepared by a Timehri transportation service, for the trip. The manifest, dated June 19th, 2019 documented the names of 16 persons, the youngest being five years old and the eldest 52, along with the nationality, gender and passport number of each.
The manifest, which is mandatory when using the Linden to Lethem trail, also provided details pertaining to the bus, including its licence plate number and the signatures and regulation numbers of police ranks from each checkpoint.
Based on the information gathered by Sunday Stabroek, all arrangements were finalised by the owner of the transportation service.
Upon arrival at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, the Haitian nationals were transported to a hotel and bar, where they rested for several hours. Under the cover of darkness, the group boarded the minibus and began their journey. The first checkpoint they reached was at Bamia on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway. They later stopped at checkpoints set up at Mabura, Kurupukari and Corkwood.
While the owner of the minibus suggested that the mere fact that the vehicle was clearly identified to operate along the Georgetown to Timehri route (42) should have resulted in police stopping the vehicle from proceeding, Lord explained that it is possible for vehicles to be allowed to travel outside of their routes. “That is possible anywhere. Bus could leave Linden here and go to Corentyne,” he said, before adding that in the absence of a pass/permit, “sometime the police see them and allow them to pass…This was in the night, so I don’t see why that can’t be possible. It’s possible.”
Lord added that while the police should have found out about the permit, it is possible for a Route 42 bus to be driven to Lethem without the absence of the permit being made an issue. He did, however, insist that the police should have checked to see if the bus had a permit. “They did not do that. They erred by not doing that,” he acknowledged.
He did not respond to a query from this newspaper as to whether the presence of a large number of foreigners onboard should have been a cause for concern.
The bus owner told Sunday Stabroek that he became incensed when he learnt that the vehicle was taken to Lethem without his permission. “I called up Mabura Station and Mabura told me yesterday (June 23) that the bus went into Lethem and just pass them coming out. So I said to them: How could you guys allow a Route 42 bus to go all the way to Lethem and you didn’t question whether this guy had a pass or not to go to Lethem?” he related before adding that the ranks told him that they were going to intercept the vehicle at the Bamia checkpoint and that he should present himself there.
The owner recounted that the driver disappeared on June 18th and the following day he received information that he was heading to Lethem. He said he managed to get in touch with the driver, who denied that he was heading to the Region Nine township.
After a confrontation, the owner said the driver explained in detail what had occurred and admitted that he transported the Haitian nationals, who were smuggled over to Brazil. The owner said that he was left in a state of shock at what he was told, including the revelation that the Haitians were unable to eat a proper meal during the journey because they allegedly had to pay the police to proceed.
“The police fleecing those people…When they done each person probably got to spend like US$400. Ow,” the bus owner lamented.
The driver, who spoke with this newspaper, explained that it was his first trip and he took the job offer after being told that there were three loads of Haitians but no available bus to transport them to Brazil.
He said that based on his observations, the ranks would ask the Haitians for their passports. He said that at one of the checkpoints, one of the ranks attempted to communicate with one woman but she did not understand him. He said the rank rubbed his thumb and index finger together to show that he was talking about money but the woman signalled that she didn’t have. In response, the police indicated to her that she would have to remain at the checkpoint.
According to the driver, the woman started to cry and a young Haitian man took out a US$50 note from his pocket to give to the policeman. The lawman indicated that it was not enough. He said that the young man after a few minutes pulled out another US$50 and this satisfied the rank. Every passenger, he said, handed over US currency to the police at Bamia, Mabura and Kurupukari checkpoints. By the time they reached the last stop, “they start fuh cry out,” the driver said before recalling that a woman with a young child was very distraught and cried out that she had no more money.
According to the driver, when they were almost in Lethem he called the man who had contracted him and he was given a number for another man, who later met him near a gas station in the town. From there, they proceeded to an enclosed area where the passengers disembarked.
“The front is enclosed and you drive in [and] they got a house one side and it look like a bond on this one side. You drive through and down at the back they got two concrete house and a big open shed thing like,” he said as he tried to identify the area where he dropped off the Haitians, most of whom didn’t have much luggage.
He said that he later learnt from the brother of the person who hired him that the Haitians were to be transported during the wee hours of the morning to Brazil.
The driver appeared to be disturbed at the inability of the Haitian nationals to buy food or themselves. He recalled that they did not have much food in their possession and never bought anything at any shop along the route. The man said that he concluded that that they opted not to spend money to ensure that they had enough to pay the police.
He added that out of his pocket he bought two boxes of food for the children who were in the bus. “I pay for two food and I share it with them and when we reach in Annai, which was the last stop at four something in the afternoon, they… buy like 10 or 12 loaf of bread and water again,” he said.
The bus owner told Sunday Stabroek that while he was at the checkpoint, a bus with Haitians pulled up and they went into the “little caravan” the police had and then came out. The bus then continued its journey. He concluded that money was handed over to the ranks in exchange for them being allowed to pass.
The driver’s account substantiated details in a June 21st, 2019 report released by Spain-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Cuban Prisoners Defenders, entitled ‘Guyana and the “Camino Viejo”, a deadly passage for expatriates.’
In the report, Haitians were identified as being among those foreign nationals who have used Guyana as an exit point in South America to get to the United States.
It indicates a gruelling trip, which according to the report takes many lives and leaves the survivors emotionally scarred and physically weak.
“This tortuous path inevitably passes through a route of plunder and torture, traveling from Guyana to Brazil, then to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and finally to the border with the United States,” the report states. It gives a synopsis of each leg of the journey.
With regards to the Guyana leg, the report speaks of exploitation at the hands of the police.
“If you are looking for a bus transport, for example, and you are paid $200 for the cost of transportation, the owner of this business immediately indicates that $75 more is needed, as an extra cost, as there are checkpoints, controls. In each of them you must pay $ 25… in theory. The way to pay for the controls is to put inside the passport, for review, the tickets, and this supposedly must let one continue. The reality is very different.
“When the $25 is delivered to the first retainer, they are thrown into a drawer. Immediately, to the surprise of the poor emigrant, they tell him that it is not enough. You have to give more, up to 4 times more. If not, it cannot be passed,” the report states.
Further, it speaks to how “the poor emigrant… will have to scratch their pocket to the last cent.” With the resources quickly consumed, this is described as “the first tragedy of the trip.”
The report also speaks about threats of deportation, verbal aggression and humiliation if money is not paid.
“Each stop is a step for the destruction of self-esteem… They take out the handcuffs, tell them to go get their luggage, and then they tell the driver to leave, so that you feel pressured to pay more money…before you get to Brazil, all your money is consumed,” it adds.
Meanwhile, the bus owner added that the police told him that his driver committed no wrong as he (the owner) had willingly given the man vehicle. “The police said I give him the vehicle [and] it’s not theft,” he added. He said he raised certain issues with the ranks but got no satisfactory answers.
The man disclosed too that that he is now faced with a $200,000 repair bill as a result of the damage done to the bus during the trip.
Sunday Stabroek was shown pictures of the bus making its way through a bad section of the road. The passengers had to disembark and follow on foot.
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