Guyana government wary of Venezuelan immigrants

Bert Wilkinson | 6/21/2018, 12:41 p.m.

Wary of anything of any kind emanating from neighboring Venezuela because of its decades-old claim on Guyana’s territory, the government of Guyana has told people claiming Guyanese ancestry, and who are looking to set up homesteads on local soil, that they won’t be allowed to do so until they can prove Guyanese citizenship and nationality.

In recent weeks, a few hundred people who had been living in finance-starved Venezuela since the ‘80s have crossed the border into the Caribbean Community nation, squatting on lands they claim were owned by their forebears before they left.

But suspicious of the motives of the group sleeping under tarpaulins in flood-prone open plains, the foreign ministry vowed in a weekend statement that no mineral-rich lands would be given to these groups until they could verify citizenship and ancestral links to Guyana.

Authorities recently sent Junior Indigenous Affairs Minister Valeria Lowe and other high-level officials to the area to help a group to temporarily settle in an area across the western border Cuyuni River as a humanitarian gesture but suggested that this act should not be interpreted as the immigrants having rights to land.

“Not every indigenous person coming out of Venezuela, or Suriname for that matter, has a claim to Guyanese citizenship,” Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge said. “Not every Guyanese has a right to land that their father, let alone other forbears, may have claimed. It goes without saying that not everyone approaching Guyana’s borders and claiming to be Guyanese can have rights to our land.”

Many of those returning now contend that they left when Guyana’s economy was in a steep decline because of its 1980s socialist experiment for a more prosperous Venezuela. Estimates of the number range from 50,000 to 70,000, many living in eastern Venezuelan states just across the border with Guyana.

In recent months, hundreds have moved back, picking up jobs in urban areas as translators, point of sales persons and teachers, but the ministry said it is very concerned about those now trying to squat on lands they claim to have previously owned without proper verification documents to back claims of previous rights to lands.

“Any person seeking to enter Guyana on the basis of Guyanese nationality has to prove that claim,” Greenidge contended in an unusually strident statement. “It is the applicant’s responsibility to submit proof of citizenship. It goes without saying that birth certificates and proof of emigration to Venezuela on the claimed dates would assist. If these persons are Guyanese by birth or descent, it is odd that none of them have been able to prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of immigration authorities since they have been at our borders. Without this proof, they are not entitled to enter Guyana, save as indicated by the ministry at the discretion of the immigration authorities, namely for six months, in the first instance.”

The World Court in the Netherlands is preparing to hear the border case in the coming months. The case was filed by Guyana because it wants to settle the claim once and for all.