As the crisis in Venezuela intensifies its underfunded security forces have melted away in the remote regions.
On the country’s porous eastern border, desperate Venezuelans cross jungle and rivers to access food and medical supplies in neighbouring Guyana.
To date Guyanese authorities have welcomed refugees, but concern has grown over the incursion of violent Venezuelan gangs in the border region.
Mat Youkee has the story from Guyana--
[Intro sound from Voice of Guyana]
In Guyana, a former British colony on the northern shoulder of South America, a new track is taking over the radio waves.
It starts with a typical upbeat Caribbean melody, but it has a political message.
Essequibo is a remote region of rainforests and riversn Western Guyana, the size of England and Wales combined.
Venezuela has claimed the territory as its own since the mid nineteenth century.
In recent months tensions have increased.
To raise awareness of the situation amongst young Guyanese the government commissioned the song from local artist Blaze Anthonio.
[First Blaze quote]
The break down of the Venezuelan state has added new elements to the border dispute.
Increasing numbers of Venezuelans are crossing into Guyana. Some are looking for food and medicine. Other have darker intentions.
[Coconut cutting sound]
White Water, where you can buy a fresh coconut for the equivalent of 50 cents, is a popular crossing point for Venezuelans fleeing to Guyana.
[Venezuelan sounbyte starts, chitchat ]
I meet a young couple dragging foraged wood along a dirt road leading from the jungle.
In a burnt out clearing they’re digging the foundation for their new home. I asked them why they left Venezuela.
[Woman VO: We left because of the situation in the country. Everyone who came here had to abandon their homes. There are several families who have come here.]
They tell me their wages were not enough to buy food in Venezuela..
So they travelled by car, overnight boat and foot to reach White Water where there is food and casual jobs.
They are one of a half a dozen Venezuelan families making the village their home.
Others coming over, many of them indigenous, are looking for medicines they can’t find in Venezuela.
The town’s small clinic treated 156 Venezuelans for malaria in the first two months of 2018.
But the remote porous border is difficult to *police
And Venezuelan gangs, known as sindicatos, have filled the vacuum
I spoke to the father of one of their recent victims--
Father quote: I last saw my son in June 2017, they killed him in October 2018 the sindicato gang in the Backdam
The Backdam is a gold mining district on the Venezuelan side of the border
For many years, poor Guyanese have paid Venezuelan security forces for access to mine the Backdam
Six months ago, the sindicatos replaced the those officials, with violent results.
Gerry GOV-EYE-AH is a Guyanese pilot who operates in the remote regions of the country.
He says the sindicato have been extorting Guyanese communities south of White Water.
Since October last year they have sent out graphic execution videos to Guyanese social media groups.
I spoke to him over whatsapp while he was outside of the border region.
Pilot Gerry Gouveia: This is a complete breakdown of law and order, worst i’ve ever seen, worse than isis, etc.]
The ISIS comparison may sound exaggerated but the videos include beheadings and the removal of the hearts of live victims. It’s an effective intimidation technique, very few people in the region were willing to discuss the sindicatos with me
The Guyana Defence Force increased its presence in White Water in February 2018. But resources are stretched.
Brentnol Ashley is the 29 year-old chairman of the region
[Brentnol talks about strain on resources and shallow graves]
But Ashley and other Guyanese officials recognize the need to support Venezuelan refugees.
[final brentnol quote]