My name is Henri Saelens, living in Belgium, active as a timber agent since 1994 and buying timber in Brazil, Suriname, Bolivia and Guyana. I have my own company, Saelens Trading BVBA in Belgium.
I have been coming to Guyana since eight years now, and always being treated very nicely by everybody. Great country, friendly people.
This time, it was different…
On, Tuesday 14 June, I travelled by car from Paramaribo to Nickerie to take the boat. Unfortunately, I just missed the boat so the person who sells the tickets told me I could go to Nickerie and take back-track, which I did one hour later.
What they did not tell me at the Suriname side, is that this passing is only for Guyanese and Surinamese people.
So I arrived at the Guyanese boarder where I saw no customs office, just someone who asked me for my passport.
I showed that man (dressed in jeans and blue shirt) my passport but then I asked him to show me his ID, as he had no uniform, no police or customs badge, nothing.
He never showed me anything official.
We Europeans have no problems to show our ID, as long as it is to an official person.
I asked to see a “real policeman” as he immediately told me I was illegal in the country and I would go in prison till tomorrow and would have to go to Court, pay 250 USD to get released and if not, stay in prison for three weeks and been sent to Belgium straight and would not be allowed to enter Guyana anymore for five years!
All very heavy words for someone with no official badge, dressed in fancy clothes, cheap golden watch and being nearly rude.
No one could imagine he was a police officer, or that it is a “new Guyanese Police style” I am not used to seeing anywhere in the world.
Then an official agent came from the police office and all three of us went to the police office, on the other side of the road.
There the real intimidation started again at another level.
How much money do you have? We will put you in prison. Make a list with all your belongings now, as we do not know how many times you will stay in prison etc., etc. Have you been ever in prison? Did you study high school, and when I said yes, he answered; you don’t look like having been to high school.
Now I don’t know what the level of education at the Guyanese Police School is, but this person is absolutely NOT in the right position to say this to me. He is a shame for all other Guyanese Policemen who do their job correctly, a shame for his country.
This person with his attitude, should be cleaning the streets for a few days, so his ego comes down a little bit and should never been accepted as an official policeman.
Twenty minutes later, a man came in the office. He called the owner of the boat, who wanted to speak to me. (Afterwards, I saw him on the street; he was a taxi driver… so one lie after another, done by an official policeman to extort money from strangers.)
He suggested that I pay the policeman and then I would be released, which I did not do.
That started the second round of intimidation by questioning.
How much money do you really have in your bag? What is the price of your ticket to Europe? What is the price of your renting car that is waiting for you in Suriname border because this is what you gonna lose if you go in prison now.
You got a choice; we divide this by two, you pay me this and then you can go, or you go to prison tonight.
So I paid him 1650 SRD that he put immediately in his pocket. The other policeman – Indian type with a beard (back office of the building on the left side, downstairs) on the other desk, was also involved as he heard everything but never interfered. He is as guilty as the person who interrogated me. They probably share this extortion money by themselves.
Dear Sir, I am travelling in South America since 1994, but never experienced this before.
Maybe these people should be paid more, have decent clothes, a computer in the office, and get a better education at school so when someone makes a mistake as I did yesterday, he can be treated correctly.
I come to Guyana to do business. I am not a drug dealer, never killed someone, never went in prison, and surely do not want to enter illegally into Guyana to stay in your country. That agent should know that.
I finally, after paying, was allowed to continue my trip to Georgetown illegally, but I lost too much time so I went back to Suriname.
H E N R I S A E L E N S
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