Trying Times for NYC Guyanese Community

Verena Dobnik, AP, June 7, 2007

The hardworking, tight-knit neighborhood known as “Little Guyana” is a peaceful home away from home for the many immigrants who left their violence-wracked Caribbean nation for a better life.

But lately, the neighborhood has been struggling to deal with images of terror and violence that keep putting the word “Guyana” in the headlines.

The latest blow came when four men from Guyana and Trinidad were arrested on charges that they plotted to blow up the jet-fuel pipeline and tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The reaction among residents is usually the same: Shocking. Embarrassing. Crazy. Stupid.

“They let a whole nation down! Stupid!” said Yadran Harry, a 37-year-old grocer in the Queens neighborhood that is home to at least 50,000 immigrants from Guyana, mostly of Indian descent. Thousands more Guyanese immigrants, mostly of African heritage, live in Brooklyn.

The Guyanese community has been struggling with other negative stories in recent months, despite the fact that residents up and down the main street—Liberty Avenue—insist that it’s a peaceful place.

Last month, authorities said a young woman from Guyana was gunned down by her police officer boyfriend after she broke up with him.

Another crime involved a Guyanese-born woman whose throat was slashed on her doorstep by the man who allegedly raped her, to keep her from testifying against him.

And in a horrific case that has been playing out in a New York courtroom, a former insurance agent and an ex-postal worker are accused of taking out life insurance policies on impoverished members of their Guyanese community without their knowledge, then hiring hit men to shoot or poison them to collect the money.

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Guyana is a former British colony on the northeast coast of South America where about a third of residents are descendants of African slaves and nearly half are the descendants of Indians imported as contract laborers in the 19th century, according to government figures.

The accused airport plotters are Muslim, but only 7 percent of Guyana’s population is Muslim. Fifty-seven percent is Christian, and 28 percent is Hindu.

The country has long been plagued by violence and drugs; drug traffickers earn the equivalent of an estimated 20 percent of Guyana’s gross domestic product, the U.S. State Department has said.

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