Expansion works ongoing along the East Coast of Demerara Public Road are progressing well, according to Head of the Works Services Group (WSG) of the Public Infrastructure Ministry, Geoffrey Vaughn.In recent interview with Guyana Times, Vaughn explained that the ongoing works are approximately 20 to 21 per cent completed to date. He noted that currently, focus is being placed on the expansion between Better Hope and Beterverwagting (BV).“The contractors are working on the expansion half of the road, as you would realise, on both sides and we’re already started putting our sub-grades and our base materials; soon you will see paving commence in terms of those works,” he stated.Construction workers at Mon Repos on SaturdayThe WSG head noted too that works are also ongoing on the drainage system, with the drains being expanded to ensure that the elevations are correct so that the roads can be drained properly and there would not be ‘ponds of water’ when the construction works are completed.Meanwhile, Vaughn went on to say that while efforts are concentrated between Better Hope and BV, works have commenced in communities such as Mon Repos and will be moving down further the East Coast.“So, as much as there’s focus on BV and Better Hope, they’ve already commenced some preliminary works on the other areas in terms of grubbing and so forth,” he said.According to the WSG head, while the sand-filling aspect of the project was completed some over three years ago, some of it would have been contaminated over time when it was left there.“So (the contractors) would have to take off some of those sandfill and refill it, which is always necessary once you have a project of that nature, because you couldn’t leave the area open once you’ve started the expansion,” he noted.The East Coast Road expansion project, which commenced late last year, has a timeline of two years.Guyana has received a US$45.3 million concessional loan from the China EXIM (Export-Import) Bank to finance the road project and that agreement was signed in January last year.Initially, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government had tried to secure financing for the road expansion project, but the money was not readily available; hence, the Administration decided to use local funds for preliminary works while it awaited the release of funds from the Chinese to complete the works.The East Coast Road Expansion Project entails a four-lane extension from Better Hope to Annandale and two-lane upgrade from Annandale to Belfield with a total length of 16,998 kilometres of roads and 33,996 kilometres of drains to be built.Apart from the road expansion, the residents were also going to benefit from the project which included improved drainage since the East Coast is usually susceptible to floods.The preliminary works for the four-lane upgrade were completed at the end of 2014. This included the widening of the roads and installation of drainage facilities. The project was divided into seven lots which were awarded to different contractors.With the China Eximbank putting up most of the finances for the road expansion, Guyana had awarded the contract to China Railway First Group for some US$42.7 million. The Chinese construction company reportedly put in the lowest bid of US$46.994 million. The PPP/C Administration had stated that it is saving some $2.8 billion by giving the contract to China Railway First Group. Upon completing the widening and improvement of the East Coast Demerara Highway, citizens travelling along the East Coast will benefit from reduced travel time and less traffic congestion.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public RadioAn altar during the vigil in honor of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria in Brownsville, Texas on Sunday, June 30, 2019. The father and daughter’s drowned bodies were found near the area on Monday, June 24, as they attempted to cross to the U.S. to seek asylum.Residents in the Rio Grande Valley gathered at vigils in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday evening to remember the lives of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria.The Salvadoran father and daughter drowned as they tried to cross the river between Matamoros and Brownsville on June 23. Valeria’s mother, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, watched as her family was swept away.Julia Le Duc, a journalist working for La Jornada, took a photo that showed Ramírez and his daughter facedown by the riverbank. The child was tucked into her father’s shirt, her arm still around his neck. The image went viral and shed light on restrictive U.S. government immigration policies like “metering” that have pushed some desperate migrants to risk crossing the river between ports of entry.The vigil at Brownsville’s Hope Park was only about a mile from where the bodies were found.Photos of the Salvadoran family rested on a table. Some people held signs and others held candles that were lit during the vigil.Joyce Hamilton, a member of the group Angry Tias and Abuelas, spoke to the crowd. “On the way here tonight,” she said, “all I could think is that there’s no way I could talk tonight because this whole past week or so has been just so crushing.”Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public RadioAttendees of the Candlelight Vigil in honor of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria hold handles during the vigil on Sunday, June 30, 2019.Organizations like Angry Tias and Abuelas regularly help migrants in Mexico and in the U.S. They worked with other groups to organize the vigils.Gabriela Zavala, the executive director of a respite center at a local church, took a turn speaking at the vigil.“We only know a few things about them,” she said, “but we do know this. We know that they, like many immigrants before them and many immigrants after them, made the ultimate sacrifice to leave their countries behind to brave a dangerous trek in search of safety and a better life.”Zavala says their deaths were the result of a failed immigration system, and she called on the community to demand from their elected officials better representation for the needs of all at the border.“Demand that they end family separation and detention, and that they hold our leaders accountable for terrible policymaking,” said Zavala. “Policies like metering that keeps our asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico, despite the knowledge that they undergo very bad treatment and that the conditions are terrible.”At a migrant camp in Matamoros, just across the river from Brownsville, a Honduran woman named Xiomara said she remembered meeting Ramírez and his daughter Valeria only hours before their deaths. She said she also met the toddler’s mother.Xiomara said she wanted to use only her first name because she feared speaking out might hurt her family’s asylum claim.Her family is on a list managed by Mexican officials, who coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Only a few migrants, if any, are allowed into the U.S. during any given week — a process referred to as metering. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General, it likely persuades migrants to cross the river between ports of entry rather than endure the delay.“They came here Saturday afternoon and asked me for information about the infamous list,” explained Xiomara, “and I told them they needed to return Monday morning. … They told me they were surprised when I told them I’ve been here for more than two months.”Xiomara said the family asked her if she had ever thought about crossing the river. She told them no. She said Ramírez then told her they would return on Monday so that they could be added to the list.The next day, two Peruvians who waited in line for more than three weeks informed her that Ramírez and Valeria had drowned.“They told me they saw a woman crying when her child was drowning. They got here scared and told me a man and little girl drowned,” Xiomara said. “I never thought it would be Óscar or the little girl.”The Peruvian man, who did not want his name used because he feared speaking out might hurt his asylum claim, said he saw a group of people by the river. When he moved closer, he recognized Ávalos, Ramírez’s wife.“She was crying uncontrollably, saying they had come to the U.S. for help,” the Peruvian man said.The bodies were found a day after they drowned, last Monday.Xiomara said Valeria’s smile was luminous and she thought Valeria’s parents were a beautiful couple. Ramírez was 25, and Ávalos is 21.She shared her memories from her camp near the international bridge. As she spoke, children chased each other, a man slept on a thin foam mattress and others chatted and endured the summer heat.Xiomara and her family are now No. 3 on the metering list, but she estimated they would be in Mexico for at least another two weeks before they’re finally allowed into the U.S. to be processed at a facility on the other side of the border. She said it hasn’t been easy for her family because they have to spend their days under the hot sun, and they don’t have water, showers or bathrooms.She says that once she makes it across to the U.S., and if her asylum claim is successful, she’ll head to the East Coast, where she has family. She added that she will seek medical treatment for her daughter who has a tumor and experiences seizures.Another woman at the camp sat under the roof of a building for shade. The woman came from Cuba with her husband and daughter. She said she is five months pregnant and has been waiting to be allowed into the U.S. for about 17 days. She said she didn’t realize she’d have to wait so long, admitting she has considered crossing the river.“I was thinking about it before this incident occurred,” she said — referring to the drownings. “I haven’t checked if everything is OK with my baby. Having a 1 1/2-year-old kid also makes me very anxious because I don’t see the line moving.”At Sunday’s vigil, Zavala’s rallying cry resounded among those in the crowd.“And something else that helps me get through this, this tragedy that the deaths of Óscar and Valeria will not go in vain,” said Zavala.Copyright 2019 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio. Share