US Mormon missionaries expelled from Guyana

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The Associated Press reports that at least 40 Mormon missionaries, mostly from the United States, were ordered to leave Guyana within 30 days. Police Commissioner Henry Greene said the missionaries had overstayed their visas and failed to extend their missionary status with the Ministry of Home Affairs. Guyanan President Bharrat Jagdeo met with two elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints after the arrests, but did not speak to reporters.

The deputy US ambassador to Guyana, Karen Williams, said that meetings were held at “all levels” of the Guyana government in an effort to resolve the issue. “We’ve done the best that we can and moving forward I hope they’ll be able to work out some other issues,” Williams said. Attorney Nigel Hughes said that he did not know why they were being kicked out. “As far as I am aware, no specific reason has been given for their action,” Hughes told reporters outside the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) where the missionaries were being held since early Wednesday.

Comments by Donald Ramotar of the governing People’s Progressive Party suggested the crackdown went beyond immigration issues. “While we tolerate all religions, it appears that some officials had become uncomfortable with them around,” said Ramotar, the party’s general secretary. Ramotar declined to elaborate. But some government officials and party members said privately that leaders felt the Mormons were too close to opposition figures and also were wary of the church’s independent charity work in the interior. The sources agreed to discuss the matter only if they were not quoted by name because they feared angering their bosses and losing their jobs.

Church spokesman Leslie Sobers also raised the issue, saying he thought the government might have been uneasy over perceived links between the Mormons and the opposition. He said opposition legislator Volda Lawrence traveled to Utah as a guest of the church two years ago, although the church also invited the pro-government head of the race commission, Juan Edghill, to visit. A lawyer for the church, Nigel Hughes, expressed puzzlement over the deportation order. “This whole thing is very strange. These people have about $2 million in property in Guyana, do great missionary work and cultivate farms in the country. Why then expel them?” Hughes said.

The Mormon Church, which has been in Guyana for more than 20 years, has been supporting community agriculture. The church also provides humanitarian relief, and in the past has collaborated with Guyana’s main opposition Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) in providing donations to the poor.

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