For Masakenari’s Wai-Wais, new trail seen as key to preserving way of life

– monitoring stations proposed to guard against mining threats

Plans are in the pipeline to construct a tractor trail from Parabara to the Kassikaityu River landing that would halve the two weeks travelling time it normally takes for members of the Wai-Wai Amerindian nation to travel to the Rupununi.

“The village is interested in it and they have been pursuing it for a number of years,” an official with knowledge of the plan told Stabroek News. The Wai-Wais who reside in Masakenari in Region Nine, one of the most remote communities in Guyana, wrote to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs requesting the conversion of the existing foot trail to one that could be used by a tractor and trailer. Various reasons were given, including the easier moving of their produce. It can take as much as two weeks to travel from Masakenari to Parabara.

The matter was discussed at several levels of government and eventually the plan was approved, Stabroek News was told. Construction was slated to start in September. In March, the matter was discussed at the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (MSSC) and it was noted that a detailed survey was done three years ago and a map was shared with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Wai-Wai Community. According to the minutes of the meeting, the survey identified the trail and all that is needed at the moment is technical advice and equipment, such as a Bobcat, to expand the area. “Careful planning is needed for this execution,” it was cautioned.

It was noted that there are over 300 Wai-Wais in the area and their lifeline is mainly farming, “however, if they are not taken care of, they will tempted to leave and this will expose the entire Upper Essequibo.”

According to the source, the new trail would halve the travelling time by a week.

The trail would not reach Masakenari and would enable the Wai-Wais to bring produce from their community as well as be in closer contact with their children who attend secondary school in Aishalton and other schools in the Rupununi, the source said.

The source said that possible threats, such as increased access to the area which could result in mining, were discussed with the community.

The villagers underscored that they were conscious of the threats and proposed monitoring stations for the road. They also said that having no such trail made it difficult to manage their land, the official said.

Another issue was that a number of youths are attending secondary school in the Rupununi and the distance contributes to a disconnect from their families and community, leading to social fractures. “It’s not a simple black and white issue as it would appear initially,” the source said, while adding that experts looked at the project and it was concluded that if well managed, it could help the community retain its cohesion.

The source said that this road is separate and independent from the mining road that was being considered to lead to the New River Triangle. “The village doesn’t want the road from Parabara to Masakenari, they want the road from Parabara to Kassikaityu,” the source said.

Last year, revelations of a proposed new road to Parabara prompted concerns and led to further revelations of planned prospecting in the New River Triangle, which was later aborted under pressure over the manner in which the permission was granted. Though there have been denials that there is a link between the two operations, observers had said it appeared that the intention to build the road towards the New River in south-east Guyana was part of the planning for a prospecting licence to be issued to Muri Brasil Ventures Inc (MBVI).

The disquiet over the now-aborted road being constructed through the remote community of Parabara led to a disclosure by Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud of the survey permission to MBVI.

That disclosure was made to the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), which had raised public concerns about the Parabara road. In a meeting, the GHRA was assured by the minister that there was no mining related road construction in the New River Triangle and that the Permission for Geological and Geophysical Surveys (PGGS) would not lead to prospecting there. Documents subsequently leaked showed that a maximum of eighteen prospecting licences in the New River Triangle for rare earth metals and other minerals were inevitable under the PGGS if applied for.

Persaud and the government came under pressure to explain when a decision was taken to open up the New River to mining along with a host of other questions. Persaud was also accused by the GHRA and the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament of not making a full disclosure on the matter of MBVI. MBVI subsequently pulled out of the venture.

The Karaudarnau Village Council had stopped the excavators from proceeding after learning of their intentions in relation to the Parabara road.

The operators had not sought the permission of the council as is required. The operators subsequently retrieved the excavators and took them away.

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