The Amerindian Development Fund was not about development

Dear Editor,

As a Guyanese of indigenous descent, it pains me to see Guyana’s first peoples being used as political pawns by the PPP/C regime.

When the opposition voted against the $1.1 billion subvention to the Amerindian Development Fund, protests were swiftly organised, in an attempt to gain political mileage. The lies being peddled by the PPP/C must be exposed and Amerindians should demand the truth and refuse to be manipulated.

These are the facts. When the opposition voted against the subvention, Amerindians did not lose anything. This is because most of the Amerindian Development Fund was never intended to benefit Amerindians; it was in fact, a PPP/C campaign slush fund, intended to buy votes and reward loyalty to the PPP/C. Young Amerindians who were willing to join the PPP/C were rewarded with cash, and village officials who toe the party line, benefited from gifts and handouts. The majority of Amerindians got nothing. This fund was not about development; it was all about votes and partisan favours. When the opposition voted against it, the Amerindian peoples gained the ability to demand real change and the PPP/C cried out, because they lost their slush fund.

My Amerindian brothers and sisters know the extent of their poverty and exploitation. According to the 2002 census, 78.6% of Guyana’s 69,000 Amerindians live in poverty. It is estimated that the indigenous population has now grown to 113,000 persons; 15% of Guyana’s inhabitants. No wonder the PPP/C want to buy their votes.

But Amerindians do not need handouts; they need real development; they need the rights to the minerals on their lands; they need clean water and electricity; they need schools and teachers. If the PPP/C wants to help Amerindians, they should start with respecting the rights of the people as set out in ILO Convention #169 on indigenous and tribal rights. They should observe article 27 on the rights of minorities as issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The PPP/C should use the money to develop communities while respecting the right of the peoples to self-determination.

Amerindian communities need policies and programmes to ensure food security, access to credit from banks, technology to boost agricultural production, training on cattle rearing, boats and ATVs for transportation, electrical infrastructure, properly staffed health centres, mosquito nets, modern housing, access to clean water, technical institutes, sports facilities, protection from the mercury pollution of streams; Amerindians do not need a monthly small-piece.

In November 2013, the villagers at Isseneru were forced to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a desperate appeal to have their rights respected. Just imagine, Guyanese, having to appeal to foreigners because their own PPP/C government refuses to give them what is theirs.

Residents of Barima-Waini, in Region 1, continue to suffer through annual gastroenteritis outbreaks. Lethem’s residents must keep their fingers crossed, hoping for a reliable electricity supply. Guyanese in Moruca are still waiting for a proper road between Kwebana and Kumaka. Mahdia is still waiting for township status, so they can have a say in their own development. Primary school students are still attending classes in a makeshift school which leaks when it rains.

Amerindians must be told the truth: the PPP/C are not their friends. They will not listen to their views. Instead, they will put $30,000 in indigenous hands and demand their votes.

Amerindians must not fall into the trap. Guyana’s first peoples deserve real representation. Amerindians must not be deceived by PPP/C politicians; they must demand real development; real change. Let the PPP/C use the money to develop the communities, instead of buying votes.

Yours faithfully,

Mark DaCosta

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