Contrary to the statements put forth by government, all is not well in Amerindian communities, several leaders of indigenous communities have said.
Indigenous villages have “grave problems” with the cost of living in their communities, the proper running of schools, health facilities, communication and thus access to information as well as transportation, said Toshao of Arau, Devroy Thomas. Arau, a Region Seven village is located amongst the Pakaraima Mountains close to the Venezuela border.
“Because we live far from the city we seldom have a chance to share our plight to the Guyanese people. We are however aware that the government of the day is telling the world that because of their efforts, all is well with the Indigenous communities,” Thomas said, reading from prepared statement during a meeting with the press at the Alliance For Change’s (AFC) campaign headquarters yesterday. “Our brothers and sisters, this is not so,” he said. “If you do not believe us, we invite you to visit our communities, speak to our villagers and see for yourselves and then come back and report to the nation.”
At least nine toshoas from Region Seven and Eight communities as well as a few senior councillors from other villages were present at the press briefing and they raised several issues.
Thomas said that they believe that the AFC’s vision captures the concerns of the indigenous peoples of Guyana and pledged their support to the party. AFC Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan thanked the toshaos for their support and said that the party will stand by them.
In relation to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), Thomas said the indigenous community agrees with all efforts to preserve the environment. “And while we would like to support the LCDS, we feel betrayed that the government did not take the time to educate us adequately on the project,” he said. He raised the issue again of some of the communities having only a “one off” three-hour meeting while others had none. He said that the villagers were told that to get more information, they should go to the LCDS website.
“In most of our communities we do not see a newspaper in months much less to have access to computers and the internet. We are ignorant of what the LCDS is all about and how it affects us,” Thomas said. “What we disagree with is that the government is telling Norway and others that the Indigenous peoples were consulted and have consented to the LCDS. Again I say, this is not true,” the toshao declared.
Meanwhile, he recalled that at the last Amerindian Heritage month celebrations in September 2010, President Bharrat Jagdeo promised that he would give solar panels to the indigenous communities over the next three years. “Even though he did not discuss it with us to have our opinion, we welcomed the promise. While some communities got, many still [have] not,” said Thomas. “Communities that received complained that the panels are very small and can only power two bulbs, which is grossly inadequate,” he added.
With regard to land demarcation, Thomas said that many Indigenous communities are still not satisfied with the description of the lands as it relates to size. “While some communities were forced in the past to accept demarcation others have taken a stand not to. We want our boundaries to be redefined based on our description and not the government’s,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thomas said that they were disappointed with the deliberations at the recently-concluded National Toshaos Conference. “To us it was a political talk shop to persuade Toshaos to support the PPP/C government. We are concerned that the chairperson of the National Toshaos Council seemed to be representing the wishes of the PPP/C instead of the Indigenous peoples for which she was elected,” he said. “It was very evident that priority was given to Toshaos who were in support of the government and those that wanted to raise real matters of concern were sidelined,” he declared.
“What was shocking was her emphasizing that all toshaos should sign a “resolution on the fast- track of the LCDS funds’. There was not time to look at the resolution properly or discuss it among ourselves but we were asked to sign.
“What was further disturbing was that she started to disclose publicly the names of toshaos who refused to sign,” he said. “We are not prepared to sign any resolution unless we understand its implications,” he added. Thomas later explained that they were not given adequate time to raise their concerns. President Jagdeo had said on Friday that toshaos were given sufficient time to air any issues. He said the leaders were asked several times and no one responded.
Several of the other toshaos raised similar issues and spoke of the situation in their villages.