Amerindian leaders should demand their rights be respected

Dear Editor

The statement by the PPP/C contained in the welcome to Amerindian leaders featured in KN, that “From its inception, the PPP/C government has committed itself to improving the quality of life of the Amerindian people.” needs supporting evidence.

Land, water and air transport are all owned by private investors who determine their own fares. This government has no subsidized public transportation system in the hinterland.

In the age of modernity, some new buildings that have been built, such as health centres, lack adequate basic medicinal supplies, and trained teachers are short in number in many schools. The pupils of a particular school have to travel for two hours in a speedboat to write any national exam at another school. In various regions, children have to travel long distances to attend a lone, live-in secondary school in their sub-regions. Solar panels that were installed for millions of dollars in schools no longer work after a few months or a year in operation.

The PPP/C took longer than seven years to recognize and swear in members of the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC). There is no established secretariat of the IPC other than being housed in the building of the Ethnic Relations Commission at this time, even though the commission is provided for in the amended constitution of August 2003.

What access to safe water is the administration talking about? Does their “heavy” investment consist of the installation of a few water pumps in some villages and the distribution of a few overhead water tanks to some villagers, to appease the indigenous peoples while they continue to issue more mining and logging concessions on the traditional lands of indigenous peoples? Miners pollute their waterways with the assertion that these concessions do no lie on titled lands.

Article 53 (c-ii) of the weak Amerindian Act states that if the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission intends to issue a permit over or in any river, creek or waterway which passes through village lands or any lands contiguous with village lands, the GGMC shall first satisfy itself that the impact of mining on the village will not be harmful. Please note that indigenous peoples do not have to be satisfied about possible impacts nor do they have the final say.

Guyanese and the international media need to take a first-hand look in villages that lie along the Barama, Waini, Mazaruni and many other rivers where your stomach will churn to see men, women and children use rivers that you will never allow your children to bathe in, your women to wash in or your men to fish from.

The PPP/C’s “commitment… demonstrated in its swift action to flood victims in the Rupununi” was not an act of valour nor one of favour; it is their obligation as the government of our country to ensure that citizens are safe and adequately provided for in times of disaster. They did not use their money but ours which is in the treasury, so they have to stop trying to make people feel obligated to them.

The PPP/C leadership has been going to international forums saying that there are no land problems in Guyana and that the land titling process is fair and transparent and negotiated in good faith, yet the only recourse for Amerindian villages dissatisfied with the minister’s decision under section 62 of the Amerindian Act 2006 is to apply to the High Court for a review of the decision. The Akawaios and Arecunas of the Upper Mazaruni have filed a lawsuit against the government using this recourse and after more than eleven years, are yet to get a ruling in this matter. There are many indigenous or Amerindian villages that are experiencing problems due to land titling, extension and demarcation. A lands commission study will find land problems in Regions 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 and reports of our leaders and villagers being subjected to various threats by persons that feel they own the people.

The Amerindian Act of 2006 (62-2) states that ‘In making a decision the Minister shall take into account full information obtained in the investigation and consider the extent to which the Amerindian Village or Community has demonstrated a physical, traditional, cultural association with or spiritual attachment to the land requested,” and yet even after being subjected to an investigation according to article 61 (1,2,3) and following the terms and meeting the ridiculous criteria, village councils and villagers have been insulted with comments such as why they want so much land, etc. Of course the indigenous people do not want the whole of Guyana; that would be ridiculous to even ponder.

Finally, the Amerindian leaders who are in Georgetown should be encouraged to support each other on issues they represent on behalf of their peoples, and demand that their rights be protected and respected in every form in their deliberations during the week. It is time to put aside political persuasion and affiliations and be true ambassadors for our indigenous population that did not increase due to “the plans and programmes implemented by this government,” as issued in the statement to welcome them, unless of course the PPP/C had embarked on a procreation programme that other Guyanese need to know about.

Yours faithfully,
L George

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