Toshaos of Region 7 (Cuyuni/ Mazaruni) have expressed “great displeasure” over the conduct of proceedings at the National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference, which according to them have undermined their right to freely speak on issues affecting their communities.
According to a statement issued this week and signed by the Toshaos of Paruima, Arau, Kaikan, Kurutuku, Waramadong, Warawatta, Phillipai, Ominaik, Jawalla, Chinoweng, Kako, Isseneru, Tasserine, Kangaruma, Karatabo, Batavia, Karrau, Dogg Point and Kaburi, the Amerindian village leaders said that the conference had squandered an opportunity to address the concerns of their communities.
According to the Toshaos, the NTC conference which was held from August 6-10 had promised an opportunity for them as leaders to freely express their views on issues which affect them and would have provided an avenue whereby discussions could be had to arrive at possible solutions which would improve their lives.
However, they said that this is far from what happened.
“We feel frustrated by a process which seemed to have favoured (some) Toshaos (to) raise their concerns, while others, including us, have been derailed in our attempts to raise legitimate issues. Further, the chairperson of the proceedings appeared to be bent on dictating the proceedings according to his wishes; this should not be the case.”
From their observations, they said, toshaos from Region 9 and 1 were given extra time to make their presentations due to support which they heaped on the government.
“In attempting to tell of our problems, we had our time cut and subsequent attempts to speak up were met with attempts to silence us. We did not try to monopolise the time granted since we know all toshaos have issues. For the past week, we have tried our utmost to have our land and mining issues addressed, this has not happened. Instead, we feel that this was a fruitless exercise in addressing issues and more a campaign for the government to gain the consent of communities to opt in to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).”
According to the toshaos, from the onset of the conference, village captains were provided with copies of two Draft Resolutions which were assented to on August 9.
One of the resolutions passed dealt with the negative impacts as a result of irresponsible actions which include the budget cuts and the Linden protests.
The other one refers to the draft ‘Opt in’ mechanism under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).
“Why should resolutions be drafted before the commencement of the conference?” they questioned.
The aggrieved toshaos claimed that the ‘Opt In’ document was sent to a few communities prior to the conference but the majority of toshaos received the document on the eve of the conference.
“The draft stipulates that a two-thirds majority is needed at the community general meeting before a community can opt in. In several instances, there was no community meeting, therefore how can toshaos take it upon themselves to agree to the draft without the consent of their villages?”
“As leaders of villages spanning Upper, Middle and Lower Mazaruni, the common issue of mining close to lands held by Amerindians or those traditionally used by us, is a cause for concern. For far too long, we, as well as our brothers and sisters of other villages have suffered the consequences of mining.”
The toshaos said further that what is particularly alarming is “the granting of mining concessions with little regard to community consultation.
“In practice what happens is a case where applications are processed without village councils having knowledge of it. After a decision would have been made on the application, a letter is usually sent to the community telling them of the decision. What has happened to your right to be part of the decision- making process?”
The Region 7 toshaos then cited the case of Kako, which now faces a scenario where a mining licence has been granted for mining to commence in the Kako River, an area which was never open to mining.
The community did not know of the application, but letters of notice of approval from the GGMC and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs were sent to the village.
“According to the letter, the GGMC was satisfied that there would be no effect on the community, however it is very unclear how this presumption was arrived at or whether there was any Environmental Impact Assessment carried out to determine this.
While it may be said that Amerindians themselves are involved in mining, this approval can be revoked by the village council should it be deemed as harmful at any point.”
The statement said further that the instances of this practice are few since many communities would like to preserve the sanctity of their environment.
“There are numerous examples where miners empowered with a permit feel that they have the authority to do as they please. Often, they have little regard for the authority of the village councils and the rules of the community and openly say that they have been given permission by the GGMC and that the village cannot do anything about it.”
“Further, we are also incensed by the continued granting of licences in areas which are part of the Upper Mazaruni lawsuit which is currently before the courts. It is our belief that the areas under contention should not be leased until the resolution of the suit.”
Meanwhile, arising out of concerns with mining are the issues of land titling which continue to affect several Amerindian communities.
“With the increase in granting of concessions on lands close to Amerindian communities, how are we expected to apply for extension to our lands? With the lengthy period between titling and the processing of applications for extension, permits can be granted in the same areas so in effect the community will be relegated to holding the piece of land it has. In most cases the areas granted do not take into account the area traditionally used and occupied by indigenous peoples.”
The toshaos contended that in the government’s proposed “development”, Guyana is asking village councils to approve their Low Carbon Development Strategy which “has not been properly consulted with our communities.”
They said further that they are very concerned that the LCDS and its lack of consultation will result in proposed actions that will undermine their fundamental rights as indigenous peoples, especially with regards to their lands and resources.
“It has also come to our attention that roads are being built close to our territory. We have demanded information of the authorities about these roads since we have not been consulted nor informed about their construction. As time goes by, the roads get closer to our communities and will potentially bring with it a host of problems including criminal and social ills.”
Moreover, the toshaos of Region 7 said that they are demanding that their right to self-determination be respected and they reiterated that it is for them to determine what development they want in their territory.
“We want to be involved in the entire decision-making process not merely informed of a decision.
Furthermore, we demand that our right to free, prior and informed consent be properly implemented with regard to mining and other forms of activities intended for areas close to our lands or which will affect us. Of paramount importance to us is the resolution of the land issues so that we can safeguard our lands for today and future generations.”
They stated that their “collective position is that our long standing issues must be resolved before we make any decision to opt-in to the LCDS programme.”