Isseneru villagers demonstrated because of the threat to our traditional lands and resources

Dear Editor,

The Isseneru Village Council of Isseneru Amerindian Village in Middle Mazaruni kindly requests that you publish our reply to a letter written by one Peter Persaud which appeared in the Guyana Chronicle of Wednesday, August 14, 2013 captioned ‘APA demonstration had nothing to do with land titles,’ in which he made a number of unfounded allegations against the Isseneru Village Council and also included the usual nasty misrepresentations in a failed attempt to discredit our protest held on the International Day of Indigenous Peoples.

First of all the council wishes to make it very clear to all right-thinking Guyanese that the people of Isseneru are facing a serious problem with our titled village lands which has resulted in two court cases being brought against the council since our village received title in 2007. We did not take anyone to court, we the council on behalf of the people of Isseneru have been taken to court over lands that have always been our traditional lands and which we were led to believe had been properly granted to us by title in 2007 with full protection and security for our generation and future generations. We also wish to let it be known that the title granted to Isseneru in 2007 was a mere 260 square miles out of the original 1,000 square miles of our traditional lands that we requested to be titled.

In the first court case, barely months after the village received our land title in 2007, a miner took the council to court over 17 medium-scale mining permits on our titled land which is about half of our titled land. The court ruled that the miner has the right to hold those permits and the miner continues to mine in that area and the council and village receive absolutely no tributes from that miner. The council through its lawyers have appealed the court decision, but five years on our appeal is still to be heard. We are informed that the appeal cannot be heard because the judge who gave the original decision is still to submit his written ruling. Because of this situation, the council and people of Isseneru were forced to ask, “Is our land title that we received in 2007 truly worth anything?”

We first held a peaceful protest in January of this year in Georgetown when another court case brought against the council in 2011 by a miner was again decided in favour of the miner, and we learnt that the court ruled that lands we always knew to be part of our titled lands were in fact held by a claim holder and were excluded by the state grant of land to Isseneru because the grant contains the clause “save and except lands legally held.” So does our title really protect our land? Is our land title of any value? Is our land title grant a case of the state giving us with one hand and taking back with the other? Should we now live in uncertainty whether we will be taken to court again and again over our titled lands when we least expect it, and have those lands exempted from our title grant.

Because of this unjust situation we decided to again publicly protest on the occasion of International Day of Indigenous Peoples against what we see as a threat to a fundamental right of the indigenous peoples of Isseneru and all the indigenous peoples of Guyana, and that is the threat to our right to our traditional lands and resources and a threat to our very survival as indigenous peoples.

However, Peter Persaud by his most recent letter, has left no doubt that he does not care about the rights of the indigenous people of Isseneru and Guyana, because whenever we the Amerindians speak out for our rights he always seems to be the first to rush to the newspapers writing letters attempting to insult us and dismiss our concerns. If anyone is “misguided” on the issue of our land rights it is Peter Persaud, and that is why he has no credibility with Amerindians and we now want the people of Guyana to know in no uncertain terms that we the council and people of Isseneru completely denounce and reject Peter Persaud and the utter nonsense that he keeps spewing from time to time.

And speaking of total rejection, is this not the same Peter Persaud who was a presidential candidate for The United Force (TUF) in the 2011 national and regional elections and was completely rejected by the voters, including Amerindian voters? And what about The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) which he claims is his organization and which he claims represents Amerindians, to use his own words, “is this not also a political front masquerading as a non-governmental organization (NGO)?”

We the council and people of Isseneru say that if the so-called organisation that Peter Persaud heads was worth anything, we might have thought of approaching him to help us organize our protest, but the truth is his self-appointed organisation is invisible and the only thing we see occasionally is Peter Persaud and the rubbish he spits out in the media. So we have no apologies, we will work with organisations such as the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) that have integrity and that do really represent and help Amerindians.

The council is extremely pleased and grateful to the many Amerindian brothers and sisters from all across Guyana who travelled great distances to stand in solidarity with the council and people of Isseneru during our protest. We also thank all other Guyanese brothers and sisters who supported us during our protest and who continue to support us in our quest for justice. We will continue the struggle to protect our rights as Indigenous peoples to our lands and resources for our generation and for generations to come.

Yours faithfully,
Lewis Larson (Toshao)
On behalf of Isseneru
Village Council

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