Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo has labelled the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into African ancestral lands and other land matters as a political gimmick that is threatening to set back race relations for many years to come.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Jagdeo charged that the CoI “will not solve a single issue people face on the ground” and urged members of the public not to participate.
Jagdeo stressed that the “racially inflammatory” way in which issues are being presented at the CoI will ensure that Guyana will never have social cohesion since it is putting people of Amerindian and African descent at conflict with each other when there was none before.
“It is a wedge issue,” the former president repeatedly stressed, while adding that most people in Guyana have gone past those issues but the APNU+AFC government is now inflaming sentiments so as to give the impression that it will act in defence of Afro-Guyanese interests.
“It is a political strategy because they recognise that the people who supported them, including Afro-Guyanese, are disappointed. Their response to that disappointment is to play the race card not policy,” he added.
Jagdeo took particular aim at the position of Guyana Reparations Committee Chairman Dr Eric Phillips, who has argued that Africans were here in Guyana before three of the Amerindian tribes who were given lands under the Amerindian Act of 2006.
Referencing the 2006 law as a land reparatory justice act, Phillips told the CoI on Thursday that it has set a precedent for 15,000 square miles of Guyana’s lands to be given to the descendants of enslaved Africans as reparations.
“What we see coming from Eric Phillips’ contribution is the generation of an argument of who came before whom and who got too much… an analysis which was embraced by a Minister speaking in Parliament,” Jagdeo said.
This was a specific reference to a presentation made by minister with responsibility for labour Keith Scott, who had told the House that in objecting to the CoI Amerindian leaders had manifested an attitude of avarice which should not be condoned. The minister went on the say that the National Toshaos Council has “made it quite clear that it was not satisfied with the 13.8% of lands already given to them. “On the contrary, they want more… an additional 10% of lands which would give them a total of 24% of all of Guyana, while, thus far, the Africans have got nothing,” Scott said.
Jagdeo explained yesterday that in presenting this to the Parliament, Scott was saying that for the government Eric Phillips’ analysis is accurate.
“They embraced the analysis of this man who is now a government advisor and are saying they are defending interest. How would a report help the young kid in south Georgetown who just lost his job or is looking for the job? Will he get land?” Jagdeo asked before reiterating that the CoI shows social cohesion to be a farce. “They want to keep people in camps,” he added.
The CoI, chaired by Reverend George Chuck-A-Sang, with Berlinda Persaud, Professor Rudolph James, David James, Paulette Henry, Lennox Caleb, and Carol Khan James as commissioners, is tasked with examining and making recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed Africans and other matters relative to land titling.