The issue of mining in the Marudi area continues to be a huge problem and concern for most of the people in the South. This was clearly said at the recently held statutory meeting of the South Rupununi District Council held in Sand Creek from the 14th to the 16th March 2019.
We have heard that the Minister of Natural Resources gave permission to the small miners to mine on top of Mazoa, which is in the concession of the Romanex company.
The question is who really grants that kind of permission? GGMC or the Minister? What is the role of the GGMC and the Minister in this and other similar cases? Can the Minister override the role of the GGMC?
The Minister was asked by a resident of Aishalton how can he unilaterally grant permission without consulting the members of the Village first and obtaining the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of the people? They were never afforded an answer. Where is the meaningful and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples that this and other governments are always claiming to exercise when activities that will have negative impacts on the lives of the people are concerned? Can Romanex, who has not been granted a mining authorization yet, give permission for small miners to mine within their concession? What is really happening? Now we are being engaged in the formulation of a REDD+ Strategy while the mining activities, which are the largest contributors to Deforestation and Land Degradation, continue and are encouraged by the Government, and especially the Ministry of Natural Resources, as is evident in the recent meeting in Aishalton. I am made to feel and conclude that our contributions to a healthy ecosystem, environment, forests, water, biodiversity and all living things do not matter and are of no use to the authorities, even as they try to live up to their international obligations, especially under the Paris Agreement of 2015.
On December 14 of 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination advised that the government stop all mining activities on Marudi Mountain, which is the traditional lands of the Wapichan People, and an important freshwater shed for the country, and to desist from issuing more mining concessions in the area.
Guyana is not only a signatory to the Convention; this Convention is explicitly incorporated into our Constitution (see Article 154A). It is clear to us that Guyana’s international legal obligations and its Constitutional commitments do not matter or mean anything to the Minister and the Government that he represents.
Will the government wait for something catastrophic to happen before they take corrective and immediate actions to protect the lives, way of life, and cultural heritage of the South Rupununi residents?
We have provided evidence, including GPS points, photographs, and documented studies, of mercury pollution in our waters and mercury contamination in our people at dangerous levels above the safety limit set by the World Health Organization, and yet this evidence is not taken seriously, if at all.
We once again demand that the President and all other relevant actors and agencies take urgent steps to rectify this matter.
We will relentlessly continue to pursue this matter as we Wapichan have obligations to our future generations.
Chief Kokoi Tony James, A.A.