De Souza to battle illegal sale of alcohol to Amerindians

Stabroek News
February 16, 2000

Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Vibert De Souza, has announced his intention to move to curb the illegal sale of alcohol to Amerindians.

The minister was at the time speaking to residents of Chinoweng at the Chi Chi Landing during a recent visit to Region Seven (Upper Mazaruni/Cuyuni). The Amerindian Act forbids the sale, barter, supply and giving of alcohol to Amerindians.

The Act, however, does not apply to the sale, barter, supply or gift of "intoxicating liquor used in case of illness by the direction of a registered medical practitioner or sick nurse and dispenser or where such intoxicating liquor is supplied with the permission of religion." The Act also does not apply to the "manufacture and consumption by Amerindians of the intoxicating liquor known as paiwari or any similar intoxicating liquor in accordance with any custom prevailing among Amerindians." According to a press release from the Guyana Information Services (GIS) the minister, in an interview, revealed plans to regularise and monitor the sale of alcohol by authorising captains of Amerindian villages to select one or two persons from their village to be given permits to sell.

De Souza, the release said, noted that over the years that there had been an increase in the consumption of alcohol and in "areas in some villages that is the first thing you can get to buy because there is no control and fine." He called on the captains and councillors of the Amerindian villages to take serious note of the dangers of the abuse of alcohol.

However, he stressed, the system of monitoring the alcohol must not be viewed or interpreted as tampering with or disregarding the Amerindians' basic human rights of choice.

The minister said that the only Amerindian tribe to completely abstain from alcohol and even from paiwari, the traditionally fermented drink, were the Wai Wais. The tribe located in the southernmost part of Guyana and numbering 200 are devout Christians, according to the minister.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds also expressed his concern over the unlawful sale of alcohol to Amerindians.