Book highlights problems mining causes in Amerindian communities
PM says govt addressing issues

Stabroek News
July 22, 2000

The Upper Mazaruni Amerindian District Council (UMADC) and the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) launched a book yesterday which sought to address, in particular, the impact of mining on Amerindian communities and their land rights.

"The book is the fruit of the collective call made by the Amerindians of the district for over 30 years--to have our voices heard on the many problems we faced," APA's President and Captain-General of the touchaus of the Upper Mazaruni District, Lawrence Anselmo, told the invitees at the launching.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, a special guest at the launching of Indigenous Peoples, Land Rights and Mining in the Upper Mazaruni, gave the assurance that government was addressing the issues pertaining to mining-related activities and said he would pay a follow-up visit to the Mazaruni area shortly.

Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Brian Sucre; and Manager of GGMC's Geological Services Division, Kampta Persaud were also among the gathering which included representatives from non-governmental organisations and civil society. The book is a joint publication of the UMADC, the APA and the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme.

The APA said that in addition to direct statements from community members gathered during meetings in each village and an introduction written collectively by the captains, the book also contained copies of letters sent to the government over a 20-year period on issues of concern to the Amerindians.

The book explains the legal situation of the indigenous peoples' land rights in Guyana as well as specifically in the Upper Mazaruni. This was taken from both the historical and contemporary perspectives.

The book also discusses the Laws of Guyana relating to the environment as well as international human rights standards pertaining to indigenous peoples. The book concludes with a section explaining the situation in each of the 11 villages in the Upper Mazaruni, a key mining area.

The Upper Mazaruni area is home to two groups of indigenous people of Guyana--the Arecunas and the Akawaios. The latter, the larger group, has communities along the Mazaruni and Kamarang rivers. The Arecuna occupy mainly the Kamarang River.

Anselmo said the communities had become affected by social and health problems as a result of the rise of mining activities in the area over the years.

The problems outweighed the economic benefits, he stated, and were increasing with the presence of unmonitored mining. Pollution, alcoholism and human rights abuses such as sexual molestation of women were listed among the problems.

"Many non-indigenous (people) in Guyana believe that the key to development is the exploitation of natural resources," the APA president stated. "Must we really destroy our environment for development? Must we the Amerindians pay the price?"

Complaints of the occurrences in the area were forwarded to government ministers and agencies directly responsible for mining, Anselmo said, but no action was taken. The leaders of the communities of the Upper Mazaruni then decided to compile a report on the activities in the area which were affecting them and sought assistance from a few organisations overseas.

Czar Henry, the captain of Jawalla--a village in the Upper Mazaruni, told of the pollution of the rivers and tributaries which has led to his villagers having to find alternative sources of water for domestic use.

The waterways were blocked up from the tailings, overburden and trees carelessly cut by the miners, making river navigation rather difficult, Henry related. He said the advent of modern equipment for use in the mining industry had led to more destruction of the environment. This was mainly due to the lack of efficient monitoring of these operations.

He noted that in the early days of gold and diamond extraction there were no problems akin to those being faced now because of the uncomplicated methods used then to mine. "What will happen to us in the future when more modern equipment are brought in? The situation is very hurting for us," Henry stated.

The Prime Minister sought to allay the fears of the Amerindians of the Upper Mazaruni by pointing out that the Guyana Environmental Capacity Development Project had the specific objective of bringing the harmful effects of mining in Guyana under control.

He said he was on a five-day visit of the Mazaruni area in February where he got a first-hand look at the problems there and would conduct a tour there again on August 1.

Most of the subjects discussed at the launching contained some "tension," Hinds noted and this was sometimes seen as the Amerindians against the government or the other peoples of the country. The situation, in his opinion, should also be seen in the context of the people in general as opposed to solely Amerindian issues.

The book was published by the Global Law Association of the Netherlands and is available at a cost of $2,000. (Andrew Richards)

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