Jagdeo and Touchaus agree on principles to solve problems relating to Kaieteur National Park by Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
March 24, 2002

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President Bharrat Jagdeo met with the Amerindian Touchaus Area Council (ATAC) of Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) on Thursday following which four principles were agreed to solve the problems relating to Kaieteur National Park.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two parties said: "We the government of Guyana and the Amerindian communities of Region Eight believe that by working together we can solve the problems we face and build our country. There will be future discussions and consultations directly with the Amerindian communities to reach a fair and amicable outcome for all Guyanese."

ATAC requested and government agreed to the following principles:

(i) Amerindian rights, traditions, privileges, customs, and usages are to be protected.

(ii) Amerindians are to have meaningful participation in all processes and decision-making in any national park or protected area involving Amerindian traditional land.

(iii) Amerindians are to be given first priority for jobs and training, not just as cooks, wardens and rangers but also as scientists and managers.

(iv) Amerindians are to be given a fair share of all benefits from protected areas.

Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday, Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues, said a memorandum of understanding had been signed with ATAC on the principles agreed to.

"The government has no hesitation whatsoever in accepting the four principles presented by the delegation," she said.

Rodrigues, together with Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, accompanied President Jagdeo to the meeting.

The minister said she was looking forward to resolve the issue quickly so that the process could move forward and there would be no need to continue the court case the Amerindian people have brought against the government in relation to the Kaieteur National Park.

She said government, in collaboration with the Amerindian communities, would be moving to the next stage to define the principles, and she was optimistic from all indications that the process was heading in the right direction.

Fourteen touchaus and vice-touchaus met with the president and they all committed themselves to the work with government to put the principles into effect.

Albertino Peters, Vice-Touchau of Kurukubaru said the representatives would go back to their villages to brief the people on the developments coming out of the meeting with the president.

According to Peters, President Jagdeo pointed out there would be a few restrictions in the Kaieteur National Park but he said the President also asserted that the Amerindian people's traditional rights such as fishing would not be troubled.

Sergio Fredricks, Touchau of Kato, said the President was understanding towards the position of the Region Eight Amerindian communities and said the head of state gave the assurance that the issues raised would be addressed.

The Amerindians had protested against the extension of the Kaieteur National Park stating that their constitutional and traditional rights were being infringed.

The matter was taken to the High Court in June, 2000.

Melinda Janki, one of the lawyers representing the Amerindians in the Kaieteur National Park matter, was part of the delegation which met with the President on Thursday.

Janki told Stabroek News that it was an important meeting and she would be reporting on the progress when the matter came up for hearing before Justice Winston Moore next month.

She said that the four principles agreed to at the meeting had been drafted by ATAC at a meeting at Kanapang in August last year.

"We had asked the judge to give us time to have discussions with government. I will be reporting to the judge on the progress we've made," she said.

Application was made to the High Court for declarations that the Amerindian peoples are entitled to enjoyment of their historic and traditional rights, privileges and freedoms in the Kaieteur National Park without hindrance and that the Kaieteur National Park (amendment) Order 1999 extending the park was unconstitutional.

Among other declarations sought was that the fundamental rights of the Amerindian inhabitants of Chenapau and the Patamona people to protection from deprivation of property had been contravened, in that the minister had extended the boundaries of the park without saving and protecting the rights of the Amerindian peoples.

The people of Chenapau are also seeking injunctions restraining the defendants from taking any further steps to interfere with the exercise by the people of Chenapau of the traditional rights, freedoms and privileges held by them from time immemorial.

Chenapau village lies on the fringe of the park's boundary.

The villagers normally used the area within the now extended park to hunt, fish and plant agricultural produce.