Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Amerindian Heritage Month
(Aired 26 September 2003)

    Earlier this year I did a commentary on the 2002 international human rights report for Guyana. In it I touched on the rights of our Amerindian brothers and sisters, since this is Amerindian Heritage month and everyone is celebrating this auspicious time for the Amerindians, I have decided to throw in my two cents into the pot.

   Having done that commentary on the 2002 human rights report earlier this year and knowing that the Amerindian situation in this country is desperate; I was astonished that the President and our Minister of Amerindian affairs visited the interior on several occasions during the month and held celebrations with our Amerindian brothers. What, I asked myself, was all this celebrating about? So like you I listened and heard nothing that fundamentally addressed the Amerindian situation in this country from either Jagdeo or Rodrigues. All I heard was how good the road to Brazil will open opportunities for them, this road to Brazil will open opportunities for Guyana, of that there is no doubt, but will it open opportunities for our Amerindian brothers? And can they afford to wait on this pipe dream given their situation today?

   The Amerindian population which consists of nine tribal groups constitutes an estimated 8% of our population in this country, so it makes a lot of socio political sense to declare an Amerindian Heritage month and run all over the interior as if you cared about the welfare of these people, when the facts tell me that you don't care.

   Let me quote directly from the International Human Rights report for 2002 "the Government has long maintained that they are committed to demarcating lands that traditionally have been the home of Amerindians. However the government holds title to almost all of the country's land and is free to act as it wishes without consultation with the tribal leaders. The government nevertheless identified 75 Villages, and reported that it successfully demarcated the lands of 11 Amerindian communities in 1998. The ministry of Amerindian affairs has claimed that this was done in close consultation with Amerindian leaders, and promised that they would demarcate a total of 40 additional villages by the end of 1999; however while a handful of village leaders have accepted these new titles, most leaders have rejected the demarcations. Most of the Guyanese  Amerindian Non Governmental Organisations regarded government consultations as mere public relations exercises and demarcation as a means of confining Amerindian communities, so that the remaining areas that Amerindians considered to be their land could be offered as concessions to miners and loggers etc. (most of the titles to demarcated land were granted decades ago under the Amerindian act and did not allow for the growth of the Amerindian communities) the Amerindian Non Governmental Organisations claim that the Amerindian leaders were not consulted properly and were pressured into uninformed decisions, the Government maintained that it would consider granting additional land rights to those communities that agreed to have their lands demarcated in 1999, but it has not yet taken action to do so".

   In March 2000 the UN Human rights committee expressed regret that the government had not yet amended the Amerindian act and expressed concern that Amerindians did not fully enjoy the right to equality before the law. The committee especially was concerned that the right of Amerindians to enjoy their own culture was threatened by logging, mining, and delays in the demarcation of their traditional lands and in some cases insufficient land was demarcated to enable them to pursue their traditional economic activities. If logging and mining are to be carried in what were traditionally Amerindian lands, then those who want to carry out these activities must get permission from and pay the Amerindian villages for using, destroying and polluting their lands and water, that's fair isn't it?  but it does not work that way, in this country anyone who wants to mine in an Amerindian area, simply applies directly to the government and when permission is granted the miners, not accountable to the Amerindians pollute and destroy their drinking water fishing grounds etc, and the environment around their operations and the Amerindians have no say in the matter, the claim is that the people at Lands and Mines don't know what the miners and loggers are actually doing to the Amerindian's environment until the entire area is a complete mess, if this is true, and they have no say in the matter why grant these lands as Amerindian ancestral lands in the first place?

   We have a con game in this country of appointing a Minister for everything, to show how concerned we were about the Amerindian situation, we appointed one in 1992 and these Ministers of Amerindian affairs, as Amerindians themselves have done noting but impoverish the Amerindians further, and acted as emissaries of the government to sweet talk the Amerindians to accepting the atrocities that have been imposed on them.

    The now famous World Bank report which has caused such a furore in the media lately tells us that nowhere in this country has any one suffered over the past 10 years as much as the Amerindians have. The World Bank report tells us that poverty in the country is unevenly distributed between the coast and the hinterland, in the hinterland areas poverty is the most severe and about 93 percent of the Amerindian population live below the poverty line and Amerindian women are especially at risk, this incidence of poverty in the hinterland areas which was 78.6 percent in 1992 rose to 92.5 percent by 2002; in these areas poverty is largely attributed to economic isolation. Transportation and communications problems; far are higher prices for goods and commodities, whilst public services far more difficult to deliver.

  In our 2003 estimates we budgeted to pay our Ministry of Amerindian affairs 54 million 2 hundred and one dollar, I am not joking ladies and gentlemen one dollar for employment costs and 54 million two hundred dollars for capital works. The one dollar for employment costs is of course absolute hogwash, but it is there in the 2003 estimates for anyone who would like a good laugh.

     So our President running all over the interior during heritage month with what appears to be a the Amerindian equivalent of a crown of thorns on his head, clearly the Amerindians have a sense of humour, since they have been wearing this crown of thorns for years and decided to give Bharrat a taste of what it is like wearing that thing in the hot sun.  

   It is ludicrous as it is tragic; we have got to address the Amerindian land issue, if the Brazilian road for example passes though an area which has been demarcated as Amerindian ancestral lands, in which case should they not be given a percentage of the total polls to traverse that part of the road that cuts across their lands? Or at least some form of annuity for it, or are we just going to compulsorily acquire such lands for this road and pay the Amerindians nothing as usual? If some miner wants to dredge up the river inside the demarcated lands of the Amerindians; should he not pay the village a royalty, same with timber or are the fleas on the coast in need of these extra amounts to keep them fatter?

     But any group of our fellow Guyanese especially those who are the indigenous people of this land, living at this 93% poverty level is completely unacceptable, and the Minister can give us as much rhetoric as she cares to, but I will be watching to see that the lot of our Amerindian brothers in this country improves drastically, soon, or I will all be forced to raise my voice, and trust me Minister, when I do, you will not like it. So stop conning the Amerindians with superficial celebrations which does nothing to address their condition of abject poverty, address their situation now, and stop fooling them with meaningless celebrations.