The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) – appalled upon learning of the signing of the land titling and demarcation agreement

On Monday October 21, 2013 the Government of Guyana and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a contract for the Amerindian Land Titling Project under the Guyana/Norway Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF) arrangement. This signing took place during the opening session of the Seventh Annual Meeting of the National Toshaos Council and is heralded by President Donald Ramotar as fulfilling a promise made to the Amerindian people in the PPP’s manifesto. Campaigning? According to another government official Minister of Finance Ashni Singh, the project will give Amerindians control over the lands that belong to them. The project, according to the government is to facilitate the titling and demarcation of Amerindian lands.

As has been the norm for the past meetings, the government made all the arrangements for the Toshaos to be present in the capital and has largely controlled how the meeting is being conducted to the extent of also influencing the agenda. Unlike previous years, the APA was not invited to the opening of this meeting but from all accounts, the government has used the meeting and the presence of the Toshaos to criticize the organization and its position on the various issues it has represented from time to time. We wonder if this is how an independent National Toshaos Council would have conducted their meeting.

The APA will however not let this distract from its purpose of having its members’ voices heard and calls on the government to deal with the real issues rather than make the organisation the scapegoat for its own short comings. The APA was most appalled upon learning of the signing of the land titling and demarcation agreement but at the same time applaud those village leaders who stood up and spoke against the signing, citing the fact that they knew little or nothing about it. The government may have been very duplicitous in using this forum and the presence of the village leaders for the signing of the agreement as though all were in agreement. Silence is not always consent.

The APA has gone on record and has indeed written to the government of Guyana, the UNDP and the Government of Norway about its concerns with the project moving ahead in the way it was designed. Some of the problems cited include numerous existing problems of boundary conflicts, overlap of titles, shearing away of land in demarcation exercises, titled land encumbered with mining and logging concessions, and many other problems. In some instances government demarcation had exacerbated problems between neighbouring communities, yet the government and the UNDP have chosen to turn a blind eye to these problems without putting or ensuring that legislative and policy mechanisms are in place to rectify them.

One can easily incorrectly guess that the Minister of Finance is not living in Guyana when he said that the project will give Amerindians control over their lands. How can this be when many village titled lands are covered with mining and logging concessions, and the High Court in 2013 in the case of the Isseneru Village, has established the precedent that miners who have obtained mining permits prior to the entry into force of the Amerindian Act 2006 are not bound by its provisions and consequently do not have to obtain permission from the Village before carrying out operations on titled lands. The miners have been quick to pick up on this and so other leaders are facing court action in similar cases, e.g., Kako. A statement like the one made by Minister Singh has to be backed up by legislative changes that recognises that the lives of the indigenous peoples of this country have value too and that gives us real control over our lands.

The government will continue to bring together indigenous leaders under pretexts such as a “Culture of Good Governance for Sustained Village Economies” which is the theme of this current meeting in attempts to press their own agendas. The leaders have to now recognise what is happening and not allow themselves to be used but to push forward for genuine representation and redress of the real issues facing our communities.