A group of Amerindians under the banner of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) on Wednesday protested against the signing earlier this week of the US$10.7 million land titling project, warning that it would yield conflict with occupants of traditional lands.
APA spokeswoman, Laura George said the project was signed on Monday without the knowledge of communities and the absence of a mechanism to resolve the issue of traditional lands.
She explained that the current laws do not recognize the lands that Amerindians have been occupying. “A lot of land titles that are granted leave out lands that we are occupying and use up to today- our traditional lands- so you have huge conflicts,” said George.
She noted that communities in the Upper Mazaruni area were opposed to demarcation until their traditional lands were recognized.
Among the APA’s recommendations to address concerns about land demarcation is the establishment of Commission to study the implications of the protest.
The protesters also demanded that Toshaos (village chiefs) meeting at participating in the National Toshaos Conference (NTC) at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) do not bow to pressure from government officials on a number of key issues.
Under watchful eyes of a small number of unarmed police, the more than 30 protesters carried placards that summed up their concerns. “Allow our Toshaos to speak freely without intimidation,” “UNDP you are making decisions without consulting us,” “In support of our Toshaos,” “We need our land title and our proposed extension to be demarcated now,” “Do not beat around, settle our land issue now,” “UNDP you did not consult us,” “Toshaos speak out for our land rights, we are here to support you,” “Respect our Indigenous Rights,” and “In the name of Jesus, we have the victory.”
George claimed that the Toshaos were under pressure to accept programmes and policies and “our peoples have not fully understood what the pros and the cons are.” She accused government of intensifying its pressure on Amerindian village leaders since the advent of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).“We are here to tell the Toshaos that we support them, tell the government not to pressure our Toshaos into endorsing projects that we do not fully understand in order to support but to listen to our Toshaos, to respect our leaders when they speak up for our rights and to adequately deal with lots of problems that we have in the communities,” she said.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and President Donald Ramotar were among those who whisked past the protesters in their cars on entering the GICC to participate in day three off the NTC Conference.
Relations between the Guyana government and the APA have not been healthy, especially when it comes to land issues, mining related pollution and the granting of mining permits in Amerindian lands.Amerindians do not enjoy subsurface rights to minerals.
President Donald Ramotar, in addresssing the opening of the NTC’s conference, had suggested that efforts by a few to derail the land titling project had flopped.
The three-year project woul involve the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
Funding for the land titling project was drawn down from Norway’s payments to Guyana for preserving its tropical forests to absorb carbon emissions and reduce the rate and impact of climate change.