Govt drops charges against Chenapau residents arrested for illegally mining at Kaieteur National Park

Last Updated on Friday, 2 June 2017, 14:30 by Denis Chabrol

FLASH BACK: A number of the suspected illegal miners shortly after their arrival at the Eugene F. Correia (Ogle) International Airport on Sunday.

The Ministry of Natural Resources on Friday announced that government has decided to drop charges against 20 persons arrested for alleged illegal mining at the Kaieteur National Park.

“It has been decided that as an act of good faith Government will not prosecute the charges against the more than 20 persons arrested on Sunday May 28, 2017 for mining within the iconic Kaieteur National Park,” the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon noted that the owners of mining equipment eluded police, soldiers and Geology and Mines Commission officials, but authorities still want to talk with them. “The important thing to note, however, in that operation is that these persons who were found there were not the managers of the dredges or the owners of the dredges and I am making a public call for those operators, those dredge owners, those dredge managers to come into us and let us talk to you because clearly that is not the way to go,” he said.

The decision to drop the charges was taken following meetings between Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman and officials of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.

The announcement came less that one day after the National Toshaos Council called for the charges, made under the Mining Act, to be dropped and for talks to be held about the broader issues of consultations with the Patamona peoples and their dependence on their habitat for their livelihoods. The Council, a statutory body, has said the Park was extended in 1999 without consultation with the Patamonas.

In that regard, government said it would not give into demands that the boundaries should be contracted. “Further, it has been determined that the pre-1999 boundaries for the Kaieteur National Park will not be restored as some have advocated.”

In announcing government’s decision not to pursue the charges, government reiterated that the Kaieteur National Park has been designated a Protected Area and “will remain off limits to mining, forest-harvesting and other related activities.”

On the issue of livelihoods, the Ministry said it would be willing to discuss  ways of ensuring the sustainable livelihoods of the residents of Chenapau. “While the Ministry of Natural Resources remains firm in its mandate to protect the national patrimony for future generations, it is not insensitive to the needs of communities, and therefore, the Ministry along with other Government entities, is prepared to work with the Chenapau and other communities to identify opportunities for benefit-sharing and sustainable livelihoods in the ongoing conservation efforts for the Kaieteur National Park and other protected areas.”

The Toshao, Mr. Edward McGarrell, and some members of the community of Chenapau in Region 8, Potaro-Siparuni, together with representatives of the National Toshaos’ Council and the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), met on June 1, 2017 at the invitation of the Minister of Natural Resources to voice their concerns.

Minister Trotman, the ministry said, has since kept his promise to raise the concerns of the residents with President David Granger.