Chinese Landing appeals to National Toshaos Council for support on long-running mining issue

Last Updated on Monday, 28 August 2023, 16:43 by Denis Chabrol

A map of Chinese Landing

The Chinese Landing community in Region One (Barima-Waini) appealed to the National Toshaos (NTC) Conference to support its demand for a permanent ban on gold mining by Wayne Vieira and all outside miners, removal of all guns by outside miners, and a resumption of mining by villagers, Chinese Landing Toshao, Orin Fernandes said Monday.

“We call on the NTC to advocate on our behalf for the government to allow Chinese Landing residents to continue their subsistence mining activities since there are no other means of earning a living in our community,” he said in a presentation to the conference being held from August 28- September 1 at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.  He said Chinese Landing residents have been mining responsibly and for the benefit of our community, unlike Mr. Vieira. “Therefore, we should be allowed to work,” he said.

Prior to his presentation to the conference, he stressed that small-scale gold mining “is part of our livelihood” and so they were no longer being allowed to earn a living anymore in the Wayne Vieira-held concession. “That’s the only means of sustaining their families in Chinese Landing and if people can get work, it’s a lot of problems because you have to get money to send children to go to school, sometimes medical care…,” he told reporters. Mr Fernandes said Chinese Landing residents were always opposed to mining by outsiders because they were at the centre of legal actions, threats and harassment.

Toshao of Chinese Landing, Orin Fernandes

None of the speakers at the conference’s opening ceremony referred to the more than 20-year-old problem of illegal mining and related environmental and security issues at Chinese Landing which have attracted the attention of Guyana’s courts and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR).  In response to that Commission’s decision, the Guyana government several weeks ago halted mining and dispatched a fact-finding mission to receive testimonies from residents.

President Irfaan Ali told reporters after addressing the opening of the conference that eventually a decision would be made on the future of mining in that community of about 210 residents. “I don’t know that there is a basis for resumption until the issue is dealt with in its entirety and that is what is going on now… and when that process is completed, the recommendations will come,” he said when asked by Demerara Waves Online News.  Mr Fernandes noted that in his address to the opening ceremony, the President promised responses to all issues by Friday.

The Chinese Landing Toshao called on the NTC to “stand resolute” with his community to support the demands for the revocation of Mr. Vieira’s mining permits, the removal of all outside mining equipment; removal of all firearms owned by the outside miners from our community and mechanisms to protect residents’ safety.

He reasoned that many residents of Chinese Landing are suffering and many of you are aware that the government has temporarily halted mining on the village lands and that shows that they have the power to revoke the mining permits of Mr. Vieira’s and return Chinese Landing’s land to the community. “Therefore, I encourage all of you here to stand in solidarity with your fellow indigenous peoples and call for our rights to be respected and safety be restored in Chinese Landing,” he added.

Chairman of the National Toshaos Council Derrick John

Toshao Fernandes said since the fact-finding mission on August 6, 2023, “we have not heard anything from the team or the government since they left our community that evening.”

There was no immediate response from the NTC to Mr Fernandes’ presentation, but Council Chairman Derrick John told reporters before that under the law village councils enjoy the right to decide whether there could be mining in their communities. “Each village council has the authority to do what is best for their people so it is left to the village council as long as it is within the mandate of the law,” he said.

The Amerindian Act also says that if the village refuses consent to large scale mining, a miner may carry out mining activities if the ministe declares that it is in “the public interest,”

Mr John said the NTC had last year requested the Chinese Landing Council send a formal letter outlining its issues but “so far we have not received any formal letter.” Toshao Fernandes noted that the issue is more than 20 years old.

Toshao Fernandes said despite the ban on mining at Chinese Landing, a number of the miners had been breaching the order during night by continuing to work when officers of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) were absent. He estimated that there are more than 100 persons , including owners and employees, who are engaged in mining there.

The Toshao listed four incidents of threats and harassment of Chinese Landing residents dating back to 2018.

He said Chinese Landing residents first received title to part of our lands in 1976 under the old Amerindian Act;  in 1991 their title was reissued under the State Lands Act and they later received their certificate of title in 2018.

He said subsistence mining changed when in 1995 the government sold Mr. Wayne Vieira four mining block in the Tassawini area, which is located in the centre of Chinese Landing titled lands. “This was done without the free, prior and informed consent of our peoples,” he added.

Between 1998 and 2001, Toshao Fernandes said the prospecting licenses were converted to medium-scale mining permits and issued to Mr. Vieira by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. He further recounted that in 1998, the Village signed an agreement with Mr. Vieira but villagers never understood the contents of that agreement since the Toshao was unable to properly read and was coerced into signing.

In 2004, according to the Toshao, the villagers began registering our objection to the agreement and asked the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to cancel it.

He said following the passage and enactment of the Amerindian Act of 2006, the GGMC attempted to enforce sections of the Act, which requires medium scale miners to get permission from the village to enter and mine inside titled lands, and issued a cease work order on Mr. Vieira in 2010. However, Mr. Vieira brought a claim against the GGMC to court, and the case made its way through the Guyanese judiciary. In December 2017, Guyana’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that GGMC officers had no authority to issue cease work orders to enforce the Amerindian Act 2006. “Since then, the Government and other authorities have been hiding behind that judgement without recognizing that the peoples of Chinese Landing are continually in the face of imminent danger,” he said.