The National Toshaos Council (NTC) at their press conference on May 3rd has in effect threatened the President that Amerindians will not vote for them in 2020 unless the government immediately repeals the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on land. Vice President Lennox Shuman of the NTC even went further by indicating in his defiant speech to the President that ACDA received lands from the Guyana Lands & Surveys Commission. ACDA categorically denies it has applied for lands at the Guyana Lands & Surveys or received any. This is a blatant lie for which the NTC should apologize.
Amerindians have been quietly but forcibly holding the government hostage for an additional 10% of Guyana through the LCDS GRIF-funded Land Titling Programme to provide titles to 161 communities covering 13.8% of Guyana. By having a formal COI, this demand for a total of 24% of Guyana will become publicly exposed and they do not want that. But is there any legal moral or just claim for 24% of Guyana? The answer is no.
Amerindians have been rightly called “The First Peoples of Guyana”. Indeed 6 of the 9 Tribes can be truly called First Peoples but three, the Wai Wais, the Macushis and the Wapishanas, arrived in Guyana from Brazil 200 years (Wai Wais) and 100 years (Macushis and Wapishanas) after enslaved Africans were brought to Guyana.
In 1838, there were 6-7000 Amerindians in Guyana and 84,035 freed Africans. The Wai Wais, Macushis and the Wapishanas of the Rupununi Uprising fame were not here.
In 1994, Mr. Jorg Vereecke, UNDP’s Associate Expert on Indigenous People, indicated there were “nine indigenous tribes living scattered all over Guyana. These were the Akawaio (3,800); Arekuna (475); Arawak (15,000); Machusi -Brazilian Macuxi, (7,000); Wapishanas (6,000); Patmuna (4,700); Wai Wai (198); and Carib (2,700)”. A total of 32,873.
In 2002, the Guyana Census found that the Amerindian population numbered 68,675 and was the fastest growing in comparison to other ethnic groups, with a population increase of 47.3 per cent from 1991 to 2002 and representing an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent. Based on these facts, it is unlikely there could have been more than 4,000 Indigenous Peoples in the entire Guyana in the year 1630, or more than 7,000 in 1838, when at that time there were 84,075 freed Africans. The claim that 4,000 people in the year 1630 or that 7,000 people in the year 1838, were “stewards” of 83,000 square miles of Guyana, lacks historical validity.
Do Guyanese believe the Amerindian Act should be modified to give 24% of Guyana to Amerindians when indeed 472,000 Africans died during 200 years of slavery to build Guyana and having cleared 15,000 square miles or 18% of Guyana, they still have received no reparatory justice as have the Amerindians through the Amerindian Act of 1969.
The second reason for the resistance to the COI on Land is Amerindians are holding the government hostage for subsurface rights. They believe they should have 24% of Guyana and all the mineral rights beneath that land. Of course the Government of Guyana, like most sovereign states own subsurface rights. This has been an ongoing beef since the First United Nations Decade of World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004) and the second UN International Decade for World’s Indigenous Peoples (2005-2014). What makes this argument more flawed is that oil has been found in Guyana’s oceans and this would imply that all of the benefits of oil should go to Coastlanders and none to Amerindians living in the Interior.
The third reason for resistance to the COI is a race issue which has been hidden for quite a while. Vice President Lennox Shuman let the bird out of the bag. Amerindians do not believe because of the influence of the PPP, that Africans should be given any land in Guyana for reparatory justice in the same manner in which Amerindians received 13.8% of Guyana as reparatory justice. They are perhaps unaware that Jagdeo/Ramotar gave hundreds of thousands of acres of land to Indians from India such as Vaitarna and hundreds of thousands of acres to Chinese companies such as Bai Shan Lin and Rong-An.
Interestingly, the 13.8% of Land given to Amerindians only seems to benefit pure Amerindians. There are almost 10,000 Guyanese of mixed Amerindian, African, Indian, Portuguese and Chinese heritage. They have received very little from the G$4 billion paid to the Amerindian Development Fund that has been provided to 141 Amerindian Villages out of Norway. The current Land Titling Programme is a very silent and hidden issue. It is no wonder the Amerindian groups would not want this in a Public COI on land.
Finally, I say this to our Amerindian Brothers and Sisters. You are being grossly unfair to the Guyana Government and the People of Guyana.
This current government has put G$26 billion of its current G$250 billion exclusively for Amerindian communities which also benefit from other areas of the 2017 budget for all Guyanese.
Additionally, Minister Jordan in March this year signed an Agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to transform the lives of 30,000 people in Guyana’s hinterland. Prior to this signing Minister Jordan in February signed another agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank for a US$15m Sustainable Agricultural Development Programme of which Amerindian communities will benefit from agricultural diversification.
13.8% of Guyana is a very large amount of land that was given to 7000 Amerindians who were here in 1838. To ask for 24% of Guyana is totally wrong.
Eric M. Phillips
Executive Member ACDA
Chair, Guyana Reparations