The furore surrounding the statement issued by a conference of Amerindian leaders on land rights is, in the opinion of the Guyana Human Rights Association, misplaced and unhelpful.
The sensitivity manifest by the supporters of the LCDS and REDD+, is uncalled for, the GHRA said in a statement . Nothing in either statements issued by the conference or later by the APA suggests lack of support, or even criticism of the LCDS/REDD+ strategies, indeed, the releases are not primarily concerned with REDD+.
The central concern of both statements is that developments of any kind, whether in extractive industries, other projects or in the LCDS/REDD+ not take place until “fair and transparent policies and actions to resolve our outstanding land claims must be put in place as a priority.”
What is new or controversial about this? The call is not to make implementation of REDD+ or other forms of development dependent on resolution of all land rights claims, but on having ‘fair and transparent policies in place before implementation which may have “impacts on our lands, territories and resources.”
Which Guyanese, much less Amerindian, would not want to see such policies in place?
Those who can remember life before REDD+ would recall that the issue of land rights is the most predictable response from the Amerindian community to any significant development impacting on the hinterland of Guyana.
In the 1990s the invasion of predatory Asian forestry companies provoked such a response; development of National Protected Areas, in the late ‘90s was met by land rights claims, mining permits regularly provoke a similar response.
For this reason, it was more than predictable – and legitimate – that such a far-reaching proposal as the LCDS and REDD+, despite their great potential benefits, would trigger land rights concerns.
The equally predictable response of parading how much has been done ‘for’ Amerindians can never resolve the land matter. It is instructive that so many issues such as forestry, mining and pollution which began as indigenous concerns evolved into national patrimony issues, GHRA said.
Rather than relief that the call has come in such measured and thoughtful terms, LCDS proponents are reacting with a degree of arrogance which leaves the on-looker uncomfortable.
The conference statement is being derided because the media reports of the conference (SN in particular) focus almost exclusively on the references in the press release to LCDS/REDD+.
A fact which has been overlooked by all commentators is that the original Conference release was signed by some 26 leaders from across the interior, including eight toshaos.
Rather than hyper-ventilate about a less than politically-correct welcome to the LSCD/REDD+ strategies, supporters of the policy would do well to recognize that the threat to land rights – not necessarily from REDD+ – is real and affects all Guyanese. The March issue of the magazine ‘Grain” (grain.org) contains an article all Guyanese would do well to read about land-grabbing in Latin America.
Referring to the problem in Brazil , the article goes on: In neighbouring Guyana , for instance, the Brazilian Government is financing the construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure to open up Guyana’s ecologically sensitive Rupununi savannah to large-scale agricultural projects that will export crops to Brazil .
“Some Brazilian rice producers who are now negotiating with the Government of Guyana for 99-year leases to large areas of indigenous lands in the Rupununi savannah were recently forced by the Brazilian Supreme Court to abandon lands that they had taken illegally from indigenous communities on their own side of the border, in Raposa Serra do Sol.”
“The multinational seed company RiceTec has approached the government of Guyana for about 2,000 hectares of land in the same region – a diverse and fragile ecosystem that is home to several indigenous peoples.
“With this new way of doing business, the former landlords and invaders get new opportunities to grab land, with fewer economic and political risks, and a new, “respectable” title of “foreign investors”.
In their concern about land titles, Amerindians are demonstrating a greater awareness of what may be down the road than the rest of the Guyanese community. However, according to the APA statement, the cost of demonstrating such awareness, apart from criticism from proponents of the LCDS included harassment from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
Phone calls demanding to know who were invited to the conference and how it was financed are forms of intimidation and are unacceptable. Such behaviour should be noted by the LCDS process monitors.
Both statements make frequent reference to the phrase ‘free, prior and informed consent‘(FPIC) as the guiding principle for any engagement between indigenous communities and the government.
The authorities and proponents of LCDS would do well to take the phrase seriously and negotiate with the Amerindian communities respectfully.
Society as a whole would also be well-advised to cultivate the practice of demanding free, informed and prior consent as a routine matter, not only in relation to REDD+.(GHRA)
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