The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), the representative institution of the 21 communities, has expressed deep concerns over what it says is undermining of its Village Councils’ efforts to keep the deadly COVID-19 out.
The threats are coming especially from the “continuous influx of miners into our villages en route to the Wakadanao and Marudi gold mines and also business people from Georgetown.
“We find this to be disrespectful and a violation of our right to safeguard the well-being and health of our people. We are very concerned that persons coming in can bring undetected cases of the Coronavirus into the mining areas which can then spread into our villages,” a statement from the council said yesterday.
There has been deep worry over the open borders with Brazil in Region 9 with questions raised recently about the authority of the Village Coucils.
Region 9 recently recorded its first COVID-19 case.
“The confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Lethem, Region 9 on May 11 underscores the urgency and necessity of the measures our villages have put in place. The affected individual is known to have travelled across our territory (Wapichan wiizi), to and from the Marudi mines, making stops within several villages along the way.”
According to the Region 9 council, this case reveals how easy it is for the Coronavirus to enter its communities and why it has sent an urgent request on April 14 and 21 for the Government to halt mining in the South Rupununi.
“Our request was finally acknowledged recently after we presented a copy of it to the Honourable Minister of Health, Volda Lawrence, when she visited Aishalton Village on May 8. The case also highlights the question of why Guyana has designated mining as an “essential service” and put the lives of miners and the communities living near mining areas at risk.”
The SRDC said that together with its village councils, it has been working hard to protect citizens during the global public health crisis.
Among a few areas is by ensuring its people have updated accurate information regarding the pandemic; blocking 15 illegal border crossings and monitoring checkpoints and gates into Wapichan territory.
“We find the suggestions by the Region 9 REO that we ‘misunderstand’ our role to be offensive and misguided. The fundamental duty of governments is to safeguard and protect its people, and we have taken to up our responsibilities with the heavy burden of knowledge of the devastating impacts of past pandemics on indigenous populations. Miners, on more than one occasion, have misrepresented information to authorities in order to gain passage through the gates.”
According to the council, in one instance, police came till from Lethem to insist that gate persons at Shulinab open the gate for a particular miner who has had a history of exploiting Amerindians. The SRDC said it has complained to GGMC about him on numerous occasions.
“We therefore again repeat our urgent request for support in this cause by the Government and relevant agencies protect our people and to minimize the infiltration and spread of COVID-19 into Wapichan communities. In particular, we demand that mining be halted for the duration of the public health crisis and that our authority to monitor entry and access into our territory be respected.”
The council said that it remains vigilant and hopeful in overcoming the dreadful pandemic and stand in solidarity with all who are affected.
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