Gains, challenges of our Amerindian community

101

 Dear Editor,
Without doubt, the twenty-three years that the PPP/C was in office saw our Amerindian and hinterland communities making very great strides. The achievements are impressive, and in many ways they set a standard for other similar communities around the world to aspire.
Just quickly to point out, when the PPP/C took office in 1992, our Amerindian population was on the decline. This was caused by many factors, including migration to Brazil and Venezuela, and a high death rate caused by malaria in particular.
Poverty was all pervasive. All the communities lacked facilities, including schools and health facilities. Drinking water was in many areas contaminated by mining and other such activities.
Today, the Amerindian population is the fastest growing in our country, and their progress in every area is impressive. We now have secondary schools, primary schools and kindergarten all over the interior. They have developed so rapidly that the authorities are now considering naming many as township.
The Amerindian peoples are now in every area of life: doctors, engineers, teachers and other professionals. At the political level, they have made great gains, with an Amerindian Act that protects and promotes their interest. Their organisations, such as the Toshaos Council, have been strengthened. Their land issues have been worked on energetically by the PPP/C Administration, and much was resolved.
This Amerindian Heritage Month is taking place two years into the APNU/AFC regime. Progress has since slowed greatly, and is grinding to a halt. Much of the gains are being threatened and reversed. The signal on the land issue is most troubling. This regime seems to be of the opinion that the Amerindian people should not have the lands they occupied for centuries. They have already changed the nature of the approach from being specifically for Amerindians to something more general. In fact, the use of the word ‘indigenous’ by this regime would give them room to manoeuvre, and can eventually deny the people their lands once more.
For those who are surprised at their actions, the doubting Thomases, I say they should not be. If there was one good thing that came out of the one seat majority that the opposition had in Parliament during 2012 to 2015, it was the fact that it clearly showed the anti-developmental and even racist orientation of the APNU regime.
This was particularly pronounced at the budget time. At every budget: 2012, 2013 and 2014, the APNU and AFC tried to stifle Amerindian development. In 2014, for instance, Capital Budget for Amerindian Development, Programme number 161, which included money for the Amerindian Hostel in Region 4, the Amerindian Development Fund, Water and Land Transportation and the Furnishing of offices were all voted down. That amounted to more than one billion dollars to enhance the people’s welfare.
They voted down the almost $200M that were supposed to go towards building, repairing and enhancing airstrips in the hinterland. They voted down almost $1B that were going to the Amerindian Development Fund, and funds for land titling. They voted against the following projects:
1. The Amerindian Youth Apprenticeship Programme
2. The Secure Livelihood Programme
3. The Subvention to Bina Hill Institute
4. The Amerindian Language Revival Programme
5. The Eco-Tourism and Cultural projects in villages
6. The Cultural Expo (North Pakaraimas-Patamona)
7. The distribution of tractors and supplies to villages
8. The distribution of sports gear and musical equipment
9. The construction of village offices and multi-purpose buildings
10. The solar panel distribution project
11. The land demarcation for Amerindian communities
12. The construction of airstrips in the hinterland.
These are just a small sample of the projects that they tried to stop, and sometimes actually succeeded in so doing.
Now in power, we see them disrespecting the Amerindian leaders. Just recall the outbursts by Ministers Scott and Allicock. Recall, too, how they tried hard to prevent the toshaos and councillors from meeting with the Opposition Leader. Finally, remember that they were sending Ministers to meet those leaders in the night, while they had the whole day to do so.
This is demonstrably disrespectful and partisan.
Clearly, this regime is not moved by developmental objectives, but by vindictiveness, spite and great prejudice.
However, they should know that the Amerindian peoples would fight to defend their gains. They would struggle, alongside all democratic and peaceful forces, to halt the decline and ensure the gains made with the PPP/C Administration would be protected and advanced.

 Donald Ramotar
Former President