By Bibi Khatoon
Hundreds of Indigenous persons living within communities along the Guyana border with Venezuela have over the years chosen to relocate to Venezuela for better health care and education.
As the economic crisis in that country worsens and their grandparents passed away, seventy of those persons from the Akawaio tribe have chosen to return to Guyana and another 180 are awaiting a positive word from their family to return.
“We had no means of educating our children- that was the main reason that the younger people had to be living in Venezuela and the medical facilities that we had not been given here,” Annie Rodrigues said. She migrated with her family to San Antonio, Venezuela several years ago.
She added that “after the situation in Venezuela, there are one week class and the other week no class.” Therefore the family chose to return in the interest of getting the youths into local schools.
They have since requested that the children of Secondary school age be given the opportunity to attend the Waramadong Secondary School. But in the mean time, Rodrigues said they are willing to set up a tent and use retired teachers to educate their children.
One of the first subjects which will be taught is English since the majority of the children speak Spanish and the Akawaio language.
However, upon their return last year, the family found that the land previously occupied at Turungban, Ekereku, by their fore parents is now occupied by a miner who had bulldozed their homes and farms.
Representative of the Amerindian People’s Association, Michael McGarrell explained to News Room that there was a miner at the location for several years but he shared a close relationship with the Village and therefore the two sides existed in harmony.
The family believes that sometime in 2017, the miner sold his concession to another person who destroyed their property and is now preventing them from hunting and fishing in the area.
Not deterred, Rodrigues said “we did not give up…even if that area is being destroyed, I don’t know if we will be compensated but we insist on going there to live.”
The group consisting of pregnant mothers and children along with others has since set up tents along the Ekereku River where they now live.
Given the current rainy period, Chairman of Region Seven, Gordon Bradford told News Room that the living conditions along the river will only get more difficult.
Letter to the President
The family wrote a letter to President David Granger seeking an “urgent intervention” to provide safe entry into their land at Turungban, Ekereku River, Upper Cuyuni, Region 7.
In the letter, the family told the President that after learning that their land was being used for mining, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) was contacted. However, the family was told that they had “no legal papers” and therefore they were unable to intervene.
The group is seeking that the government’s immediate intervention to obtain legal documentation safeguarding the Akawaio Guyanese, an investigation into the destruction of the homes and urgent short term provisions inculuding housing, transportation and communication tools in addition to supplies of basic goods.
On a long-term basis, the family is asking for protection of their rights as legal owners of their traditional lands, provision of sustainable social services including health, education, transportation, and communication to their community and revocation of concessions granted to the miners.
They are also asking for compensation and restitution of their lands through an inclusive process.
President Granger has since ordered an investigation into the settlement of over 60 Guyanese who have returned from Venezuela, along the Ekereku River in Region Seven.
A team which visited the area over the past month, led by Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe is currently compiling a report to be submitted to Cabinet for review, to determine the way forward.
Minister Garrido-Lowe told News Room on Tuesday that the report is almost completed. However, she declined to comment on the circumstances under which the persons have occupied the area along the river which is a tributary of the Cuyuni River.
Meanwhile, the additional members of the family await a definitive decision as to whether they will be granted land to return home.
Additionally, Chairman of the Cuyuni/Mazaruni Region said the regional authority took aid to the family during three visits to the location.
The General Registrar Office has also visited the location and began the registration process.
Another visit is scheduled for the location within the next two weeks.