GHRA calls on COVID-19 Task Force to remove mining as an essential service
See below full statement from the Guyana Human Rights Association:
THE COVID THREAT FROM BRAZIL REQUIRES MORE ROBUST ACTION
Decisions taken by the Region 9 Covid-19 Health Emergency Committee to further reduce movement in the South Rupununi is welcome. Thanks to resolute action by Toshaos in the South, national authorities are beginning to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation.
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) understands this realization has its origins in the stand-off between communities and the authorities over miners being prevented from transiting the communities en route to their mine-sites. Last Sunday a truck driver/miner forced his way through checkpoints on the basis of being given permission by the Regional Executive Officer (REO) and the Lethem police. The decisions taken at yesterday’s meeting tacitly acknowledge the legal authority of Toshaos and Village Councils to determine who should access their communities.
The REO of Region 9 had acknowledged issuing passes to facilitate truck-drivers avoiding the curfew and criticized the Toshaos for exceeding their authority. Although the REO is reported as stating that such letters were only issued to persons in possession of a prior letter issued by ‘either the Ministry of Natural Resources or Guyana Geology & Mines Commission (GGMC), senior spokespersons in the Ministry are unaware of any such letters having been written.
The action of the Toshaos is hopefully setting the pace for the COVID-19 Task Force to adopt a far more stringent approach to the problem of Brazil being the most vulnerable and porous route for a major Covid-19 invasion in Guyana. The Bolsonaro Government’s irresponsible behaviour in dismissing the virus as a ‘slight flu’ has sent Brazilian death rates to be the seventh highest in the world, a current average of 1000 + per day, with Manaus an epi-centre.
Moreover, the ease with which people can cross the Takatu river and enter Guyana despite the border being officially closed, suggests that the security problem is still being addressed in a reactive, rather than pro-active manner. As with its initial response to the Toshaos, the authorities needed the stimulus of the Covid-infected Brazilian who passed through many communities before taking action. It is also noteworthy that the police in Lethem have warned they will start to prosecute people who break curfew. If the intention is to enforce lawful behaviour why not bring legal charges against miners and the Covid-infected person, who reportedly was tested positive in Brazil then visited a string of villages in Guyana.
The vulnerability of indigenous communities to the Covid-19 virus cannot be overstated. But should the virus really take hold in the Rupununi it will then definitely spread to the entire country. The call from the Chairman of Region 9 for a complete lockdown of Lethem from coastal contact reflects the only realistic strategy.
The controversial issue of mining being declared an ‘essential service’ is at the centre of this problem. Many ordinary Guyanese are struggling to provide for their families while abiding by the lockdown while miners driving 500 miles through Amerindian communities, putting many people at serious risk en route is considered an essential activity. This kind of contradiction discredits the official anti-Covid-19 strategy, fosters indignation and needs to be addressed urgently.
The situation described above reinforces the need to remove mining and mining-related activities from the list of Essential Services which are exempt from Covid-19 restrictions.
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is, therefore, calling on the Covid-19 Task Force to take immediate steps to address all of the issues which have surfaced in Region 9, in particular:
- i) The removal of mining and all mining-related activities from the list of ‘Essential Services’.
- ii) Significantly increase security at border crossings across Regions 8 & 9.
iii) Lay charges against persons whose behaviour recklessly and knowingly infect others.
Guyana Human Rights Association
May 14, 2020