The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), which is made up of 21 communities of the indigenous Wapichan people in the South Rupununi, have expressed grave concern over what they say is the undermining of Village Councils’ efforts to keep the COVID-19 disease out of our villages and are demanding an end to mining until the health crisis is over.
The villages expressed particular concern about the continuous influx of miners and businesspersons in the villages as they head to the Wakadanao and Marudi gold mines.
“We find this to be disrespectful and a violation of our right to safeguard the wellbeing 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,” the SRDC declared in a press statement.
The Council said the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Lethem, Region 9 on May 11 underscores the urgency and necessity of the measures the villages have put in place.
The Council said the affected individual is known to have travelled across their Wapichan territory to and from the Marudi mines, making stops within several villages along the way.
“This case reveals how easy it is for the coronavirus to enter our communities and why we sent an urgent request on April 14 and 21 that the Government halt mining in the South Rupununi,” the Council stated.
The Council said its request was finally acknowledged recently after they presented it to the 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 Council stated.
The SRDC said the Village Councils have been working hard to protect their people during this global public health crisis by ensuring their people have updated, accurate information regarding the pandemic and blocking 15 illegal border crossings. They have also been monitoring checkpoints and gates into Wapichan territory.
The Council said that it finds the suggestions by the Region 9 Regional Executive Officer that they “misunderstand” our role to be offensive and misguided.
“The fundamental duty of governments is to safeguard and protect its people, and we have taken 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.
“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 stated.
The Council said it has complained to GGMC about the miner on numerous occasions.
“We therefore again repeat our urgent request for support in this cause by the Government and relevant agencies to 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 stated.