Some 16 years after Guyana enacted laws to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of its indigenous people, the country is looking to revise those laws as it strengthens its welfare and development policies.
One sister CARICOM country, Belize, is impressed with the existing facilities in place and says there is “much to learn”.
The Guyana Government is currently meeting with scores of Toshaos in an annual conference which started in 2001 where indigenous leaders get an opportunity to raise issues directly with the administration and together craft strategies to address them.
Participating in this year’s conference is a visiting delegation from Belize, led by its Minister of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government Oscar Requena.
The Belizean Minister and his team were in Guyana days ahead of the Toshaos’ conference and have already engaged Guyana’s Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai while also visiting indigenous villages in the country’s hinterland regions.
“We are very excited to be here to learn about your indigenous experiences,” Requena told the News Room.
Guyana has one of the largest indigenous populations in the region and one of the most progressive indigenous rights legislation.
Requena believes this is a big plus for the country. “There is a lot we can learn.”
Belize Prime Minister John Briceño visited Guyana recently and during that trip, the two countries signed an agreement which among other things, allows for cooperation on best practices for Amerindian development.
It was Briceño who recently appointed, for the first time in Belize’s history, a Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs.
The country is now trying to find ways to implement measures in keeping with a recent ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which asserted indigenous people’s communal rights to lands.
“Our government is in the process of drafting policies and legislation to ensure the court order can be implemented to uphold these rights,” Requena explained.
“We hope to learn from your legislation while observing the work this government does with the indigenous people.
“We want to learn from those experiences and I must say we are very impressed with the work the government does with indigenous communities,” he added.
In addition to the support offered to Amerindians by way of legislation protecting their rights, they also benefit from presidential grants, tailored job opportunities and upskilling, scholarships for youths and empowerment and an Amerindian land titling project.
Successive People’s Progressive Party Civic governments have made Guyana the front-runner in addressing the development, and unique needs of the indigenous people.
But local advocates of Amerindian rights continue to call for a review of the existing legislation; the government believes they fail to recognise the special regimes of rights which are already enshrined in the legislation.