Saturday, April 10, 2010

Toshaos, village councillors picket APA’s LCDS workshop

APA demands respect for learning process

GUYANA - Toshaos and councillors from various Amerindian communities picketed an Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) workshop yesterday, accusing the NGO of trying to put a hold on projects that would bring benefit Amerindian communities.

The picket of the workshop at the Regency Suites, on Brickdam was the latest salvo in a row over the scope of consultations on the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) in indigenous communities, and the demand for the resolution of land issues before movement on projects related to the LCDS and REDD+.

Yvonne Pearson, Chairperson of the National Toshaos Council (NTC), said that the protest was intended to show opposition to recent public statements being made by the organisation.

Displaying placards, the picketers stood across the road from the hotel yesterday and APA member Norma Thomas accused the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs of rounding up persons from the hostel and bringing them to protest.

In a press statement issued later, the APA said it was disappointed at the protest, calling it an attempt “to stifle its knowledge building for APA’s members and other leaders, which constitutes a violation of our freedom of assembly.”

It also charged that Toshaos participating at its workshop recognised some of the picketers as recently discharged patients and some did not know why they were in the picket line.

When some persons were asked to explain their placards, they could not do so, it contended.

Following a recent conference organised by the APA, some indigenous leaders had said that LCDS outreach activities done last year lacked prior information, were often rushed and suffered from weak or non-existent translation support for communities.

They also urged government and international agencies to put a hold on the implementation of policies related to projects like the LCDS and REDD+, until land rights issues are settled and asked that the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) be respected. The statement by the indigenous leaders at the recent APA workshop triggered a strong response by government and Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai accused the APA of communicating “misconceptions and half-truths.”

The five-day workshop on “Indigenous Peoples Rights, Climate Change and the LCDS/REDD” is for participants from regions 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9, and the main focus is on providing simplified information on climate change, REDD, the Low Carbon Development Strategy and related topics.

“The aim is for participants to develop a better understanding of all that is involved in what are very complex issues surrounding climate change, its impacts on indigenous communities and the pros and cons of mitigation and adaptation strategies,” the APA said. “The organisation decided to hold this workshop to fill the information gap that exists among its membership and other community representatives who have indicated on numerous occasions that they have been thrust in to positions where they have been asked to make decisions on these matters, without fully understanding the scope or nature of these initiatives,” it added.

The APA said it respected the rights of the picketers and demanded that its right to educate those willing to learn through its programmes be respected. It quoted workshop participants as saying, “We would like the public to understand that our main reason for participating in the workshop is to educate ourselves so that we can go back to our communities and tell our people what we have learnt-we are in a learning process.”

Pearson, however, said the organisation cannot make decisions for Amerindians and accused it of trying to put a hold on projects and policies which would bring benefit to Amerindians. Pearson was referring to a letter reportedly sent to the Norwegian government by the APA trying to get them to rethink their position on LCDS.

She added that Amerindians want development and fully support the LCDS. This support, she said, was shown by the Toshaos, village councillors and supporters present outside the hotel who on their own initiative decided to hold the exercise.

Pearson added that the LCDS will help Amerindians achieve their goals of forest preservation and lower pollution rates. The APA, she said was invited to be part of the consultations, where they could have raised their objections, but refused to do so citing prior commitments. During the protest, APA President Tony James extended an invite to the picketers to join the organisation’s workshop but Pearson told him it was too late notice since they had prior workshop commitments.

Minster Sukhai, who said she was present to lend her support, noted that the APA had indicated that it did not wish to be part of the stakeholder committee, since it had other commitments.

Querying its availability, she wondered whether the organisation is an individual, and why it could not find other members to attend the consultations.

Sukhai also said the APA had written to the Norway Aid agency pinpointing their objections to the agreement and asking them to review the MOU they have with the government. The picket, she said, was spearheaded by the NTC with Toshaos representing regions 1, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10 present.

While the MOU may not offer much financially, it brings opportunities to address concerns of Amerindians including the demarcation, application and extension of lands, Sukhai said.

Peter Persaud, President of TAAMOG said that his organisation is in support of the LCDS and lashed out at the APA for what he considered a campaign to block the funding and to frustrate Amerindian development. Ronald Samuels, Toshao of Santa Aratak, in Region 3 said that he was there because he was disturbed by the allegations of the APA that they represent the interest of Amerindians when their stance is affecting the development of Amerindians.

Author: Candace Phillips
Source: Stabroek News

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