PM to address Amerindians' environmental concerns

Stabroek News
February 20, 2000

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds is to address the environmental concerns of several Amerindian communities, the foremost being contamination and turbidity of rivers caused by gold mining operations.

Executive Secretary of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), Edward Shields, told this newspaper yesterday that issue of river pollution was a serious one and did not affect the Amerindian communities alone but the country as a whole.

Of primary concern, too, is the increasing illegal presence of Brazilian miners. Shields said that while the association was not against mining by the Brazilians, it felt that but urgent action should be taken by government to regularise the situation. "The issue should be treated with a great deal of priority as it seems to be getting slightly out of hand. The result would not be favourable to the mining industry in Guyana."

There are Brazilians operating three river dredges in the Mazaruni area and two more are expected to begin work there soon. Shields disclosed there are many Brazilians working on the dredges without proper documentation.

The association had previously declared its concern about the Brazilians using mercury to process gold in their operations, Shields said.

He stated that miners from the neighbouring country have "imported" to Guyana habits which are found to be wanting. It was observed that the Brazilians defecate into the rivers, a practice condemned by the GGDMA, which is principled on maintaining environmental standards, the GGDMA executive said.

Shields was part of a contingent led by Hinds on a five-day visit to several communities in the interior. The visit stemmed mainly from a number of complaints received by the Prime Minister from the Amerindians of damage being done to the environment by mining activities which were affecting their way of life.

According to Shields, the Prime Minister, during a meeting with the Brazilians, warned them of their unwanted practices and told them to get their act in order.

The Amerindians reported that they are not catching as many fish as before and that this was because of contamination. They also said that the river channels were blocking up as a result of the mining operations.

The small scale miners at Kurupung are concerned about licences being granted to large scale miners without consideration being given to their needs. These miners are lobbying for government to set aside a portion of land for their use whenever concessions are being given out to large scale miners. Shields said the Amerindians also complained that miners were being issued licences to work on traditional lands they use for hunting and fishing.

Residents of Imbaimadai formed a group and met Hinds to discuss the issues. It was their contention that the Prime Minister was being misled, Shields stated. Hinds told the group that he would investigate the complaints to determine the facts and act accordingly. GGDMA's position is that the trip by the Prime Minister, who holds the portfolio for mining, was much needed and it urged that follow-ups be done to ensure fruitful solutions.

It is the association's perception that there is no hostility existing between the Amerindians and the coastlanders, Shields stated.