“…the argument for reparation for slavery could stand on its own merit without denying the right of Amerindian peoples to their lands”

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Dear Editor

I write concerning a letter which was published…on March 14, 2016 captioned “We slaved for Guyana; we must have our lands” by Mr. Eric Phillips on behalf of the Guyana Reparations Committee.

Given what seems to be a dangerous evolution of the mandate of the Guyana Reparations Committee coupled with the silence of the Government on this naked insult directed at Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples, I cannot allow this letter to go unanswered.

In the first instance, the public may be interested in knowing what the Guyana Reparations Committee is. CARICOM Heads of Government made a decision in 2013 to pursue the former European colonial powers to make reparations for slavery and native (Indigenous) genocide, since their economic advancement and growth was predicated on Indigenous genocide and more than 200 years of slavery.

Professor Hilary Beckles, Chairman of the CARICOM Commission on Reparations, while addressing the House of Commons, Parliament of Great Britain, on July 16, 2014 had this to say:-

I speak this evening, in this honourable chamber of the House of Commons, as Chairman of the CARICOM Commission on Reparations. My colleagues of the Commission are tasked with the preparation and presentation of the evidentiary basis for a contemporary truth: that the Government of Great Britain, and other European states that were the beneficiaries of enrichment from the enslavement of African peoples, the genocide of indigenous communities, and the deceptive breach of contract and trust in respect of Indians and other Asians brought to the plantations under indenture, have a case to answer in respect of reparatory justice…”

Yes, Mr. Editor, reparation for Indigenous Genocide also forms part of the mandate of the Guyana Reparations Committee which Mr. Eric Phillips heads.  The draft Notice of Complaint by CARICOM which I have seen, indicates the following “The Member States of the Caribbean Community therefore invite the United Kingdom [[XX] other states] to enter into constructive dialogue and negotiations to identify specific and concrete ways in which these issues can be resolved to ensure that the legacies of slavery and indigenous genocide are comprehensively addressed.”

As CARICOM proceeded with preparing its case against the former colonial masters, all CARICOM countries were required to establish National Reparations Committees to research and to assist in compiling the CARICOM dossier. The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport established the Guyana Reparations Committee in 2013 and Mr. Phillips was made its Chairperson. Guyana was supposed to submit its research compilation in 2014 to the CARICOM Reparations Commission which was coordinating and compiling the single CARICOM position.

I am certain that had the then Government known that Eric Phillips was undermining the position of Indigenous Peoples, not only in Guyana but in the CARICOM region, who he was appointed to represent by virtue of the mandate of the Reparations Commission, his removal would have been swift.

Interestingly, Mr. Phillips never thought to make the Guyana submission public then or even now. He quotes from a document (un-named) to validate his claims that Africans have been denied land which others enjoy:-

History has also recorded and forgotten that (Guyanese) Africans “had driven back the sea and had cleared, drained and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps. This is equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land……research has shown that Africans installed the following (1) 2,580,000 miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains, (2) 3,500 miles of dams, roads and footpaths, and (3) 2,176 miles of sea and river defence. The Venn Commission also reported that “to build the coastal plantation alone, a value of 100,000,000 tons of earth had to be moved by the hands of African slaves. “

l wish to assure Mr. Phillips that we, Guyanese,  have not forgotten these facts nor the “crime against humanity” that the former Europeans colonisers committed on African people throughout Guyana, the “New World”, and Africa by the slave trade and slavery. We support the CARICOM in opening up constructive dialogue with the former European colonizers and their present day governments on reparations and compensation for slavery, indigenous genocide and indentureship. He should be aware that the argument for reparation for slavery could stand on its own merit without denying the right of Amerindian peoples or any other people in Guyana who have made this country their home.

Mr. Editor, what is even more disturbing about Phillips’ submission, is that he chose to omit any aspect of the arguments being put forward on behalf of Indigenous Peoples by the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

Mr. Phillips should have been informing the public about his work on the Committee to advance the CARICOM mandate as stated by Professor Hilary Beckles in his opening paragraph to the House of Commons. Instead in a most bizarre fashion he has shown his negative bias against Indigenous Peoples and other ethnic groups whom he is supposed to represent and which has the potential to harm the case CARICOM will be making to the former European colonial masters.

Mr. Phillips’ letter is replete with inaccuracies and contrived “facts.” He denies by exclusion that the PNC (now APNU/AFC) that was in government close to three decades did not only fail to address the concerns of African land in the free villages/plantations purchased by the emancipated Africans, but, in fact, passed the worst piece of legislation which took away the last vestiges of these lands, especially the communal lands in those villages and placed them under the control of the newly formed Regional Democratic Councils. He must now say to the people how this historic PNC legislation, Act No. 12 of 1980, still in existence, made the most and final double-edged contribution to the disposal/transfer to the state of these village lands!

Mr. Phillips’ utterly outrageous claim that Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) will be completed by October this year becomes even more sinister when he is fully cognizant that one of the first ethno-political acts of this new Granger-led Administration was the dismissal of the UNDP accredited staff of the Amerindian GRIF Land Titling project as soon as it took office in May 2015. Thus the ALT was completely stalled for almost a year. We have also noted that the government refusal to acknowledge any wrong doing escaped sanctions by the UNDP.

Now let’s get to the historical inaccuracies in this twisted Gobellian thesis.

First of all, by inaccurately and categorically stating that the Wai Wais and Wapishanas were not here before the Africans came, he concludes that “Justice dictates that if Indigenous Peoples in Guyana can receive land for being here “first’ then Africans who were here before the WaiWais and Wapishanas should be legally entitled to land.” He goes further to claim that “the entire economy of Guyana in 1838, for example, was that created by enslaved Africans whereas our Indigenous brothers and sisters were living nomadic lives.”

With one swoop of his pen Mr. Phillips denies that indigenous genocide occurred in Guyana before the advent of slavery and further he denies the historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence that large groups of Amerindian peoples fled from the coastland which they had inhabited to seek refuge in the far hinterland where they would be beyond the reach of the colonizers.

Mr. Phillips is disgustingly reckless by reducing to zero the contributions of Indigenous Peoples to Guyana – a country which they named. He is not only inaccurate, but worse, is basically saying Amerindians have not contributed anything to the development of Guyana and as such by implication that they should have nothing.

If he was doing research in the Walter Roth Museum, as he claimed, then he should have learnt that Guyana’s boundaries with Brazil were so decided because our Amerindians were residing there. If they were not consistently living there, Guyana’s claim to that territory would have probably seen a different result.  Indeed Mr. Phillips, and all Guyanese, should be thankful that Amerindians continue to reside in these parts, serving as de facto protectors of our country’s borders.

He denies the evidence that our Indigenous peoples’ presence has been documented by Baron Alexander von Humbolt and later by Robert Schomburgk in the 1830s in his first expeditions for the Geographical Society of London and later as Boundaries Commissioner in 1841.

He appears to be uninformed about the battle at the Dutch Fort of Quotata, Rupununi, in the 18th century where the Macusi people fought and chased the Dutch out of the area never to return.

To make matters worse, Mr. Phillips published another letter to further defend his divisive agenda where he unashamedly dismisses the rights of the Wapishanas and the Wai Wai Amerindian people to their lands in spite of these countless studies.

The PPP/C makes no apologies for ensuring that Amerindian lands were and continue to be legally recognized. Indeed, as a country we must be proud of this achievement.  Today, Guyana stands tall among few countries in the world, where Indigenous peoples have title to 14% of the country’s national patrimony.

The present Government needs to accelerate the process to complete the remaining areas. However, Mr. Phillips’ call on government to halt all distribution of land until the reparations issues are addressed, and the government’s own actions to repossess land leased to farmers in the MMA in contempt of a court’s decision as well as repossess house lots and houses paid for and with title makes one wonder if the Gobellian thesis of Mr. Phillips is already at work.

The second set of inaccuracies relate to accusations of “land grabbing” under the PPP/C government. He calls it the “festival of greed, corruption and criminality,” and declares that millions of acres of land were granted to Chinese and Indian foreign firms and that 30 families control 80% of our mining concessions while “Africans have received none!” Interestingly, he seems to be very selective in which foreign nations/companies he refers to while avoiding naming others from the USA and Canada. And isn’t that another form of racism? However, the data from the Guyana Forestry Commission website shows that the largest forestry concessions were given out in the era of the PNC government to Guyanese and foreigners. From the list of names published on their website one can come to one’s own conclusions. As a researcher, which he claims to be, he would know that similar analysis of the data at the GGMC and Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission will debunk these mischievous and dangerous aspersions.

Furthermore, any analysis of the National Housing Programme will demonstrate the huge percentage of Guyanese owning their own house lots and land for the first time in every region,  and such ownership in each region reflects its ethnic demographics. For the first time the majority of people in this country have security of tenure and hold title, transport or lease to their properties whether for residential, commercial or agricultural purposes.

He cannot support the claim that “today, Africans have less than 5% of the economy”. To say this is reckless and inciteful. If this statement were true the poverty of Afro-Guyanese would be so stark and blatant that evidence would be available. In contrast, the many international and national studies/surveys on poverty debunk this and found that the highest level of poverty was amongst the Amerindian population at almost 70 % in the hinterland regions in 2008 (World Bank Poverty Assessment in Guyana) whilst Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese had equivalent levels of poverty of approximately30 odd percent in coastal regions. The overall decline in extreme poverty and hunger to 18. 6% in 2006 is captured in the Guyana 2011 MDG Progress Report and demonstrates that Guyana had made good faith efforts to reduce inequalities-geographic, ethnic and class- and meet its MDG Target 1A. The same report also pointed out that the overall unemployment had declined to 10.7 % in contrast to the rising levels of unemployment being recorded in the ten months.

The 2012 Guyana Population and Housing Census Preliminary Report substantiates the PPP/C government’s land policy on page 29;-

“…..one contributing fact to this intense building explosion is the Government of Guyana policy to make land available in all the ten (10) Administrative regions to families for the building of new homes.  The impact of this policy has been observed in the last five (5) to six (6) years prior to the census. As an example, the Construction Sector has grown on average by 4.5 percent per annum since 2006 according to the overall growth of the national economy”.

The same Census report found that the occupied dwelling units increased by 8.1% to 221,741 with high occupancy rates of over 80-90 % in all 10 regions. Further the building stock increased to 219,509 by 16.9% or 31,383 buildings with Regions 3, 7 and 9 surpassing the national average and Region 4 increasing its stock from 73,390 to 86,510. Surely any person familiar with statistics and population demographics would understand that Mr. Phillips’ claims are deceitful and part of a dangerous game.

Mr. Phillips’ reluctance to do research is understandable as these facts would bring his thesis crumbling to the ground. He ignores the hard work and efforts of thousands of Afro-Guyanese who own land and produce sugar, rice, livestock, provisions, as well as own small and medium businesses throughout this nation and contribute to the national economy. In fact, his thesis denigrates all Guyanese.

Finally, Mr. Editor, the fact that Mr. Phillips has now changed the objective and mandate of the Committee and has unleashed an internal attack on other ethnic groups should concern everyone, more so, because he is now an Advisor to the President of Guyana.

It has been close to two weeks since this despicable letter — with a sequel — was published and there has been no reaction from the Government disassociating itself from it.  It is therefore a case of urgency that the Government of Guyana, explain to the Guyanese people, more particularly the Indigenous people, whether this letter is a reflection of the APNUAFC government’s position and intention.

It is also pellucidly clear that Eric Phillips cannot represent the descendants of those who suffered Indigenous genocide given his expressed opinions of negative bias against Indigenous peoples. Further he denigrates all ethnic groups in this multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation with his jaundiced and prejudiced agenda to sow ethnic division and discord.

The President must therefore remove him forthwith from this Committee.  Indigenous Peoples and Guyana as a whole deserve no less. CARICOM deserves no less.

Yours sincerely

Gail Teixeira, M.P.,

Chief Whip Parliamentary Opposition

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