Government Moving Ahead with NPAS Plans - Despite Objections from Amerindians
Andrew Richards Stabroek News February 1999
Government is proceeding with its plans to establish a National Protected Areas System (NPAS) despite objections raised in one Amerindian village which falls in the designated area.
The extended Kaieteur National Park, in the Potaro River area, will fall under the NPAS, and Chenapau Village, located in Region Eight, is within the proposed 224 square miles of the park.
Captain of Chenapau, Anthony Melville, at an Amerindian Captains Conference in January, had voiced his concern about the method being used to implement the NPAS.
According to him, his village is not against the establishment of a NPAS but he contended that they were not involved in the consultation process leading up to the decision to extend the park.
The US$6 million required to help establish the NPAS has been put on hold by the World Bank following the objections raised by the Chenapau captain. A government official said if the funds are withheld by the World Bank, alternative sources of funding will be sought.
Speaking on Wednesday with Stabroek News, Presidential Adviser on Science, Technology, Energy and the Environment, Navin Chandarpal, said though there have been setbacks, government will continue with the establishment of the NPAS. He said the technical requirements for the NPAS project were completed more than a year ago.
Referring to the Kaieteur area, Chandarpal said a team was mandated to investigate whether the establishment of a national park at Kaieteur would have any negative impact on the neighbouring Amerindian village of Chenapau.
"That was done and essentially the people of Chenapau welcomed the idea of having the park...but then the captain of Chenapau came at the end of it all and had a different view from the residents," Chandarpal stated.
The adviser said the Chenapau captain stipulated that the approval of the Kaieteur project would only be authorised by his village if the issue of Amerindian land claims in Region Eight is resolved.
"Our position is that there is a process in train to deal with the resolution of Amerindian land claims and it should not come in as a condition," Chandarpal told this newspaper.
"We are doing what many other countries don't want to do, that is, to develop a national protected areas system...we are going to go ahead and if the World Bank at some later stage is prepared to help we'll accept it," he added.
Programme Administrator of the Amerindian People's Association, Jean La Rose, who is also the Amerindian community's representative on the Constitutional Reform Commission, told Stabroek News on Friday that the village of Chenapau is definitely not against the NPAS but simply wants to ensure that there is no infringement of Amerindian land rights.
She said the Amerindians recognise the government as the "co-managers" of the Kaieteur National Park but felt that the indigenous people, too, should have been involved in the decision-making process.
La Rose alluded to the group of persons sent in by government-the Rapid Rule Appraisal team-to conduct an assessment of the impact of the proposed extension of the park.
According to her, the team did not carry out its work in an objective way and its report was not a true reflection of what was happening in the area. She pointed out that there was no extensive consultation with the village captains.
La Rose noted that the World Bank has a policy which deals with indigenous peoples and in cases where there is a dispute the organisation has to abide by the policy, which states that any conflict has to be resolved before the process could move forward.
Earlier this week, Chandarpal, while addressing a workshop on indicators for the sustainable management for the Amazon Forest said, "We could not allow seeking of assistance to cause us to place our sovereignty at risk, especially when we have so-called experts coming from these [international] bodies and carrying out activities and seeking to impose conditions which are irrelevant to the [NPAS] project which we are supposed to be developing."
A resolution was passed at an Areas Captains Council meeting held at Kopinang Village in September which stated that the process of the extension of the Kaieteur National Park be halted forthwith until the completion of the revision of the Amerindian Act, and the establishment of the National Council of Amerindian Captains.
In the National Plan for Eco-tourism Development published by the government in December, 1997, it was suggested that there be restrictive zoning of the entire watershed of the upper Potaro River and the Kuribrong River. Park boundary demarcation and identification of the use zones on the ground will be the crucial first step in implementing this plan.
"This should involve consultation with Amerindian settlements and other hinterland people currently dwelling in or near the park extension area," the plan said.