As September, Amerindian heritage month, draws to a close and as indigenous Indians do all they can to raise awareness about land and other rights, Afro Guyanese groups are beginning to put pressure on the administration of President David Granger to give blacks their just piece of the country’s pie just as past governments have done for others.
The local slavery reparations commission has in recent weeks handed cabinet ministers a slew of publications it says contains startling facts about the plight of Afro Guyanese and the level of discrimination they have faced from the time the first African slave set foot on local soil to the systematic favoring of East Indians during the 23 years of the Indian-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
They are now demanding that an administration led by a retired black army general dedicates some of its energy and resources to addressing the plight of Afro Guyanese especially as it relates to access to land in a country more than 20 times the size of Jamaica and nearly 80 times bigger than Trinidad.
“The African Guyanese community is in deep crisis,” says Eric Phillips, leader of the Guyana Reparations Commission fighting with other national bodies in neighboring Caribbean community countries to make Britain and other western nations compensate the region for the brutal trans Atlantic slave trade.
“The crisis is structural and is the result of centuries of discriminatory practices by governments of Guyana during slavery, after Emancipation and most recently by the last PPP government,” said the latest document given to cabinet.
The commission and other Afro rights groups are pointing to the fact that the country’s 10 percent Amerindian population consisting of nine tribes have already been awarded 13.8 percent of the country’s land mass and are demanding even more though they were never enslaved and made to work for free like Africans.
At worst, Phillips says blacks who account for about 31 percent of Guyana’s population of about 750,000 should at least be awarded about 20 percent of the country as studies have shown that an astonishing 450,000 Africans died during the slave era.
Granger, 71, recently announced the establishment of a land commission to review the status of communal lands, which were linked to estates free African slaves purchased immediately after Emancipation. Afro activists say the PPP systematically gave out these lands to its supporters and others, knowing fully well they belonged to the early Afro coastal villages. The time to reverse all this is now Phillips and others say.
Phillips says it is blacks, rather than Amerindians or any other groups, which dug 15,000 square miles of earth to establish plantations system and drain the low lying coastal belt for free. Ironically, their descendants were never awarded or rewarded with any of those lands they prepared.
“This is a grave injustice. The British and Guyanese governments did not offer lands to Africans at independence but promoted and ensured Amerindians received. Today they own 13.8 percent.”
As further proof of how everyone else is looked after but blacks, the latest document says that even foreign Chinese and Indian companies were given large tracts of state lands to set up businesses but blacks were not given equal access to Guyana’s resources. “Gold smuggling (15,000 ounces per week) was the exclusive domain of Indians with their emboldened government networks. Guyana for example, lost US$1B in gold in 2013,” said Phillips, quoting official information given to government by the United States Treasury.