20 February 1997
PRESS RELEASE by Guyana Human Right Association
Manoeuvres in the Raposo/Serra do Sol region of Roraima State across the border in Brazil are likely to stimulate another wave of Brazilian miners into the Pakaraima mountains. Exclusion of five gold mining settlements in Raposo/Serra do Sol from final demarcation of Amerindian lands has turned these settlements into magnets for itinerant miners from other parts of Brazil. In particular, 'Operation Yanomami' is expected to clear 2,000-3,000 miners from the Yanomami lands, for whom Raposo/Serra do Sol will be the most attractive next stop. The last large-scale eviction from Yanomami lands saw the incursion of thousands of miners into the Rupununi savannahs and Pakaraimas mountains.
The recent upsurge of activity in Brazil follows the publication of the infamous 1775 Decree which has given settlers, miners and ranchers the right to challenge demarcation of lands. According to Survival International, these developments are linked to President Cardoso's re-election campaign. A Survival Release of January 17 states that the two Federal Deputies of Roraima State Roberio Araujo and Francisco Rodrigues told the newspaper Follia de Boa Vista on January 9 that their support for President Cardoso depends on 'benefits', chief among which will be allocation of chunks of the Raposa/Serra do Sol reservation to ranchers and miners. "President Cardoso seems to renege on constitutional guarantees affirming the rights of Indians to occupy their land in order to buy off the crucial mining and ranching votes he needs to push through constitutional amendments. The President is seeking to amend the Brazilian Constitution so that he can re-run for President."
The Indians most affected by these developments are the 10,000 Machusi and Wapishana peoples across the border from Guyana. Since 1994 these tribes have been resisting the incursion of ranchers, miners and their hired gunmen into their lands and suffering numerous cases of assassination, detention, rape and torture in the process.
This activity comes hard on the heels of a rapid expansion of mining activity in Suriname where some of the most notorious names in the mining world are gathering. Surinamese human rights and indigenous organisations and international organisations, such as the World Council of Churches have expressed concerns over these developments. The Suriname Government in November 1996 encouraged this gold rush with a 12-page advertising supplement in the Mining Journal.
Broken Hill Property, the Australian mining giant, is seeking a concession in Suriname. This company is remembered for its infamous OK Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea where it generated serious conflict with indigenous people and dumped toxic waste directly into a river until forced to change its policy by the Government. Broken Hill has also entered into a joint venture with Golden Star in Guyana. Homestake Mining, which gained notoriety for its dispute with the Lakota tribe for mining the sacred Black Hills, in the USA, is also in the process of acquiring a concession in Suriname. Golden Star is in dispute with several tribal communities in Suriname, one of which, the Nieuw Koffiekamp community, is resisting forcible re-location from a concession granted to Golden Star. Former dictator Desi Bouterse, re-established as a political force, has surfaced into the areas of Golden Star's concessions, allegedly threatening villagers to fall in line with the eviction process.
The complacency of the Government of Guyana to the virtual take- over of the Guiana Shield by some of the largest and (from an environmental point of view) most disreputable, mining and timber companies in the world is a matter of great concern. This policy of allowing unimpeded access to national territory is also difficult to understand in the light of its modest contributions to the national economy. We trust a more positive and responsible attitude will prevail with respect to preventing any incursions from Brazil into Amerindian communities and territory.
Copies of this press release are being sent to the Guyana Defence Force along with other supporting information.
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