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Cabinet moves to correct historical wrongs

3/17/2017, 12:14 p.m.
Government in the Caribbean Community nation of Guyana has established a special commission to settle simmering land disputes in the ...
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Government in the Caribbean Community nation of Guyana has established a special commission to settle simmering land disputes in the country, officials said this week. The major racial groups in the country hope it will correct historic wrongs dating back to British colonialism.

President David Granger, stating that a country with equivalent land space to Britain or Iowa but with a population of less than a million should not be quarreling over land, announced that the seven-person commission will begin work almost immediately, focusing on demands from the nine indigenous tribes for legal demarcation of lands and on wrongs committed against Guyanese of African descent in the decades after the end of slavery.

Africans make up approximately 33 percent of the population. Amerindians account for a mere 10 percent but have the single largest bloc of legally demarcated lands among the other groups. The remainder of the population comprises Guyanese of East Indian descent, a large mixed population and small groups of Europeans and Chinese. Guyana is by far the largest of the single trading bloc of 15 regional nations.

Granger, a retired army general who won general elections nearly two years ago, explained, “Land is life. Today we recognize as a government that the issue of land is far from settled, and we decided to take a decision to ensure that our people can live in this land, Guyana, without worrying about the future.”

The Guyana chapter of the Caribbean Reparations Commission has already said that it plans to load up the commission with dozens of instances of historical wrongs done to Afro-Guyanese pertaining to land, including the fact that the previous Indo-led government had taken away thousands of acres of Black communal and ancestral village lands, sold large tracts to Indo investors or made tracts available for individual house lots.

Highlighting the fact that African slaves dug thousands of miles of canals and drained and irrigated farmlands for European slave owners and planters, the reparations body said that Amerindians are treated far better than Blacks when it comes to land issues as a large portion of the country has already been legally demarcated by the state.

“Africans need to get reparatory justice. The Amerindians have already applied for 25 percent more on top of what they have already. We will use the commission to make our case,” said spokesman Eric Phillips.

The commission will also look at a huge row for gold and diamond mining blocks between medium scale and small wildcat miners as well as demands from mostly Afro housing subdivision developers for large tracts to build homes and new communities.

The reparations group has persistently argued that the country’s 39 percent Indo population was well looked after by the previous administration that ran the country for 23 years until 2015. The reparations group believes that the previous administration ensured that a massive transfer of state wealth was given mostly to the Indo population.

Granger commented, “Land is needed to satisfy human needs for food, shelter, recreation, sports. Regrettably land is a source for pain and controversy. The establishment of this lands’ commission is meant to settle these controversies. We need not fight each other for lands. We will investigate their claims and we will respond.”