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Guyana’s government has established a commission of inquiry to resolve issues pertaining to land ownership in the home country of the Caribbean single trading bloc of nations, particularly those related to large tracts of land freed African slaves would have bought after emancipation but were taken away by the previous Indo-led administration for private and state projects.

The commission began hearings in the past week with the umbrella African Cultural and Development Association leading the way, calling on authorities to complete a proper inventory of land bought after slavery, compensate communities that have lost out on land appropriated by the state and properly title that land so beneficiaries can use them as collateral in the commercial sector as well as in today’s world.

But even as the hearings get underway and as several prominent and influential groups and individuals appear before the commission, the main opposition Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party has come out against the hearings, charging that the hearings will do irreparable damage to the country’s already fragile race relations.

“This is a wedge issue,” a PPP representative told reporters at a briefing as he called for a boycott of the commission, even as most of the blame for taking away African ancestral land and giving it to Indo-Guyanese, Asian foreign investors and others for private and state efforts has been laid squarely at the feet of the PPP.

Still, the ACDA, during a structured presentation, demanded “compensation for the descendants of enslaved freed Africans for lands purchased by their ancestors that were arbitrarily taken by the state and others.”

In a separate presentation, ACDA executive Eric Phillips sought to provide historical context and justification, noting that African slaves “built 2.6 million acres of drainage canals, trenches, inter-bed drains, 3,500 miles of dams and roads, footpaths and 2,176 miles of sea and river defenses.”

He added, “No one else in Guyana has done that, but yet they have gotten reparations.”

Authorities had originally included native Amerindian land rights demands in the hearings but backed away after rights groups demanded separate hearings.

The hearings are ironically taking place in a country that is by far the largest in the bloc of 15 nations, equivalent to the size of Britain or the U.S. state of Idaho. Less than 1 million people live in the republic, and yet there are land rights and ownership issues. Authorities say the time has come to address these issues.

“Any government or people interested in social cohesion, equity, equal access, economic and social justice would take immediate steps to grant land to Africans for the massive and unparalleled contributions that they have made to Guyana,” Phillips argued, calling on the David Granger administration “to immediately freeze the granting of land leases to anyone, local or foreign, until the reparatory land issue is addressed.”

General elections will be held in 2020, so officials are in a hurry to get rid of this political and racial hot-button issue before campaigning starts in earnest.

ExxonMobil is also expected to begin pumping oil and gas from the seabed in 2020, making the country one of the richest in the hemisphere, given its small population and natural resources that include gold, diamonds, agricultural lands, timber and other resources.