In 1994, without consulting local communities, the government granted Golden Star Resources (GSR), a Canadian mining company, two large reconnaissance permits that incorporated most of the Upper Mazaruni, threatening to further deteriorate the environment and Amerindian's survival. In 1995, the Omai Mines owned jointly by GSR and Cambior caused one of the world?'s worst mining disasters when three billion liters of cyanide effluent spilled into the Essequibo, Guyana's largest river. This disaster continues to have serious negative consequences for local communities. In spite of this tragedy, the government continued selling mining concessions. In 1999, another 20,000 square miles of concessions were granted, affecting a total of 46 Amerindian communities extending from the Arekuna and Akawaio communities to those of the Patamonas.
Struggles and Success
With La Rose's guidance, six Akawaio and Arekuna communities from the Upper Mazaruni region filed Guyana's first land rights lawsuit in the High Court on October 28, 1998. In the case, which remains undecided, the communities seek recognition of their aboriginal title to a territory of about 3,000 square miles, the rainforest home of 5,500 Amerindians. If successful, this court case will grant the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples the right to remove all miners from their lands and force the government of Guyana to annul all mining concessions on native lands in the Upper Mazaruni. The case would also set an important precedent for other Amerindian communities in Guyana.
La Rose has influenced revisions of the Forest Act, which could save up to 40 percent of Guyana?s forests if her recommendations are accepted. She has been able to reduce the number of logging concessions and won a government moratorium on logging in 1993.
La Rose, who was selected by Amerindian organizations and leaders to represent them in the constitutional revision process, was then chosen to be the vice chair of the Constitutional Revision Commission. Her work was instrumental in guaranteeing for the first time that some Amerindian rights, including the right to a healthy environment, be included in the constitution. She was also recently selected by Amerindian organizations to sit on the Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Aency. As an indigenous woman in Guyana, La Rose has battled against strong prejudice and defamation campaigns. Her office has been broken into and she has suffered police harassment.
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