(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 13 May 2011)
I attended the community meeting hosted by Sithe Global on the Amaila
Falls Hydropower Project at the Tower Hotel on Wednesday night and was
disappointed to find it was not the “town hall” structure I had
expected, but more of an expo of project. It felt more like a launching
than a place to “have your say,” as billed by their ad for the meeting.
I attended the meeting to get a better understanding of the project and I
left with just that. Although the atmosphere was not what I expected, I
did indeed have most of my questions answered, not all to my
satisfaction, but an answer was attempted.
However, as I left I felt very disturbed about a piece of information I
discovered during my visit. It seems that although there are several
Amerindian villages throughout the nation that will be impacted by this
project, none of them will reap the advantages of the electricity once
it is finished. Not one village.
I did not know this information before. I did not know a lot before I
attended the meeting, which is why I went in the first place – to
educate myself on the project. Still, I am troubled by the omission of
the Amerindian villages in their rightful share of the coming
electricity from the hydropower project.
It is their rightful share, firstly because they are also citizens of
Guyana and should get to enjoy the same electricity that everyone else
will enjoy, but secondly because they will sacrifice more than any other
citizen group to make sure this project becomes a reality.
It seems the government considered it cost prohibitive to build
substations that would be needed to bring electricity to each of the
villages, even though these villages are sacrificing their own land and
resources so the rest of the nation can have electricity from the
project. In fact, in some cases their way of life will be changed
Yet with all of this sacrifice for Guyana to have clean and economical
electricity, the Amerindian communities are being given solar panels
instead of hydropower electricity. I asked if it was possible to build
smaller sub-stations (as opposed to the two larger ones being built for
larger communities) that would suit the needs of the villages and was
told that a smaller sub-station would cost nearly as much as the larger
I still cannot help but feel that the nation’s first inhabitants are
once again getting the short end of the stick. It seems the Amerindians
will make all of the sacrifices and the rest of the nation benefits, but
they get nothing.
Okay, they get some solar panels. The government has said it will give
them solar panels instead – which equates to a patronising pat on the
Although some solar panels are still working satisfactorily 40 years
after installation, the conventional view is that most will dip below 80
percent of their rated capacity within about 20 years. This will vary
slightly between manufacturers and between different types of silicon.
Let us assume the government has found some supersonic solar panels that
will still be working at 75 percent of their rated capacity for the
next 40 years (because we know they will provide the best that money can
buy, right?), what happens at the end of those 40 years?
Are the Amerindians then in the dark once again while the rest of the
nation continues to enjoy the benefits of the Amaila Hydropower Project
built on Amerindian sacred land?
Will the government continue to provide solar panels to the Amerindian
villages for the duration that an operational Amaila Falls Hydropower
Plant exists? That seems only right. Actually, what seems right is that
the Amerindian villages also enjoy the same hydropower electricity
benefits as the rest of the nation.
I cannot help but feel this action – to deny Amerindian villages
hydropower electricity while they provide the land so the rest of the
nation can have it – will be viewed by history as yet another way the
indigenous people of the nation were exploited for the progress of the
And will anyone care? Will anyone stand up and fight so that the
Amerindians benefit from the same hydropower electricity as the rest of
the nation? Or will history repeat itself once again and find that as
long as progress continues, the exploitation of one group of people is
It is funny how humans can justify the abuse, manipulation and
exploitation of an entire population when it suits the needs of the
majority. On second thought, it is not funny. Not funny at all.