5.1. Why has Participation been so Poor?
Interviews, supported by observations and document readings, identified clearly that participation of residents from Chenapou in the LCDS has been weak. There has been a failure of adequate outreach techniques. Short and infrequent engagements, often with just one or two representatives from the village attending, are ineffective approaches to ensuring that the whole community is informed.
The governance architecture for Amerindian engagement in the LCDS, outlined in Table 1
, has been poorly implemented. The MSSC, although applauded in early assessments [43
], has been highly selective [35
], ineffectively enabled [46
] and appears to have not met since March 2015 [50
]. Both the Amerindian Land Titling process and the Amerindian Development Fund have been protracted. The land titling process now requires an extensive second phase after initial projections to complete in 2015 [44
], and the development funds have been found to lack transparency [46
], with only small sums having filtered through to Amerindian communities whilst most still resides with facilitation bodies such as the UNDP [67
]. Moreover, recent research conducted over the past three years has identified numerous Amerindian communities where land titling remains strongly contested and where the ALT has failed to uphold the principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent [68
]. The Opt-In procedure, timetabled for completion in 2015 [34
], has shown almost no progression from conceptual drafts and remains largely stagnant, although a pilot community has been identified [69
However, to interpret a solely technical reason for this failing risks under-estimating the significant power imbalances present between Guyanese society and the political system. Understanding the lack of participation as a product of an inequality of information and power offers a more nuanced interpretation. This need not amount to a suggestion that the Government of Guyana has deliberately or purposefully not engaged the community of Chenapou, but rather that it is the established norm to not engage them. As Lukes suggests, the “bias of a system” may be held up not only by the deliberate action of an individual or group but also, “by the socially structured and culturally patterned behaviour of groups, and practices of institutions” [26
] (p. 26). In other words, an understanding of power as systemically applied, based on a status quo, provides a possible interpretation of the failure of the government to support the participation of a community like Chenapou.
The dynamic of Amerindian communities being omitted from the political process is supported on a national scale by Bulkan’s [70
] articulation of Guyana’s ‘racialized geography’. Her concept refers to more than simply the ethnically quantifiable demographics of census data. It serves as a commentary on a deeply embedded social, cultural and political division which is present at the core of Guyanese society. This is encapsulated well by anthropologist Andrew Sander’s account:
“In Guyana the distinction between the Coast and the Interior is more than merely a geographical one. It dominates the Coastal society’s conception of its country…The town…is a bright, exciting place, full of interesting people. At the other extreme the Bush is a dark, dangerous, uninteresting place, inhabited by fierce animals and backward, furtive Amerindians.”
This is an oppositional framing born from the colonial disregard for the indigenous communities in Guyana [70
]. Bulkan identifies this cultural divide as persisting in contemporary politics, finding that “although Amerindians constitute almost 10% of the population…political issues and resource allocations are still dominated by the coastland parties and their concerns” [70
] (p. 373). She broadly identifies a restriction on Amerindian autonomy, noting that village councils—the sole political representation of Amerindians—“have no formal link with the regional system of government, which deepens Amerindian isolation from the political process.” [70
] (p. 375). Power—politically, financially and culturally—has permanently resided in the coast since Guyana’s colonial existence, often excluding the Amerindian population. This “racial politics” reflects “the divide-and-rule strategy practiced by small numbers of colonial masters over large numbers of slaves.” [40
] (p. 249) and appears concurrent today.
Prior research, such as the 2012 Rainforest Alliance report and 2014 Amerindian Peoples Association findings, support the presence of a power imbalance, restricting and subduing Amerindian’s political role in the LCDS [29
]. Donovan et al. identify that Amerindian stakeholders “feel that (the) GoG has not kept them updated and often feel strongly that their voices are not being heard, especially with respect to land titling and traditional land extensions” [46
] (p. 20). In the context of Chenapou, the exertion of political power in the form of control over information, dialogue and engagement with the LCDS process has marginalised the community. These people have been subjected to the discernment of the government over their access to information about the LCDS and their capacity to have their voice heard and included in the discussion. For residents of Chenapou, this political exclusion has precedent. Experiences such as insufficient consultation over the expansion of the neighbouring national park [58
], and a feeling that government visits are rare and insubstantial (see Appendix A
) emphasises this.
This dynamic has also been seen to represent a broader status quo within Guyana where racialized geography is embedded into the political architecture, giving rise to a “system bias” [26
] that ostracizes Amerindians from the political process [30
]. Bharrat Jagdeo and the PPP administration that heralded the LCDS were a pinnacle of this power imbalance, their hegemony prevalent beyond the LCDS [30
]. Chenapou is at the receiving end of this asymmetry, which is highlighted by the non-participation experienced during the past six years of the LCDS process.
5.2. Consequences of Failed Participation: ‘Opportunity Costs’
The LCDS and REDD+ can be understood based on the premise of providing financial incentive, on a national level, to replace opportunity costs incurred in reducing deforestation [36
]. However, the costs invoked by a failure to adequately engage with indigenous communities may represent the most significant opportunity lost on the part of those establishing the LCDS. By not engaging with the community, the actors in power—both the GoG and Norwegian government—miss out on the value of local knowledge and input, which may hold significant benefit for projects [3
]. Moreover, there is a subsequent loss of support from communities due to a politics of disengagement, which has the corrosive implication of translating into a general mistrust of the political system. By ostracising groups from the political process, the pragmatic implementation of political decisions is made increasingly challenging [72
]. Broader societal engagement and understanding of political decisions are seen to contribute to the likelihood of successful and higher quality outcomes [25
The range of Amerindian-oriented policies (see Table 1
) and the recognition of Amerindians and their indigenous status within both the initial LCDS documents and the Joint Concept Note are commendable. However, in failing to overcome the “most important first step towards legitimate” participation [22
] (p. 219), of informing citizens of the political process, the value of these policies is lost. If, as is articulated, the government seeks to support, respect and engage indigenous communities within the LCDS process, then the reality that most of those in Chenapou had no understanding of what it is, does not reflect well. The findings in the national Rainforest Alliance report in 2012 largely support our observations, noting that most Amerindians they engaged with were “still confused about basic principles of the LCDS” [46
] (p. 32).
For those in Chenapou who had some awareness of the LCDS, a specific concern was that of the misuse of funding. Many felt that there was an injustice in the fact that Norway had supposedly provided many millions of dollars and yet Chenapou had very little tangible evidence of this funding. There was an incredulity expressed at the notion that the government was unjustly profiting from the LCDS arrangements:
“Georgetown getting all the money and Georgetown ain’t got a tree! We got the trees”
This sentiment was echoed in the Rainforest Alliance report identifying: “(a) perception that the GoG is receiving LCDS resources whilst beneficiaries in the field are not” [46
] (p. 19).
Without an understanding of the LCDS process, Chenapou and other communities are further isolated from the policy, which, at least in the case of Chenapou, gives rise to fear and distrust. In place of the lack of understanding, narratives of land-grabbing, political corruption and malpractice of the government became readily associated with the LCDS. These are built on unclear and imprecise flows of information, proliferating narratives of mistrust and fear which go unchecked by a largely absent government. As accounts from Chenapou reflect, this lack of engagement in politics is not isolated to the LCDS (see I:29). Instead, it is felt that the political exclusion of Amerindian’s is consistent across the spectrum of politics and across time, whether for expediency or political calculation [35
]. The superficial ‘tick-box’ outreach, which has operated throughout the LCDS, allows the government to report as though the process has been participatory, whilst acting unimpeded by citizen input. Whilst this may appear to grant the government free reign in political decisions, this is not without consequence.
Distrust from an electorate can be instrumental in whether a national policy will have public support [65
]. Moreover, trust endures such that a legacy of distrust can be politically immobilising and requires great effort to overcome [74
], meaning that even a political transition with well-meaning intentions may be compromised by pre-existing perceptions and feelings. This is a very real and existing consequence of weak participation that was observable amongst those we spoke with in Chenapou. Moreover, if the LCDS is not understood, it stands little chance of persuading residents in communities like Chenapou to support it and reduce or halt their mining activities. Without influencing those miners in Guyana, the hope of maintaining and preserving the forested environment is unlikely to succeed. Thus, failure to engage communities in the democratic process has clear and lasting implications for the government which should not be underestimated.
5.3. Poor Participation is a Transgression of Fundamental Indigenous Rights
The level of participation observed and expressed from most interviewees in Chenapou falls well below the stated intentions of the LCDS. We found the experiences of those in Chenapou to fall between Arnstein’s [22
] definition of tokenistic and inconsistent informing and total non-participation. Outreach that did occur was little more than a ‘tick-box’ exercise, allowing the government to report that it had fulfilled its engagement. No evaluation of the communities’ understanding of the key concepts and implications of the LCDS was made, and there is little evidence that input from communities had any effect on the LCDS functioning.
This failure to uphold the founding sentiments of the LCDS is significant as the principles themselves were built upon more fundamental rights. To “participate in decisions that affect their environment” [54
] (p. x) is a right that should be given to all people. However, this right is only accessible when information about the impacts is given and the “opportunity to voice opinions and to influence choice(s)” (ibid.
) is present. Without those there is a restriction of this right, rendering the process a restriction of access to justice, which effectively denies the “democratic legitimacy of environmental governance.” [75
The LCDS and REDD+ programmes fall under the umbrella of a number of safeguards and principles (such as the ‘Cancun safeguards’ [18
]), which often exist to protect the rights of marginal communities. A central tenet of this protection is the principle of FPIC. We have found that the provision of information and consultation, along with the “meaningful participation of indigenous peoples” [55
] (p. 34), which constitute FPIC, have not been upheld in the context of Chenapou. Thus, not only has FPIC not been respected, but the “full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders” [18
] (p. 26), as called for in the Cancun safeguards, has similarly not been met in the LCDS. By not respecting FPIC and not upholding the Cancun safeguards, the LCDS and GoG have critically failed to respect the rights of the indigenous community of Chenapou.
This sets a worrying precedent when reflected against broader Amerindian discontent in the LCDS [76
] and the findings of both the Amerindian People’s Association [29
] and the 2012 Rainforest Alliance report, which found the LCDS to have failed in protecting “the rights of indigenous peoples” [46
] (p. 7) in Guyana. These findings raise a warning flag. Consistent and documented failing to respect fundamental rights of a large number of people within the constructs of the LCDS is a serious concern.
5.4. Critique of the Model of Development-Distribution of Power
Asking why there have been such noted shortfalls in democratic engagement within the LCDS is important. We have put forward arguments which focus on the role of the Guyanese government, but Norway as the bi-lateral partner and financier is also accountable. An initial criticism, that the Norwegian aid department recognises, is that the selection of Guyana was done in haste as the opportunity to present the REDD+ model at COP 15 (2009) approached [77
]. This was clearly a significant flaw as the Norwegian government entered a bi-lateral agreement not fully informed of the local political context and dynamics in Guyana. This lack of contextual understanding on the part of Norway is critical. Implementing REDD+ as a concept into Guyana is fundamentally challenging for some key reasons.
Firstly, the significance of mining within the Guyanese economy, particularly unreported and artisanal mining such as that prevalent in Chenapou, should not be underestimated [57
]. Income from gold mining is integral to many in communities like Chenapou and so in effect, REDD+ must compete in order to substitute the income of gold. With little likelihood of this occurring, it seems unlikely that REDD+ could tackle even the recorded levels of deforestation associated with mining [39
]. Additionally, of the four established partner countries that Norway has engaged with—Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania and Guyana—Guyana is considered the least transparent, ranking lowest on the Corruption Perception Index [38
Nevertheless, Norway signed an agreement worth US$ 250 million with almost no prior knowledge of the country and, importantly, with little to no on the ground presence. These are issues latterly acknowledged by the Norwegian development agency:
“The NICFI [Norwegian climate and forest initiative] operations in two key partner countries (Guyana and Indonesia) were less well regarded, both in terms of staffing levels and operational experience with these country partners…the number of staff is perceived as small, particularly the operational capacity in two countries with large bilateral programmes”
The model adopted by Norway should be questioned. Norway has provided substantial financial promise with little oversight and no internal presence to a country recognised as having issues with political corruption and transparency. Guyanese commentators underline this, noting that the “likely principal result of Norwegian aid funds will be to consolidate further the political racialization of Guyana” [35
] (p. 274).
The Norwegian aid department must carry some responsibility for providing such funding into a country where they had little understanding of the institutional capacity or history of engaging the Amerindian communities [11
]. Norway has sought to take a removed role in funding these interim REDD+ projects, but, as has been presented, the costs of offering little effective operational staff and simply providing substantial funds are manifold. With no oversight, Norway has been unable to ensure that the LCDS would provide the participation and inclusivity of Amerindians as mandated in the Norway-Guyana agreement. Bulkan emphasises the potential consequences of such limited prior knowledge stating that: “REDD illustrates how dispensation of international aid, without robust checks and balances, can maintain and extend entrenched power” [35
] (p. 249).
There is a failure on the part of planning and process awareness from Norway and NORAD, which is being felt most by those whose rights and opportunity to engage in the LCDS have been constrained. Marginalisation has been reinforced through the cultural bias [26
] or status quo such that indigenous Amerindian communities are further disconnected from politics and power. It is deeply concerning to read admission of this lack of awareness within reviews of NORAD and yet observe the continuation of those same dynamics:
“NICFI presence in some partner countries is perceived as being too limited. This is particularly so in Guyana where despite excellent technical progress, there is considerable dissent among wider stakeholders at the limited progress on enabling activities and a view that Norway has an incomplete view of how its funds are being spent. It is concluded that the staffing situation in Guyana requires deeper consideration of alternative options.”
The operation of power in an aid relationship (between donor and receiver) is significant and frequently glossed over and yet, as Eyben et al. note, “it is always the giver who has the power, stressing that there is no such thing as a free gift.” [28
] (p. 89). It is necessary to better understand the operations of power in local and global interactions that are involved in changing national policies and consequently local practices, such as the ability of Amerindian communities in Guyana to access and use forest resources. For instance, if NGOs and development agencies work without an understanding of contextual power structures, they may unknowingly perpetuate the inequity and injustice they are striving to change [28
]. This holds for third party/state sponsored forest conservation or sustainable forest management, which should be aware of potentially continuing or even exacerbating unequal power relations and thereby contributing to disempowerment.
The “deeper consideration” that NORAD outlines does not provide improvement to the LCDS and indigenous communities unless it is supported by effective action. Implementing principles such as FPIC requires collaborative, early engagement with clearly defined criteria and a reliable system of accountability [79
]. The Opt-In process in Guyana could be the key to providing a choice for indigenous communities, which is at the heart of FPIC. Participation is principally about information and the power to act, or not act, on that information [22
]. For FPIC to be adequately addressed, it requires an understanding that engagement and information is needed on an ongoing cycle throughout the process. Lessons should be taken both from those situations where FPIC is inadequately observed and those who have shown greater success [10
The importance of addressing this is outlined as Norway looks to play a pivotal role in REDD+ globally [38
]. An understanding and consideration of the shortcomings of their approach in Guyana and its implications could, and should, provide reflection applicable to their broader development aid model.