Prominent environmentalist from Guyana, founder of the Amerindian Peoples Association.

Jean La Rose is a native of the Arawak settlement of Santa Rosa in Guyana. She is director of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), an organization that she helped found, develop and lead. In the beginning, APA organized indigenous communities to oppose uncontrolled mining and other destructive environmental practices in Guyana. Through the association, La Rose pushed for revisions to the Forests Law, trying to save 40 percent of Guyana’s forestland. These efforts were successful in 1993 in reducing the number of logging concessions, forcing the government to declare a general moratorium on concessions for timber activities.

The Amerindian communities chose La Rose to represent them in the process of revising the constitution, an opportunity she took advantage of to include, for the first time in the country’s history, the right to enjoy a healthy environment as a constitutional guarantee for the entire population, and particularly for the indigenous communities. La Rose was also chosen by the Amerindian population to hold a seat on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Advisory Committee.

La Rose was able to represent Caribbean Amerindian communities that have long been marginalized and scorned, but that have, despite that, been able to maintain a lifestyle that culturally promotes sustainability and harmony with the environment. Their world view is one that respects nature as the provider of life itself. So balance in relation to the environment is fundamental. This world view remains today and constitutes an essential part of the struggle for the environment and for the rights of Amerindian communities that live in the mining districts of Guyana. Along with the direct threats represented by pollution, environmental impacts, social disorders, disease transmission and the exploitation of the land, mining interests in Guyana have systematically marginalized the Amerindian populations from the decision-making process and the benefits of the activity. The impact on women is more severe because they often suffer sexual exploitation, discrimination, greater poverty and worse health.

Despite her work and prominence, La Rose has not been exempt from threats from economic interests who see her demands as a threat to their interests. This brave Arawak woman has been the target of attacks on her office and of police harassment. Her Arawak origin has been used to unleash a campaign against her to damage her image through defamation and racial and gender prejudice. In 2002, however, La Rose was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

 

Author: Harrison Flores Ortiz
Published: May 29, 2012.

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