The electrical struggle of the Kali’na people in French Guiana

We are neither against the power plant project nor against electricity. We are against his settlement in our lands! » The yopotto (custom chief) of the American village of Prospérité in French Guiana proclaims Roland Sjabere tirelessly. A refrain he has repeated since the Western Guiana Power Plant (Ceog) project came to the ears of villagers three years ago.

The traditional leader went to Paris with association activist Melissa Sjabere and Guyana Indigenous Youth member Christophe Yanuvana Pierre. makes their struggles public and finding political support in the National Assembly.

The Ceog project was launched in 2016 by Ericka Bareigt, Minister for Foreign Affairs, as part of Hollande’s five-year term. The future plant plans to supply this part of Guyana where power outages are frequent 10,000 households in twenty-five years. Electricity will be produced using photovoltaic panels and a hydrogen energy storage system.


The Meridiam investment fund has a 60% stake and the Société anonim de la raffinerie des Antilles has a 30% stake.

“A first in the world”, according to Hydrogène de France (HDF), responsible for the file and 10% investor (1). Technological innovation that will enable the goals of the Energy Transition Act of 2015: Energy autonomy for overseas territories by 2030.

The 140-hectare site chosen by the authorities is owned by the state and managed by the National Forestry Department because it is located in the heart of the equatorial forest, about ten kilometers from the city of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni. These lands are used and he claimed the people of Kali’na, who have been living in the village of Prospérité for decades, only 2 kilometers from the future electricity infrastructure.

The village interacts with the forest area.

“The village is not just a settlement, it interacts with the forest area every day: we eat, we take care of it, it is a place of rest for children, it is a place of transmission of values ​​and traditions. If we run out of forest and reach water, the spirit of the village will begin to die. And we will be forced to turn to a city with a life model that is no less similar to ours.”Roland Sjabere explains.

Court battle

After Ceog received all the permits, the first works started in October last year and work has already been done on 16 hectares. cleaned up. “The mood of the forest has already changed. We cannot imagine what will happen when 78 hectares of land are uprooted.”, yopotto adds. Kali’na was organized to defend their way of life and rights mobilizations in the field. The villagers physically resisted the backhoe loaders, blocked the entrances to the site and gave the company an ultimatum to remove the base camp.

In the past year, tensions have risen and the resistance has become more radical. Repressions by the police facing the protest movement are becoming widespread. In October, 15 mobile gendarmerie vans arrived in the village to pick up Roland Sjabere and two others who had been detained for many hours.

We think of ways to bring some life back to deforested areas.

Arrest of the chief of custom a general wave of anger. In response, opponents reinvested the construction site. “We started demolishing the site non-violently, with the help of many activists, accompanied by music and dance, and set up small camps. It is now an extension of the village, thinking of ways to bring some life back to the deforested areas.Roland Sjabere says.

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At the same time, the legal battle is also trying to stop the site. In March, the associations of Maiouri Nature Guyane, Village Prospérité, Kulalasi and the Association for the Protection of Wild Animals filed a lawsuit to demand that the prefect give official notice to Ceog. waiver request protection of affected species. The administrative court dismissed them, confirming that the environmental permit was final and sufficient.

Water opossum, one issue

On November 17, the National Biodiversity Association and the Village Prospérité association filed a complaint against Ceog in the Cayenne court for the degradation of the fauna, flora and aquatic environment and for the failure to comply with environmental protection measures. They are based on an environmental study conducted in 2018 by Biotope design office specifically for Ceog.

An endangered sloth in a deforested area. (Photo: Rifah village.)

This indicates the presence of, for example 165 bird species, about thirty of which are protected, such as the Zigzag Bittern, the Green Ibis, the King Gallaria or the Kiolo Rail, most of which are bred on this site. Among the flightless mammals present in the area is the aquatic opossum – also called the yapock – “very important issue” because it is rare and so “threatened by the disturbance of the aquatic environment in which it is often found”.

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The aquatic opossum hunts small fish, crustaceans or molluscs by sight, so it needs very clean water. If the waterways are heavily affected, it will jeopardize the conservation of the species locally and throughout French Guiana. However, we noticed that the first clean-up work caused great turbidity in the waterways when it rained, that is, almost every day. Pierrot Pantel, environmental engineer and legal officer at the National Biodiversity Association. This type of water pollution due to sediment and sand from the site prevents opossum hunting, is corrosive to fish gills, suffocates juveniles, and ultimately suffocates the entire environment. “, he specifies.

In filing a complaint Politicswas able to consult, many photos taken between November 10 and 13 show the flow of laden water on the ground from deforested areas to natural waterways.

World Vision

The choice of location for the power plant, which is expected to operate from 2024, raises many questions. First, because it is within the perimeter of the Guyana regional nature park and the natural area of ​​ecological, floristic and faunal interest of Sainte-Anne Bay (Znieff). Ceog ensures that location is irrelevant primary forestonly secondary forest that has been previously exploited and is far from residential areas» .

This forest is part of our identity.

Arguments that never cease to amaze Kali. This classification of nature, its attitude towards living things does not correspond to our world view. It is a forest that must be protected, even if it is not a primary forest as understood by the company or the French authorities. Our children grow up there, we find a lot of wealth there, which saves us from great danger.”shoot the chieftain of the native americans. “This forest is part of our identity”begs the representatives of the villagers.

Another big one sticking point it is a matter of land and land ownership. In 2017, the state signed an agreement promising 400,000 hectares of land to Guyanese Americans, but the redistribution of that land remains unclear. For more than three decades, the American Village of Prosperity has demanded that the land belonging to the Geog project be classified as a collective use rights zone.

On the same topic: In Guyana: Advocating for Native American Rights From the Streets to the Polls

A advanced In 2021, it was acquired on file, but Ceog already had all the green lights to start the plant. HDF got all the clearances within a year or two. This struggle points to a deep institutional failure, conflicting models of land management, joint ownership of land, collective property. This raises a big question about the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples»Christophe Yanuwana summarizes Pierre.

Since the beginning of colonialism, we have been mistreated, displaced, imprisoned.

Chief Roland Sjabere is determined to win this fight and rebuild respectful dialogue equal, not dominant, dominant: “Since the beginning of colonialism, we have been mistreated, relocated, penned. Today we feel under siege, land use planning policies seek to isolate villages from each other through agricultural areas, various projects… We will continue to defend our lands and our vision of Guyana and the Amazon!»

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