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Indigenous Political Participation Key to Morales’ Lead

October 9, 2014

by Ramiro Sebastián Fúnez

Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to be elected to a third term in office on October 12—and not by a small margin. A September 30 poll conducted by French global market research company Ipsos predicts that the incumbent will receive a comfortable 59 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, opposition candidates Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC), Juan del Granado of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) are each expected to receive less than 15 percent of the vote individually.

Among opposition circles, speculation is rife that the increased number of eligible Bolivian voters (totaling 6.5 million) and the alleged pro-Morales bias of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) indicate a fraudulent electoral process. Doria Medina, earning an estimated 13 percent of the vote in the recent Ipsos poll, has also claimed that the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) government is manipulating television advertising allocation in favor of the president.

“They have aired up to 60 negative spots on television against us, and when we tried to respond to them with our own spots, the Electoral Tribunal denied us permission,” Doria Medina told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in September. “Likewise, we put campaign signs on the streets, and the government ordered police to remove them. The government has a monopoly of public signs,” Medina said.

However, opposition members attempting to make sense of Morales’ expected win should look no further than the president’s overwhelming support from the country’s historically marginalized Aymara and Quechua populations, which form an important percentage of Bolivia’s population. Morales’ presidency has been marked by mass Indigenous political participation in government affairs, an achievement unheard of in previous administrations.

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Tags: Bolivian Elections, Evo Morales, Indigenous Rights

Mapuche Leaders Meet in Southern Chile to Discuss Ongoing Conflict

January 17, 2013

by AQ Online

More than 600 Mapuche representatives gathered in Chile’s conflict-torn La Araucanía region on Wednesday to discuss proposals for self-government and address the violent clashes between Indigenous activists and state authorities in southern Chile over land ownership and restitution.

Mapuche leaders organized a special summit at the cerro Ñielol (Ñielol  hill) in the city of Temuco in an effort to assert Indigenous autonomy and protest the Chilean government’s response to the growing unrest in La Araucanía, including a special anti-terrorist group sent to combat violence in the region. 

The latest tragedy in the long-running conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean government occurred after an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mckay, died in an arson attack on January 4. Local Mapuche activists reportedly believed that the land-holding couple had usurped ancestral Mapuche territory and targeted their home.

Celestino Córdova Tránsito, a young Indigenous man, was detained near the scene of the crime and charged with the couple’s death last Friday under a controversial anti-terrorism law first enacted under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The law considers the destruction or illegal occupation of property an act of terrorism that can be tried in both civilian and military courts.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Minority Rights Group International have criticized the anti-terrorism law being invoked against Mapuche activists, claiming that it has been used exclusively against the Mapuche since Chile returned to democratic rule.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declined an invitation to attend the Mapuche summit in Temuco, but Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and Social Development Minister Joaquin Lavin planned to meet with local lawmakers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the ongoing conflict. The government said it would send a representative as an observer to the summit at cerro Ñielol.

Tags: Chile, Mapuche, Indigenous Rights

El valor del diálogo para los Indígenas en Colombia

August 13, 2012

by Jenny Manrique

Es lógico. El único interlocutor válido para resolver el conflicto desatado por la presencia de grupos armados y fuerza pública en territorio Indígena de los Nasa-Páez en el norte del Cauca, es el presidente Juan Manuel Santos. Mesas temáticas, delegados ministeriales, despliegue de fuerza pública, son medidas además de controversiales, inútiles. La presencia de ONGs internacionales y los informes de los relatores de derechos humanos sobre la situación de los pueblos Indígenas, respaldan el proceso y lo blindan pero terminan siendo insuficientes porque el estado colombiano no se anima a reconocer lo que la Constitución del 1991 le dio a estas comunidades: Autonomía.

Ni el estado ni los grupos armados, valga decir. Porque allí donde hay tierra, rica y próspera, desplazar y acabar con las comunidades a quienes les pertenece, es el mejor método para dar paso a los monocultivos o el narcotráfico. Da igual. Aunque en apariencia lo primero es legal y lo segundo no, para las comunidades Indígenas la defensa del territorio pasa por la defensa de la siembra, de la naturaleza, de la madre tierra, de la Pachamama, de esa riqueza autosostenible que no se puede reducir a los biocombustibles o a la coca. Y eso que esa última también es sagrada para ellos aquí como en Bolivia, aunque su producción no está regulada ni mucho menos permitida por el Estado colombiano como en Bolivia. Para los Nasa-Páez, la segunda comunidad Indígena más numerosa del país, unos 130.000 miembros, hay mucho más que defender y aunque no se reduce a una palabra es la que más carga política e histórica tiene: Autonomía.  

Esa defensa del territorio ha sido pagada con un precio altísimo. Con ocasión del ”Encuentro Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas por la defensa de la Madre Tierra” que se lleva a cabo en Popayán desde el pasado 10 de agosto, la Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC) reveló unas cifras que parecen números fríos pero que dan cuenta de una realidad que sale a la palestra pública cada vez que en masa los Indígenas protestan, bloquean vías, o como sucedió en julio pasado—origen del conflicto actual—expulsan a los armados (legales o ilegales) de sus tierras.

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Tags: Indigenous Rights, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia Congress

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of August 13

August 13, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: Fidel Castro’s birthday; Buenos Aires subway shutdown continues; public teachers to end striking in Panama; talks to renew in Colombia between the government and the Indigenous Nasa; and a possible dialogue over Venezuela’s detained U.S. Marine.

Fidel Turns 86 Years Old: Cuba’s revolutionary leader and former president, Fidel Castro, turns 86 years old today. He faces health issues, having stepped down from the presidency in 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery—and has not been seen in public or mentioned in the news since June 19, according to Reuters. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes of the occasion, “Six years ago when Fidel Castro stepped aside to pass the torch to his brother Raúl, people thought the end was near. Give the man's staying power credit, but really, what modern country in the region and in the world remains as centered and fixated on an 86-year-old man? It's a sign of how little Cuba—and U.S. policy toward the island—has progressed. We're all stuck in the past.”

Subway Shutdown in Buenos Aires: A strike by union employees of Buenos Aires’ municipal subway system is entering its tenth day today, with no end in sight after talks broke down on Friday with the administration of Mayor Mauricio Macri. The subway shutdown has inconvenienced between 600,000 and 1 million daily commuters. Macri, the most prominent figure of the opposition Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, is blaming the ruling Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, to which President Cristina Fernández belongs. Macri is accusing FPV operatives of inciting the union workers, who are demanding a 28 percent increase in pay. Buenos Aires Deputy Mayor Maria Eugenia Vidal stated that the city officials “just don’t have the means to pay for this.” Pay attention to see if there will be any breakthrough in negotiations this week.

Teacher Strike to End in Panama: Leaders of a teacher strike in Panama reached an understanding with the government on Saturday to end the weeklong strike today. Teachers were protesting over issues such as decaying classrooms and insufficient pay.

Santos-Nasa Mediation To Resume in Colombia: Leaders of the Indigenous Nasa group expect to set a date by this Tuesday for the resumption of mediated talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos. More than 10,000 Nasas marched in the department of Cauca yesterday demanding the government return to the table. Cauca, in southwest Colombia, is home to many rebels belonging to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The Santos administration, therefore, has placed many Colombian soldiers in Cauca as part of the ongoing internal conflict with the FARC, which the Nasa view as a threat to their territorial sovereignty. The Nasas and the government, however, hope to reach an agreement through mediation.

Venezuela-U.S. Showdown Over Detention: After Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced late last week that police have detained an American citizen who claimed to be a former U.S. Marine, tensions have flared between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments. According to the Associated Press, a State Department official said that the U.S. authorities were not notified of his arrest. Chávez has openly suspected that the detainee, whose name has not been released, may be a “mercenary” scheming to destabilize Venezuela. Stay tuned to see if there may be more updates on this case in the coming week.

EXTRA, Rio 2016: After yesterday’s closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the world’s attention turns to Rio de Janeiro for 2016. But is the city ready? Check out AQ’s television segment on Brazil and the Olympics on the “Efecto Naím” program on NTN24. 

Tags: Cuba, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Indigenous Rights, Education, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, Cristina Fernandez

Biofuels Company Backs Down on Controversial Sugar Cane Plan in Brazil

June 14, 2012

by AQ Online

Raizen, a joint venture of oil giant Shell and Brazilian energy company Cosan, has agreed to give up its plans to buy sugar cane grown on Indigenous lands in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The deal was reached after months of campaigning by Guarani farmers and Indigenous rights organization Survival International, as well as pressure from Brazilian authorities.

Raizen, which was established in 2010 and produces 2.2 billion liters of ethanol annually, had been obtaining some of the sugar cane used for its ethanol production on land claimed by the Guarani in Mato Grosso. In the agreement signed yesterday with Indigenous affairs body Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI), which will go into effect this November, Raizen promised not to source sugar cane from any lands declared by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice as belonging to Indigenous tribes. It also promised to consult FUNAI to avoid further investment or expansion in conflict areas that might be recognized as Indigenous lands in the future. The company said in a statement that the decision reflected its “commitment to combine sustainable development with the well-being of the local communities,” and that it hoped its withdrawal would be used “as a good example for other companies to follow.”

Guarani leaders and Indigenous rights activists have welcomed the news. Survival International director Stephen Corry said,“Raizen’s decision is excellent news for the Guarani, who have been…squeezed off their land by sugar cane production.”  Valdelice Veron, a Guarani Indian living in Mato Grosso, said the rivers in her community had been polluted by pesticides, but now “we will be able to drink from our land again.”

It is highly unusual for a major company to back down on business opportunities on Indigenous land, but pressure has mounted as tensions between the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and large-scale farmers have increased and violent clashes erupted—including the death last year of Guarani leader Nísio Gomez. Conflicts over Indigenous-claimed lands and the resources on them remain a major unsolved issue in Brazil ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, the high-level meetings of which are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro next week.

Tags: energy, Indigenous Rights, land and water use

Indigenous Protesters Continue to Block Pan-American Highway

February 2, 2012

by AQ Online

For the second day in a row, Indigenous groups protesting mineral resource extraction and hydroelectric projects in Panama shut down parts of the Pan-American Highway yesterday. Hundreds of Indigenous Panamanians from the Ngabe Buglé comarca in the country’s northwest placed tree branches and rocks at points along the highway in Chiriquí and Veraguas provinces, as well as on the highway between Chiriquí and Boca del Tora. All locations are part of the comarca, a type of reservation for the Ngabe and Buglé Indigenous groups with a high degree of administrative autonomy.

The demonstrators were protesting mining activities and the construction of hydroelectric projects in the region. Their leader, Toribio García, told local press that “we don’t want transnational companies to take over our natural resources and [cause people to] lose their lands.” Specifically, the Indigenous protesters were incensed over the approval last week by the National Assembly’s Commerce Committee of a bill, Ley 415, which addresses the protection of mineral, water and other natural resources in their region. They said they were not consulted during debate over the bill, and demanded that Article 5 of the original bill, which was dropped in the approved version, be reinstated. That article had called for an immediate suspension of all active concessions to national or foreign companies interested in mineral resource extraction or the development of hydroelectric plants within Ngabe Buglé and neighboring territories.

Representative Raúl Hernández, president of the Commerce Committee, said all groups had been invited to contribute, and the bill as it was endorsed “fulfills its obligations from all sides.” Before becoming law, the bill will go through two more rounds of debate and, possibly, further modifications.

In March 2011, faced with strong opposition and protests by Indigenous groups, the Panamanian government was forced to repeal a law that would have opened mining activities in Panama to private and foreign investment.

Tags: Panama, Indigenous Rights, natural resources

Protesters Arrive in La Paz to Demand Dialogue

October 20, 2011

by AQ Online

More than 1,500 Indigenous Bolivian protesters arrived in La Paz on Wednesday after a 603-kilometer (375 mile), 66-day march demanding that President Evo Morales renegotiate the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) road that is slated to traverse the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).

Hundreds of supporters in the Plaza San Francisco received the Amazonian demonstrators chanting, “The TIPNIS is untouchable, Bolivians own the TIPNIS,” while distributing food, water, flowers, and blankets. La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla, who supports the protestors, welcomed the marchers and presented them with symbolic keys to the city.

Organizers of the months-long protests are demanding that the government permanently abandon the joint Brazil–Bolivia project, at least along the proposed route. Morales today invited the protestors to discuss their grievances in the office of Vice President Álvaro García Linera, after earlier statements by Minister of Communications Iván Canelas indicated the presidential palace is under construction and not an appropriate place to receive the group. 

Protest leaders in response have rejected such claims and insisted they won’t leave until they talk to the president. “The President has told us he waits for us in the presidential palace. We’re here and we won’t move until he sees us,” said Indigenous leader Fernando Vargas.

Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous Rights, political protests, TIPNIS

La marcha de los indígenas en Bolivia

September 27, 2011

by Cecilia Lanza

Hace poco más de un mes, una marcha iniciada por los nativos del Territorio  Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS), en la región centro-oriental del país, ha desatado la mayor crisis del gobierno del presidente Morales, aunque ni siquiera hoy el propio gobierno –sordo y caprichoso- parece haberse dado cuenta de la dimensión de este hecho que lo ha desnudado no sólo frente al país sino a la comunidad internacional todavía enamorada de Evo en algún rincón.  Para el resto de los ciudadanos, esa misma marcha ha puesto de una vez por todas las cartas sobre la mesa: ¿Qué busca verdaderamente el gobierno de Evo Morales?

El gobierno de Morales ha decidido construir una carretera que partiría en dos el TIPNIS (1.200.000 hectáreas). Las consecuencias de ello han sido ampliamente expuestas probando de manera irrefutable los múltiples daños que esto causaría. El TIPNIS es la mayor reserva de flora, fauna y agua dulce del país y la segunda de la región. Una carretera a través del bosque implicaría, para comenzar, el desmonte de 1.500 Kms2 y la tala de 600.000 árboles; la migración, alteración y probable extinción de más de 3.400 especies de fauna y flora y la intervención en el  hábitat, costumbres y cultura de 64 comunidades originarias de chimanes, yuracarés y moxeños que allí habitan. Pero aquí viene un primer dato interesante: esa carretera daría carta blanca a los llamados “colonos” (migrantes de otras regiones del país, sobre todo cocaleros de la región vecina del Chapare) para que ingresen al parque como ya lo han venido haciendo, ampliando la frontera del cultivo ilegal de coca. De hecho, según datos oficiales, en el TIPNIS ya se produce coca destinada al narcotráfico.

Otros datos relevantes tienen que ver con la potencial riqueza de los recursos naturales del lugar y su explotación (anunciada por el gobierno de Morales): petróleo y madera de altísimo valor comercial. Por eso mi curiosidad no es gratuita: ¿Qué pensaría hacer la brasileña OAS (contratista de esa carretera) con los 600 mil árboles que tumbaría, valorados comercialmente en 10 mil dólares cada uno en el mercado internacional?

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Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous Rights

Bolivian Police Break Up Indigenous Protest

September 26, 2011

by AQ Online

Yesterday, Bolivian police forces defused a popular month-long march by Indigenous groups who had protested the construction of a highway through a national, resource-rich park. The preserve, known as Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (TIPNIS), is protected Indigenous territory located in the center of Bolivia.

The march was sparked over Indigenous frustrations regarding their inability to stop the highway project. The constitution requires that the government consult with Indigenous groups—through the Ley de Consulta—prior to authorizing a project that may affect their interests. But still, Indigenous peoples do not have the power to veto any decision.

President Evo Morales and his government decided earlier this year, aided by $415 million in Brazilian financing, to build the transnational highway through Bolivia to link Brazil to Pacific ports in Peru and Chile. Local Indigenous groups vehemently objected when they learned that the highway would be routed through TIPNIS, effectively demolishing part of the preserve. In response, in mid-August about 1,500 protestors began a 600-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to La Paz to call attention to their cause. Prominent activists like former Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S. Gustavo Guzman joined the protest last week in the town of Yucumo near La Paz, where police had been gathering to prevent the group from reaching the Bolivian capital.

Police used tear gas and clubs yesterday to break up the march on its 41st day, and arrested the organizers. Critics in the Bolivian media have classified this police action as “violent repression” and as an excessive use of force. Still, the protestors managed to prompt Morales to agree to submit the highway proposal to a local referendum.

Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous Rights, Evo Morales

Brazil Refuses to Halt Dam Construction

April 7, 2011

by AQ Online

Responding to a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Brazilian government refused on Tuesday to suspend construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon. Last Friday the commission had requested that the Brazilian government stop the dam’s licensing process until it had addressed the concerns of environmental and indigenous groups who filed a petition against the dam in February. The move is the latest in a long-standing battle between the Brazilian government and environmental and human rights activists, including Hollywood notable James Cameron, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar of California and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the IACHR’s demands were “premature and unjustified,” and that the dam project was “strictly adhering to all relevant standards for construction.”

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be the world’s third-largest—after the Three Gorges dam in China and Itaipu, jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay—will extend 3.75 miles long and divert the flow of the Xingu River in Brazil’s northern Pará state. Environmental groups say it would flood close to 200 square miles of virgin rainforest, displacing up to 50,000 indigenous residents and releasing large quantities of methane gas, causing irreparable damage to the environment.

The Brazilian government, which estimates the number of displaced people to be much lower, says the dam is crucial for economic development and for upgrading Brazil’s energy infrastructure. It says the dam will create thousands of local jobs and, by the time it becomes fully operational in 2015, provide electricity to 23 million homes. Brazil currently uses hydroelectric power for than 80 percent of its energy needs.

Construction of the dam, expected to cost between $11 and $17 billion, has been stymied since it was first proposed in the 1990s. After a drawn-out bidding process, a contract for construction was awarded to the nine-company Norte Energia consortium in April of last year. Licenses for the actual building of the dam have yet to be granted, but the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama gave the go-ahead to clear land for it in January. Last month a Brazilian higher court lifted a lower-court order suspending construction based on environmental concerns.

Tags: Brazil, energy, Indigenous Rights

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