Andean Indigenous Peoples organize in defense of land, prepare for mobilization on 'Day of Genocide,' October 12
By Brenda Norrell
TUCSON, Ariz. – Indigenous Peoples from Peru say that while their country’s leaders have endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the international level, at home the federal government is preparing to forcibly claim Indigenous lands for mining.
Indigenous Peoples are now struggling to protect their territories from a proposed law that would claim the right to appropriate Indigenous territories based on the Peruvian government’s claim that it is a matter of “national interest.”
Speaking out against mining, Quechua leader Miguel Palacin of Lima, Peru, said Andean Peoples from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina have organized to protect Indigenous territories in this region. Palacin is coordinator of the Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas (Andean Federation of Indigenous Organizations.)
“This group is working to protect Indigenous rights,” Palacin said, speaking through a translator during an interview at the Western Mining Action Network Conference 2007, held in Tucson on Sept. 28 – 29.
Palacin said the concept of Indigenous territories does not only refer to the lands of Indigenous Peoples, but also to Indigenous' languages, cultures, values and clothing. Indigenous territories include the right to autonomy and self-governance based on Indigenous Peoples’ own legal systems and principles.
“This is a fundamental right, a right that is being offended by the politics of globalization, the invasion of transnational corporations and the contamination that is damaging the life and culture.”
Palacin said it is essential to grow in visibility and expose the mining, energy and hydroelectric corporations seizing Indigenous territories for profit.
He said Indigenous territories are under attack by governments. “The governments are campaigning against the social movement.” This is particularly true in Colombia, where Indigenous Peoples are confronted by the federal government, FARC and the paramilitaries.
“In Colombia, there has been a lot of death and displacement.”
However, Palacin said there is also hope. In both Bolivia and Ecuador, new Constitutional reforms propose changes that respect Indigenous Peoples rights.
Further, the Andean Federation of Indigenous Organizations is now proposing the establishment of Indigenous Diplomats, to meet with governments to explain their positions. These include opposition to Free Trade agreements and militarization. Further, concerns are arising because of new visa and passport requirements.
In support of these struggles, Indigenous Peoples plan mobilizations throughout South America on the “Day of Genocide,” October 12, followed by a delegation to Europe on Oct. 13, he said.
“The Indigenous movement has power in the south. We want to be included in the transformation of our countries. Indigenous Peoples have the right to govern their countries," Palacin said.
Attorney Javier Aroca of Lima, Peru, said the government of Peru has criminalized the social movement to protect the land. “Mining is very strong. The government really supports this industry because they view it as a means of receiving a lot of revenues.
“Whoever opposes mining is seen as a terrorist and anti-patriotic,” Aroca said, during an interview in Tucson.
At issue now are the mining companies who obtain their leases from leaders without consultation of the community, including copper mines.
“The biggest concern is water,” Aroca said, pointing out that water from the mountain tops flows throughout the region. Where copper mine exploration is being carried out, there are natural protected reserves in the high mountain region.
“These mountain top areas are the source of water.”
Aroca said the Peruvian government supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to free, informed and prior consent and Indigenous Peoples' rights to their territories.
“But in practice, the Peruvian government is doing the opposite.”
Currently, opposition is mounting to oppose a law in the Peruvian Congress, which would allow Indigenous lands to be appropriated in the name of “national interest,” Aroca said.
“If this law is passed, it would trash eight years of work in support of Indigenous Peoples rights.”
The representatives from Peru joined Indigenous Peoples from throughout the Americas at the Western Mining Action Network conference, including Western Shoshone Carrie Dann; Navajo Louise Benally from Big Mountain, Ariz.; Manny Pino, Acoma Pueblo and member of the International Indian Treaty Council; Tom Goldtooth, Navajo/Dakota director of the Indigenous Environmental Network; Twa-le Abrahamson of the Shawl Society Spokane Nation, Wash.; Flora Natomagan, Hatchet Lake Band of First Nations from Canada who served previously as chief; Dailan Long, Navajo from Dine' CARE, Wahleah Johns, Navajo from the Black Mesa Water Coalition and other Indigenous Peoples whose communities have been devastated by uranium mining, coal mining, power plants, copper mining and other natural resource extractions and contaminating energy development.
Miguel Palacin, Quechua, is the first coordinator of the Andean Federation of Indigenous Organizations. He is originally from Vicco in the central Andes of Peru. Earlier, in 1999, he founded the National Federation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining, CONACAMI, an organization that defends the rights of communities affected by mining.
Javier Aroca is an attorney specializing in Indigenous Peoples, rural communities and Native Rights law. He is currently the Regional Coordinator for Oxfam America’s Extractive Industries Program at the South American Regional Office.
Photo: Quechua leader Miguel Palacin in Tucson. Photo 2: Oxfam's Laura Inouye; translator Sofia Vergara; Javier Aroca, attorney from Lima, Peru; Quechua Miguel Palacin from Peru. Photos Brenda Norrell