Global Policy Forum

Towards a Hemispheric Agenda and Coordination


By Eduardo Tamayo G.

Latin America in Movement
March 23, 2007

Things are stirring deep within Latin America. Indigenous communities and organizations from several countries are preparing to attend to the 3rd Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala. It will take place in the Municipality of Tecpán, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, a symbolic town in which the natives managed to drive out the first Spanish invaders, thereby preventing the first establishment of colonial power. The date set is 26 - 30 March 2007. The goals of the summit will be: "To contribute to the recognition and exercise of rights for the indigenous peoples of Abya Yala, as well as acknowledgement of the sister organizations' demands in the hemisphere. In addition, contribute to re-establish States, at the national and hemispheric level, so that the indigenous peoples can gain real power".

The announcement of this Summit has had positive impact among Guatemalan organizations. The Mayan National Convergence and Coordination will together face the challenge of carrying out this international event in the best way possible. The organizers are preparing the infrastructure, registration and the agenda. It is expected that more than 2000 representatives will be attending. And Bolivian President Evo Morales´ presence will carry great political weight to the Summit.

This is the third Summit of its kind: the first one took place in Teotihuacan, Mexico, on 28 - 30 October 2000, and the second one in Quito, July 2004. On this occasion, 15 issues will be discussed regarding land and territories; natural resources; autonomy and self-determination; diversity, pluri-nationality and sustainable development; indigenous knowledge and intellectual property; bilateral and multilateral organisations; identity and Cosmovision; the impact of neoliberal globalization and militarization of territories.

In order to know more about the Summit and the reality of the indigenous peoples, we interviewed Humberto Cholango, leader of the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations and of ECUARUNARI, the largest organization of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE.

ALAI: What expectations and what results do you hope to achieve from the Summit?

H. Ch: We expect that this Summit will consolidate a space for indigenous peoples in the hemisphere under a clear political definition; one of sovereignty and retrieval of territories. This should be a process generated by the actors themselves and not one imposed by governments or NGOs. Because we have been at other encounters, organized by NGOs, governments or multilateral organisations, that have imposed their agenda on us. With this Third Summit, we truly hope to shape a coordinating body and agenda for the entire hemisphere. Furthermore, we wish to emphasize the importance of the work concerning indigenous peoples' rights.

ALAI: You speak of a coordinating body and an agenda for indigenous peoples, how do you suggest shaping this network?

H.Ch.: We as an Ecuadorian movement propose constructing a coordinating body in the hemisphere, one led by our organizations and from an anti-neoliberal political standpoint. Our organization fights for social demands and respect for indigenous peoples. We want to interconnect our networks, but avoid creating an international bureaucracy. There are coordinating bodies in South America, Central America and North America. In South America there are the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations and the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazonian River Basin (COICA). Central America also has a coordinating body of indigenous peoples as well as North America. These different coordinating bodies should join together and construct one single agenda for the United Nations, the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) and for other bodies where indigenous peoples' problems are discussed.

ALAI: What does an anti-neoliberal agenda involve?

H.Ch.: To be in tune with this new dynamism and resurgence of peoples, who are searching for a society based on wellbeing. No more impositions, no more militarization of indigenous territories, no more plundering of natural resources, such as the petroleum, water, mines and biodiversity they want to privatize. The imposition of the neoliberal model has brought us tremendous levels of poverty; in addition to this the World Bank suggests that water is a vital element to commercialize. However, for us, water is a heritage of human livelihoods. This must be defined very clearly, that in no manner can we coincide with an agenda that wants to monopolize natural resources in favour of a small group of people, whilst large societies and indigenous civilizations end up in absolute poverty, despite being the ultimate owners of these natural resources.

ALAI: This 3rd Summit will be developed in special conditions in Latin America, where there are left-wing governments of different leanings that have gained power by means of elections. What do you think of this newly emerging situation and what position should the indigenous movement take?

H.Ch.: We are watching this with great optimism and the difference of tendencies among left-wing governments does not necessarily have to complicate the integration process. The point is that we must make sure that the integration of indigenous peoples, of States or of other spaces is more than mere declarations. We have to advance beyond this towards an integration of peoples at political, cultural and scientific levels. Not the sort of integration the United States is proposing, to sell our merchandise to our countries and to plunder our natural resources in their benefit. We want a fair integration that will solve serious problems. As an example, there are 90 million illiterate people in South America, most of whom are indigenous. Access to land is a problem: workers and cultivators have only got access to 10% of productive land, 90% of the land is in other hands. As far as water is concerned, the same problem occurs. These are issues we need to solve.

The integration between revolutionary processes must be oriented towards finding an answer to these problems: without identity a revolution will not serve for our best. We did not want to be the folkloric part of the revolution; on the contrary, as indigenous peoples, we want to have a stake power. As natives we are a collective society, a socialist society from our birth as a civilization. One could even call us communist, we live in this collective society, looking for the common well-being for all. We trust that many left-wing intellectuals will understand this, because we are a discriminated, persecuted, assassinated and stigmatized people. Sometimes a part of the left falls into the idea that class struggle is all that counts. But there is also a problem of recognition, of identity.

The complete interview, in Spanish, is here.

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