Indigenous Latin Americans mobilize to defend their rights

Oxfam commends indigenous people's summit

More than 2,000 Latin American indigenous people will meet to discuss and debate their proposals to defend their right to land on May 27-31 in Puno, Peru for a series of three summits, including the Fourth Continental Indigenous Peoples Summit, the First Indigenous Women Summit, and the Second Meeting of Childhood and Youth. Delegations of natives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico among other countries will participate.

An estimated 400 indigenous groups exist in Latin America, amounting to about 45 million people. Although they are native inhabitants of the lands, indigenous peoples almost invariably face exclusion and discrimination in their countries. For example, it is estimated that 80 percent of Peruvian natives live in poverty or extreme poverty. Even worse, their life expectancy is twenty years less than that of the urban inhabitants.

Although the United Nations recognized in the Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, their right to land, territories and resources continue to gradually diminish. In Peru, more of 70 percent of Amazonian land has been given away in concessions for the development of oil and gas projects, which also affects surrounding indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and natural reserves areas.

“It is fundamental to assure that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected within the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Convention No. 169 of the ILO. Governments must recognize that these laws protect the survival and identity of indigenous peoples,” said Igidio Naveda, Oxfam specialist on indigenous peoples.

Oil and gas extraction activities cover an area of more than 688,000 square kilometers of the Amazon of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and part of Brazil, where 35 transnational companies operate in more than 180 oil and gas fields.

As a result, the indigenous peoples of the region, especially Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala have mobilized to defend their territories and livelihoods. In Peru, new protests at the national level have been underway for a month, a struggle recently garnered the support of the attendants at the Eight Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

During the Fourth Continental Indigenous Peoples Summit, participants will debate issues such as the idea of “good living”. According to Miguel Palacín, leader of the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI for its acronym in Spanish), “The good living we talk about means that development must coexist in harmony with nature without affecting it, without making an irrational use of natural resources and respecting  the rights of indigenous peoples.”

The summits in Puno follow meetings previously held in Mexico, Ecuador and Guatemala. The debate will also include issues such as the right to land, protection of natural resources, the criminalization of protests, respect for cultural diversity, the recognition of multi-cultural states, and the struggle of indigenous women.

“Now more than ever, we must pay attention to the crisis facing indigenous peoples,” said Naveda. “Governments must recognize that protecting these communities means strengthening democracy and protecting diversity that is intrinsic to their cultural history.”

Notes to editors

Contact information