Tens of thousands of indigenous people and their allies focused on neoliberal economic programs, US foreign policies and local issues in protests throughout the Americas on Oct. 12, the 514th anniversary of the arrival of European colonizer Christopher Columbus in the hemisphere.
Thousands of marchers celebrated the “Day of Indigenous Resistance” in Guatemala City after the conclusion of an international meeting there on agrarian reform. The protesters—including campesinos from six countries and members of dozens of Guatemalan indigenous organizations and the National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC)—carried signs demanding “respect for multiculturalism,” “no to discrimination and exclusion” and “stop the removals,” referring to police and military operations against campesinos occupying private estates. As the march passed by the US embassy, protesters denounced US-imposed neoliberal policies and demanded an end to aggression against Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela.
On the Pacific coast, hundreds of Guatemalans blocked a highway leading to the Mexican border to express opposition to the government’s rural policies. Other protesters blocked the Inter- American highway in the northwestern department of Huehuetenango to demand an end to licensing for foreign mining companies. There were also protests in Quetzaltenango in the west, Coban in the center, and various municipalities in the northern department of Peten, according to Juan Tiney of the National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinating Committee. (Prensa Latina, Oct. 12; El Mostrador, Chile, Oct. 12 from EFE; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 13 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
Hundreds of Hondurans representing indigenous and African-descended communities demonstrated in front of the US embassy in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 12 to protest economic policies promoted by the US. The organizations called European colonization “the most gigantic robbery of world history” and denounced “neo-colonization” by the “US empire.” The participants included indigenous Lencas from the western departments of Lempira and Intibuca on the border with El Salvador; the Lencas had demonstrated on Oct. 11 against the building of the El Tigre dam in their territories. (EM, Oct. 12 from EFE; LJ, Oct. 13 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
The dam was also the target of a protest that dozens of Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) members had held on Oct. 3 at the Club Campestre, 30km north of Tegucigalpa, as Central American presidents met there for a regional security summit. COPINH declared Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca persona non grata in Honduras for his promotion of El Tigre, which “would put an end to entire villages in San Antonio, Mapulaca, Piraera, Santa Lucia, Virginia and La Virtud municipalities in Honduras, and others in El Salvador, displacing more than 20,000 people, who would lose their homes, their culture, their lands, their way of life and their social networks.” The group also objected to the presence of Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, Mexico’s official president-elect, “given that his designation as president of Mexico is the product of shameful electoral fraud.” (EFE, Oct. 13)
In Colombia some 700 Bari indigenous people marched on Oct. 12 in Tibu, near the Venezuelan border in Norte de Santander department, to demand that the state oil company Ecopetrol suspend its exploratory drilling near their territory. The Bari, who say they have been victimized by government-backed “genocides” since 1932, carried bows and arrows along with signs in what was apparently their first protest. Interior Deputy Minister Maria Isabel Nieto had told the media that according to military intelligence reports the Bari were being supported by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Observers from human rights organizations and the United Nations said they saw no evidence of involvement by armed groups. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Oct. 13 from AP; LJ, Oct. 13 from AP)
Lisardo Domico, general secretary of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), declared Oct. 12 a day of mourning. He noted that violence against indigenous communities continues–from the military, leftist rebels and rightwing paramilitaries. Some 104 indigenous people died violently in 2005, he said, while 18 have been killed and 28 have been disappeared so far this year; ONIC says 5,731 indigenous people were displaced from January to September. (Notimex, Oct. 13)
In Argentina, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, which is under the authority of the Interior Ministry, proposed ending Oct. 12’s status as a holiday. Venezuela has already officially renamed the date “Day of Indigenous Resistance.” (LJ, Oct. 13 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 15