Latin America: indigenous mark Oct. 12 with protests

On Oct. 12 tens of thousands of indigenous people in the region marked 517 years since the arrival of European colonizer Christopher Columbus by protesting around current issues such as the seizure of traditional lands by businesses and the damage to the environment from mining and oil drilling.

Chile: Mapuche march on Santiago
In Santiago, Chile, thousands of people marched along Bernardo O’Higgins Avenue in the historic center and rallied in a nearby plaza as speakers denounced “the Spanish invasion” of the past and the repression of Mapuche activists by the current government. The Mapuche are the country’s largest indigenous group, and Mapuche activists and their supporters have carried out civil disobedience to reclaim land they say was stolen from them in southern Chile. Mapuche speaker Manuel Calfío stressed that Santiago’s Mapuche residents supported the demands of their brothers and sisters in the south.

Bolivia: Evo declares “day of mourning”
In Bolivia Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, called Oct. 12 a “day of mourning…not a day of celebration,” although Foreign Minister David Choquehuenca and legislators attended a Spanish Heritage Day ceremony at the Spanish embassy.

Ecuador: CONAIE leads nationwide protests
In Quito, Ecuador, indigenous leader, Lourdes Tibian, told the Ecuavisa television network that “the conditions of the indigenous peoples since the Spanish invasion haven’t changed at all down to the present.” The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the main indigenous umbrella group, led nationwide protests from Aug. 27 to Oct. 5 over the autonomy of bilingual education and revisions to the water and mining laws; one person was killed in the Amazon region in the demonstrations. CONAIE and the government of President Rafael Correa are now in negotiations over the issues. (Univision, Oct. 12 from AP)

Colombia: minga against global warming
In Colombia, some 25,000 indigenous people started a march on Oct. 12 from several towns and cities in the southwestern Cauca and Valle del Cauca departments that was to culminate in a demonstration of some 40,000 in the city of Cali. The main focus was on the environment, Feliciano Valencia, a leader of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), told reporters; the protest was called the “World Minga for the Liberation of Mother Earth and Against Global Warming.” “There has to be a very strong call to humanity, because life is at risk,” he said. (“Minga” comes from a Quechua word for collective work.) The marchers also protested the economic policies of President Alvaro Uribe and attacks on indigenous communities by leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers despite the communities’ insistence that they are neutral in the conflicts.

The minga was promoting a “congress of the peoples” that the indigenous organizations are planning for next year, CRIC adviser Marcos Cueitia said. The congress, whose date and location are not yet set, will include “indigenous communities, Afro-Colombian [communities], labor unions, campesinos, NGOs [nonprofit organizations], grassroots organizations. The goal is a country with a project that’s different from war, aggression and death.” (AFP, Oct. 13; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Oct. 15; Notimex, Oct. 16)

Panama: mobilization against mega-projects
Several thousand indigenous activists, environmentalists, campesinos and students held protests across Panama demanding respect for their land rights and rejecting energy projects that they said fail to respect the autonomy of indigenous people and cause forced evictions. Indigenous protesters closed the border with Costa Rica for several hours in the morning at the Sixaola border crossing. In Panama City, indigenous leader Cecilio Guerra, who burned a Spanish flag close to the presidential palace, told reporters that over 21 hydroelectric concessions and nine mining projects are affecting indigenous communities. Representatives of the Ngobe-Buglé peoples and other campesinos sought a meeting with right-wing president Ricardo Martinelli, but the government would only allow six people in the delegation. The indigenous activists refused to accept this condition and waited outside the presidential palace for more than three hours before dispersing. (AFP, Oct. 13; Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina,” Oct. 15)

Guatemala: one killed in capital roadblocks
In Guatemala, 19-year-old protester Imer Boror was killed and two other protesters were wounded as Mayan indigenous people blocked entry points into Guatemala City to demonstrate against the government’s mining policies. The killing, which took place on El Caminero Boulevard, in Mixco municipality, 22 km south of the capital, was part of a day of protests that an indigenous leader, Juana Mulul, called a “defense of Mother Earth and our territory.” After Boror’s death, President Alvar Colom agreed to appoint a commission to meet with indigenous leaders. Aparicio Pérez of the Farmers Union Committee (CUC) said representatives would ask the government to annul mining, hydroelectric and cement concessions because “multinational companies are taking over natural resources, which have long been the source of life for rural families.”

According to government statistics, 42% of Guatemala’s 12 million inhabitants are indigenous; others estimate that over 60% are indigenous. (AFP, Adital, Oct. 13; World War 4 Report, Oct. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 20

See our last post on the world indigenous struggle.