Indigenous people from across Latin America led more than 1,000 protesters, gathered in Belem, Brazil, for the World Social Forum, in formation of a human banner Jan. 27. Around the giant outline of a warrior taking aim with a bow and arrow, indigenous leaders and activists spelled out the message “SALVE A AMAZONIA,” or “save the Amazon” in Portuguese. Some indigenous participants were themselves armed with bows and arrows.
“We are the guardians of the forest,” said Marco Apurina, vice-coordinator of COIAB, Brazil’s leading Amazonian indigenous organization. “This is a critical moment for indigenous peoples to unite with non-indigenous, activists, teachers, environmentalists, unions, government. The Amazon rainforest needs everyone to work together now to defend it before it’s too late.”
The Amazon Basin, encompassing 5.5 million square kilometers and including territory belonging to nine nations, contains over half of the planet’s remaining rainforest—but nearly 20% of the basin has been deforested over the past 40 years. The mean annual deforestation rate from 2000 to 2005 amounted to 22,392 square kilometers per year—18% higher than in the previous five years.
COIAB said in a statement: “With the permission of our ancestors’ spirits, we indigenous peoples are here with our friends from all corners of the Earth. We build this symbol with our bodies as the cry of living beings from this green forest, this planet, for our continuity as humans and diverse creatures.”
“It is urgent that the world act now to stop deforestation and to recognize the importance of the Amazon in stabilizing our climate,” said Atossa Soltani, executive director of the US-based Amazon Watch. “There needs to be an immediate halt to industrial resource extraction that is bringing the ecosystems and cultures of the Amazon to the brink of collapse.”
If development plans for the Amazon continue unchecked, warned Soltani, scientists predict that the entire basin will reach the point of permanent ecological collapse within the next 10 to 20 years. This process would release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating global climate change.
Voice for stateless nations
For the first time at the World Social Forum, representatives of 30 different stateless nations and indigenous peoples from across the world are to share a tent and a three-day program of lectures and workshops. Quechua, Palestinian, Tamil and Western Shoshone representatives join those from Kurdistan, Baluchistan, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Western Sahara in the “Space for Collective Rights of Peoples.”
Discussions in the “Collective Rights” tent will explore struggles for self-determination and sovereignty of stateless peoples and nations, indigenous communities, and other marginalized groups. On the heels of the Gaza aggression, the Palestinian delegation is center-stage. A “General Assembly for Palestine” is slated for Jan. 31. (Environment News Service, Jan. 29)