South American Indigenous Nations in Rio to Press their Demands during UN Summit
First Nations Say They Must Approve Resource Extraction Projects Before they Begin
“We are going to sing together,” said Miguel Hereveri Pakarati, an Indigenous elder from the island of Rapa Nui – commonly known as Easter Island.
While rolling through the balmy, Brazilian countryside in the back of a passenger bus, Pakarati taught a group of Chilean youth a traditional song from his island. “E nua e koro ta ta takure tanji tanji,” the people on the bus sang. One person strummed a guitar and the others chanted the lyrics to a song that, according to Pakarati, is 500-years-old.
On Saturday, Pakarati and 50 Indigenous delegates from across South America completed a two-week bus journey from Ecuador to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the UN summit on sustainable development, or Rio+20, is being held this week.
While world leaders are deliberating the development of a “green economy” during Rio+20, nearly 500 representatives from Indigenous communities around the world will develop their own proposals during the second World Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Territories, Environment and Development, also known as Kari-Oca II. The first Kari-Oca summit was held in 1992, in the days preceding the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. During Kari-Oca, which was also held in Rio de Janeiro, more than 700 Indigenous leaders developed and signed important such as the Indigenous Peoples Earth Charter.
Kari-Oca II is organized by the Brazilian Indigenous advocacy organization, the Inter-Tribal Committee. The caravan was organized by the Boston-based non-profit organization, Land is Life.
“The caravan and the Kari-Oca summit are places to share experiences and perspectives between Indigenous nations and peoples,” said Franklin Toala, caravan coordinator and leader from the Ecuadorean Kichwa community, Sarayaku.
“Around the world, Indigenous peoples are facing similar struggles,” Toala said. “They are fighting petroleum and mining activities in their traditional territories. There is a lack of free, prior, and informed consent between governments and Indigenous peoples. The goals of the caravan and Kari-Oca events are to exchange experiences in order to find a real mechanism for caring for the planet.”
The caravan left from Guayaquil, Ecuador on June 4 with 24 Indigenous delegates from the Ecuadorean Amazon and highlands regions. These delegates were from the Kichwa, Cofán, Sápara, and Waorani nations. The bus then passed through Peru, picking up five Quechua representatives from Cusco.
Meanwhile, another bus filled with leaders from the Aymara, Mapuche, Rapanui, LicanAntay, Chiquillan, and Diaguita peoples left from Chile. The two caravans met in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and a total of 50 Indigenous leaders arrived in Rio de Janeiro on June 16.
One of the principal problems facing the Indigenous peoples of Chile, Ecuador, and Peru is the violation of the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, or FPIC.
FPIC is included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples as well as in the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. FPIC states that an Indigenous community has the right to approve or reject projects that may impact the lands that they own, occupy or use.
Although Ecuador, Chile, and Peru have ratified both the UN and ILO agreements, their protections are rarely enforced. This week, the Kari-Oca participants will present a proposal in Rio+20 outlining the demands of the Indigenous movement with particular emphasis on enforcing FPIC.
According to the caravan participants, mega projects are being developed in Indigenous lands in all three countries without the local communities’ consent. Juan Antonio Calfin is a youth from the Mapuche Lafkenche people. He lives in the costal Araucania region in the south of Chile, where the Indigenous communities have depended on the ocean for food and economic resources since pre-Incan times.
Calfin explained that today communities in the region are being affected by Chilean laws that allow marine resources to be leased to transnational fishing companies.
“The transnational companies are leaving artisanal fisheries without marine resources,” Calfin said. “And this all happened without consulting the Indigenous communities of the region.”
Petroleum and mining exploration are among the biggest concerns among Amazonian peoples in Latin America.
This past October, the Ecuadorean government announced a new round of oil extraction leases. The plan offers companies the chance to bid for 21 oil blocks in the Pastaza, Morona Santiago, and Orellana provinces. The bids will potentially affect more than 8 million acres of ancestral Indigenous lands.
According to caravan participants, one of the most unexpected threats to Indigenous peoples is the rise of incentive-based conservation programs.
These programs, such as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (or “REDD+,” in the UN argot), provide financial compensation to individuals and collectives that hold titles to forests and promise to conserve them. Hailed as a progressive way to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, these programs compensate forest owners for leaving the natural resources on their lands untouched.
Ecuador, for example, has developed a program called Socio Bosque that promises to improve the social and economic situations of Indigenous peoples while conserving forests. However, according to Toala, there is “no real conservation” because oil exploration can take place even in forests that are protected by Socio Bosque.This is because the Ecuadorean constitution specifies that sub surface resources belong to the state.
Toala used Ecuador’s acclaimed Yasuni Initiative as another example of how market-based conservation programs can fail in their goals. The Yasuni Initiative aims to keep oil reserves beneath one of the world’s most biodiverse regions in exchange for $350 million from individual donations and donor countries.
Ecuador has threatened numerous times to execute “Plan B” if the country does not receive enough funds to keep the oil in the ground. Plan B means exploring for oil in Yasuni.
“We do not have a Plan B,” Toala said. “Our communities are dependent on the health of the environment, and we conserve the forests through ancestral land management practices.”