Tag Archive | "indigenous"

Brazil: Indigenous Groups Clash with Police in Congress


Indigenous protesters clash with police in Brasilia (photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

The most recent protest is the latest in a series of confrontations between police and indigenous groups in Brasilia (photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

Four men have been detained after a group of around 30 indigenous protestors clashed with police inside Brazil’s congress building in Brasilia.

The group were protesting a constitutional amendment on indigenous lands which had been proposed by Senator Katia Abreu, tipped to be Dilma Rousseff’s next agriculture minister.

Police officers used pepper spray and blocked access to a committee that was due to vote on the proposal. After a brief confrontation between them and the protestors, who were armed with bows and arrows, the session was called off.

The bill, known as PEC 215/00, would give the Brazilian Congress powers to demarcate the indigenous lands, changing the 1988 constitution which gave indigenous groups rights over their ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders prefer the indigenous agency, Funai, to retain a prominent role in the demarcation of their ancestral lands, as they say wealthy landowners and loggers have too much power and influence in Congress.

Supporters of the amendment says Funai’s role in undemocratic.”The decisions on demarcations are taken by a lone anthropologist after hearing the indigenous groups. The National Congress, which is elected by the people, is not consulted,” Senator Abreu told Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper last year.

She noted that indigenous people account for only 1% of the Brazilian population but are entitled to 12% of the country’s territory.

Rousseff’s government has been criticised by both environmental and indigenous organisations for prioritising agricultural and economic development over indigenous rights and the fight against deforestation in the Amazon.

 

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Top 5 Indigenous Stories


12th October marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492, an event that would lead to the genocide of indigenous populations, the slave trade, and massive loss of biodiversity in the name of economic growth.

Often dubbed ‘the whitest country south of Canada’, the land that now is Argentina was not as populated as its northern neighbours five centuries ago. But when the first Spaniard sailed up the Río de la Plata in 1516 there were dozens of different communities living here, some living in organised settlements, others enjoying a more nomadic life, between them speaking 35 different languages. Today, census reports show that around 600,000 of the country’s 40 million consider themselves indigenous.

Indigenous March along 9 de julio (Photo/Beatrice Murch)

The Indigenous People’s March took place just days before Argentina celebrated its bicentenary in 2010 (Photo/Beatrice Murch)

Whilst Columbus Day is still celebrated in North America, in many parts of Latin America the day is called ‘Día de la Raza’ (Day of Race). In Argentina 12th October is called the ‘Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity’, and is marked with a public holiday, to reflect on human rights and the country’s cultural diversity.

To mark this anniversary, we have selected five stories from our archive that give an overview of the issues indigenous communities are facing 500 years later – from the struggle for land rights, to the loss of culture and heritage through languages dying out, to the fight for much needed investigations and into more recent recent human rights abuses.

Eulogio Frites at his home office. (Photo: Jo Castillo)

Eulogio Frites at his home office. (Photo: Jo Castillo)

Indigenous Rights in Argentina: An Interview with Eulogio Frites

This 2012 interview saw Kelsey Jost-Creegan speak with Eulogio Frites, Argentina’s first indigenous lawyer. He has been a central figure in the country’s indigenous movement since attending the first world conference on indigenous issues in Mexico in 1974, and played a key role in helping pass three laws that officially recognise indigenous rights on a national level in Argentina.

Endangered: Argentina’s Disappearing Languages

This 2007 article looked into the loss of indigenous languages in Argentina and the loss of culture that accompanies a language’s disappearance. Only 15 of the 35 languages that existed in Argentina 500 years ago are still spoken, and some of them by just a handful of people. Kate Granville-Jones visits a Toba community which is trying to revive language through instilling in young people a sense of heritage.

Guaraní Suicide

Around the world, suicide is a big problem facing indigenous communities caught between modern life encroaching onto their land and into their communities and their traditional culture. The Guaraní community – which straddles the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – has the highest suicide rate in the world, but one leader from Misiones came up with an innovative way of dealing with the issue, as Kristie Robinson investigates in this 2008 article.

Felix Diaz, Leader of The Qom (Photo:  OEA-OES on Flickr)

The Qom community, led by Félix Diaz, face many of the same territorial issues as the Mapuche. (Photo: OEA-OES on Flickr)

In Search of their Roots: The Mapuche and Modern Society

Aigul Safiullina visits a Mapuche community in Patagonia to hear of their struggle for land rights and the historical case in which the community faced off against the global corporation Benetton, which had purchased land they claimed was rightfully theirs. The case, which they eventually won, was emblematic of the territorial struggles faced by indigenous communities around the world.

The Rincón Bomba Massacre: A Nail in the Heart of Argentina

Kristie Robinson visits the northern province of Formosa to meet with survivors of a 1947 massacre in which around 1500 members of the Pilagá tribe were killed in a two-month campaign that many have termed genocide. The case, which has only recently started to be investigated after the discovery of two mass graves, remains mostly unknown and is not taught in official local history.

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Wichipedia: Indigenous Injustice in Formosa


This article original appeared in Edition 80 of MU el periódico as ‘Wichipedia‘.

Five Wichí brothers who collected the demands of their community were detained in a violent police operation. They are still being held, facing the threat of many years in prison. Darío Aranda was with them and gives the background to a old story of state violence.

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Cacique Avelino Tejada’s children outside their home (photo by Julieta Colomer)

“Welcome to Formosa – The Green Empire” reads a sign that greets us as we cross into the province from Chaco. The bus terminal is small and neat, the tereré [a type of mate drunk by the Guaraní] is immediately visible. A few blocks away is a stadium opened in 2007, when the province celebrated 50 years since it had a constitution. One man has been in power for almost half of this time: Gildo Insfrán, governor since 1995 and deputy governor before that. He lined himself up with the governments of Carlos Menem – who he visited when he was under house arrest – with Eduardo Duhalde, and even Adolfo Rodríguez Saa during his brief presidency. In 2003 he fell into line with Kirchnerism, forming an alliance that over the years would survive police brutality, reports of shady business deals, and human rights violations. ‘El Gildo’, as he is known in the province, manages the resources of political, judicial, and media power.

Partners

Some 580,000 people live in Formosa, around half of them in the capital city. Clorinda, on the border with Paraguay, is the second most important city with 80,000 souls. Of the 120,000 people with jobs, only 20,000 work in the private sector, with the state employing 83% of the working population. Here, being in opposition or even raising a critical voice can put a career at risk.

Formosa capital is a manicured, modern city (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Formosa capital is a manicured, modern city (photo by Julieta Colomer)

On the same street as the stadium there is a conspicuous stone wall. A plaque provides testimony: “You were our partner in struggle, our partner in dreams. Your ideas will remain in our hearts, where no-one can take them from us.” It’s signed by Insfrán. Above the wall is a giant gold statue of Néstor Kirchner with his left arm raised and clutching the presidential baton. On the side is another plaque, from Federal Planning Minister Julio de Vido, who travelled here especially for the inauguration of the statue in 2011.

The monument is disproportionately large and impeccably maintained. There is no litter on the floor, the grass is freshly cut, and a security camera makes sure no one dares graffiti it. At night, special lighting makes the golden ex-president shine even more.

The homages don’t stop there. The street itself, which was always called Lelong, is also now named after Néstor Kirchner, one of ‘El Gildo’s’ decisions. It was Kirchner that signed the “historic reparations”, an acknowledgement that the province was always a forgotten corner of the nation (which is true), and so should benefit from a special fund for public works and developments.

Every illustrious visitor – from politicans to celebrities – receives a government-organised city tour that begins at the beautiful promenade. A stretch of 5km along the Paraguay River, it’s like a Formosa version of Puerto Madero – meticulous, clean, and full of police. Curiously no public buses reach the area – the working classes are not frequent visitors.

From there, ten minutes in a car takes you to a different Formosa. A wide dirt road lined with hundreds of 3x3m rooms built with black cardboard. These are the people ‘relocated’ after floods hit the province in June. The government sent vans to help with the move, knocked down the old houses, and “constructed” a neighbourhood of cardboard shacks. There are some small gutters, and promises of urbanisation. Groups of men work in one part of the land, building around 20 brick rooms, 5x5m, with an outdoor bathroom. These are the promised “housing solutions”. On the road opposite there is a brand new Toyota Hilux, and Citroen C4, a Fiat 500 and a Gol. A dozen local political leaders eye our photographer with distrust.

The Formosan promenade and the cardboard settlement for the flood victims. This is Formosa in 2014.

The neighbourhood where the flood victims have been relocated (photo by Julieta Colomer)

The neighbourhood where the flood victims have been relocated (photo by Julieta Colomer)

A Theft

At the time of writing, five Wichí brothers have been in a Formosa prison for 40 days. They were charged in a case full of irregularities and could face up to 15 years behind bars. According to the police, the political authorities, and Judge Francisco Orella, the five Tejada brothers are guilty of an “armed robbery in a group” with aggravated duress.

There is a very different version of the story offered by the Wichí community, human rights groups, social organisations, and the church. “The Tejada brothers are in prison because they defended their territory and, more importantly, for not bending to the will of Gildo Insfrán and his political henchmen,” says Daniel Cabrera, defence lawyer for the Wichí.

The six brothers – Avelino, Manuel, Esteban, Rogelio, Ricardo, and Evil – are part of the Cacique El Colorado community, which itself is a part of the San Martín community. Avelino Tejada is the community leader and president of the Satuktes Civil Association (named after a tree found in the area), which legally owns the 5,000 hectares in which the community lives.

The San Martín community has different sectors, and the Tejadas are known for not bowing to political forces and for demanding their basic rights. In the last few years the brothers have staged roadblocks and other actions to demand water, healthcare, and a school for the community. In February 2013 there were part of a blockade on Pluspetrol and Canada’s Madalena Energy, which extract oil in western Formosa. They demanded jobs, roofs for their houses, and water. The government embarked on a campaign against the Wichí, accusing them of putting “private investment” at risk.

The Tejadas were marked as the leaders of the protest.

Many of the communities problems date back to protests against the oil companies in 2013 (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Many of the communities problems date back oil exploration close to their communities (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Posts, Motorbikes, and Lies

The Wichí culture does not know of wire fences or private property. The obtain their food and medicine from the hills; they go there to hunt, gather honey and wood. They share the territory with other Wichí and even some “criollos”, as they call the mestizos. It is understood that they have allowed them to live on the territory, but there are problems when the criollos try to fence off areas. That is what happened on 25th July, when Silvio Tedín was putting up posts in the Wichí territory. The Tejada brothers went to find him and ask him to stop.

The brothers’ version of the story goes that Tedín and his employees did not offer any opposition to the request – they simply promised to visit the community and resolve the dispute. And as a sign of goodwill, they left the community a motorbike – without the key – which they would come by to pick up the next day.

That same afternoon Tedín filed a report at the police station in El Potrillo, the nearest town. He accused the Wichí of issuing death threats and armed robbery. With unusual speed, the Formosa police took the case to Judge Orella who, quicker still, ordered a search of the community and the arrest of the six Tejada brothers.

On Monday 28th July, at 7.30am, a hundred heavily-armed police officers arrived at the community. They kicked down doors, beat women and children, and arrested five of the brothers. The sixth, Evil, was not found and was declared a fugitive.

Since then, the Tejada brothers have been imprisoned in Las Lomitas.

Coincidentally, when the Tejadas were detained, the provincial government and the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INAI) arrived to conduct the land mapping ordered by Law 26.160. The process, which is supposed to be done with the community, had been delayed by seven years, but the provincial and national authorities decided to do it just when the Tejadas were in prison.

xxx (photo by Julieta xxx)

Governor Gildo Insfrán has been in power since 1995 (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Prison Apartheid

Las Lomitas is located situated 300km from the provincial capital, along the impeccable highway 81, which cuts through Formosa from east to west. It is at the geographic and judicial centre of Formosa, home to the province’s Third District Correctional Court.

The Plaza Ejécito de los Andes is the centre of the town. At one corner is the church, and businesses spread out in the surrounding area; the old train station is three blocks away. Opposite the tracks is the house where Carlos Menem was held during the dictatorship. A plaque remembers his stay, when he had the freedom to move around town and even date Marta Meza, the mother of their future child, Carlos Nair Menem. But other memories of Menem are scrawled on the house in graffiti: “no homage for traitors”, “Menem traitor”.

You have to cross the tracks, through two blocks of dirt road, and turn left to reach the Las Lomitas prison. Yellow walls, double iron doors, and a shield with a tree and three words: Strength, Protection, Generosity.

“What do you want?” a policeman asks sternly, demanding to see ID and press credentials. The doors open a few minutes later, but no phones, voice recorders, or cameras are allowed through. We are frisked thoroughly. In a small inner patio, the Tejada brothers and their defence lawyer Daniel Cabrera sit on white plastic chairs. There is a shake of hands and a quick declaration: “We did nothing wrong. We want our freedom,” says Avelino Tejada, the only brother to speak Spanish fluently.

The five brothers all look very similar: jet-black hair, a few days facial hair. Ricardo still has a bandaged right arm where he suffered a compound fracture during his violent arrest. A police officer shot at his chest from a distance of three metres but he used his arm as a shield, which saved his life. There were no forensic tests, but they guess it was a rubber bullet. He was also shot in both legs, and still has the pellets inside him.

Esteban and Rogelio are the quietest. They speak the Wichí language with their brothers (Avelino, Ricardo, and Manuel) and take turns to explain details of the conversation with Tedín – they recall that it was about Wichí territory, that the title deeds are of a community property, they acknowledge that they were carrying a shotgun and machete (they were hunting), and affirm over and over that that there was no threat or theft. “If we let him put a fence up we won’t be able to gather honey or our animals. The criollo puts up his wires and doesn’t let us pass. He can’t do this – the hill belongs to the Wichí,” says Ricardo.

They had never been in prison before. They say the guards often laugh at them and treat them differently to the criollo inmates. The Wichí brothers are not allowed to get seconds at dinner, or have a mobile phone, even though the non-indigenous prisoners can.

“We have rights. Why doesn’t the judge respect us? White justice mistreats us,” says Manuel Tejada. Avelino chimes in: “I explained everything to the judge twice, but he doesn’t listen. He only believes Tedín.”

Defence lawyer Daniel Cabrera in front of the xxx

Defence lawyer Daniel Cabrera in front of Las Lomitas town hall (photo by Julieta Colomer)

They ask their lawyer Cabrera when they will be released. He explains that he has appealed the charges, that a panel of three judges would deliver a ruling but that it would take time, and that in case the verdict went against them they could go to the Supreme Court. He draws a chronological line on a piece of paper – at the end of it is the trial. He tells them that they should be out before this stage, but that he won’t lie to them: he doesn’t know when. If they have to go to trial it could be in 2015 at the earliest. They need to face the possibility of spending a whole year behind bars.

The brother’s faces change. There are signs of worry, anguish, sadness as they try to accept that they could be in prison for a long time. Avelino speaks in Wichí with his brothers, and Esteban responds angrily. Avelino tries to calm him down. The lawyer Cabrera clarifies that he will work to get them out sooner, but he repeats the risk that the judges may not rule as they should.

The emotional blow is obvious – these tough men are at breaking point.

I ask them how they think it came to this, and they point to the oil blockade in 2013. They point out that several political allies of Ricardo Vizcaíno (Gildo Insfrán’s right-hand man in the west of the province) threatened them with a future in jail or in the ground. The same threats they had given when they had demanded a school and electricity for the community.

Would they like to say something to the governor or president? Ricardo answers quickly, and asks for work and state support for the community. Manuel seems annoyed: “We don’t want anything from the president or the governor. We want our rights to be respected. We want to be free.”

Avelino targets the judicial power, saying that there is no justice for indigenous people. First come the criollos, then the businesses, and finally them. “We have rights but nothing is done. We are tired of paperwork and red tape. This happens because we are indigenous,” he says sorrowfully. Ricardo is angry – he stands up, paces around and returns. “I get upset when I hear that we’re going to stay here. It’s not fair. You know what they want? They want us to die in here.”

The interview ends and they all get to their feet and say goodbye warmly. I tell them that we are going to visit the community and try to interview the judge. All five, in their own way in Wichí and in Spanish, ask for the same thing: for MU to ask the judge to “please” not detain their sixth brother, Evil Tejada, who is considered a fugitive. “He didn’t do anything. Don’t let them bring him here,” begs Avelino.

Rogelio, the quietest of all of them, is clearly moved. He understands that we are the only bridge between them and his family. As he offers a firm handshake he whispers emotionally: “I’m sad for my children. I don’t know if they are eating, if they are ok. Tell them I miss them.”

Oil and Poverty

The community is around 300km from Las Lomitas along highway 81. There are no more quebracho, palosanto, and algorrobo trees, just low hills and vinales, a spiny tree common to these parts. Ingeniero Juárez is the last paved city – then there are still 80km of dirt road, used by oil companies and wild animals. The northern wind carries a summer heat. After an hour, the oil pumpjacks (also known as oil horses) – a type of giant hammer that swings up and down to extract oil – appear among humble indigenous houses. This is the district of Ramón Lista in the far west of Formosa, near the border with Paraguay and the province of Salta. This is where Pluspetrol (45% owned by YPF) and Madalena Energy are. It’s a standard rule in rural Argentina: the richest parts of the province are also the poorest.

Thirty minutes more and we arrive at El Favorito, the last criollo town in western Formosa. A sign tells us we are entering Wichí territory and the town of El Potrillo – a strip of ten blocks running either side of a dirt road. On the left is the police station, large with light-coloured walls and policemen drinking mate and eyeing us suspiciously.

A narrow and pot-holed path opens up to the left, which our guide says will take us to the Tejadas’ community – Cacique El Colorado. But he is wrong, and we are lost. Three Wichí women and a teenager offer to lead us. We have to keep going along the path, climb a sort of dyke, turn left and keep going…

We are at the end of the world.

xxx

photo by Julieta Colomer

Who do they Beat?

At 16km from El Potrillo, 600km from the city of Formosa, and 1,700km from Plaza de Mayo you can find the Wichí community that, in 2014, suffered a violent police search worthy of the dictatorship. The panorama of the community is typical of many indigenous villages: dry earth and humble homes built with mud and logs. We are greeted by some dogs, then children and women, approaching uncertainly with colourful skirts and loose hair.

Daniel Cabrera begins the introductions, explaining that he is the defence lawyer, that we have come from Buenos Aires, and that the Tejada brothers say hi. The women lower their guard and invite us to talk under the trees. But it takes time for the Wichí to open up, especially the women, and especially after they suffered police repression and had their men taken away.

The priest Ponciano Acosta, of the National Team for Aboriginal Religion (Endepa) is also with us, and he tries to get the dialogue going. The women start to leave – the only one that remains seated is the wife of Avelino Tejada, and she is about to go too. But then a young girl intervenes, speaking in Wichí to the women and Spanish to us visitors. “They find it hard to talk because of the language,” explains 19-year-old Fermina, Avelino’s daughter. Without meaning to, she becomes the day’s translator.

Our photographer asks about taking photos, Fermina translates, and the women agree. We begin a tour of the community starting with the “school”, an unpainted room with a tin roof and an open-air “annex” made with logs. The well is contaminated, but they use it anyway as they don’t have any other options.

Along a 30-metre path we reach Manuel Tejada’s house, still scarred from the police search. The doors and windows are broken, and his wife tell the story. She talks quickly and her son, Miguel, translates: “She says there were many police officers – they kicked down the door and beat her and the two children.”

The house has an adjoining room mad of adobe and wood. She enters quickly and comes back with a photo ID of Manuel to show to the camera. She continues to talk in Wichí, and the youngster continues to translate: “She says he didn’t do anything. That he works, brings foods, is a good man, that they should let him go. And she asks when that will happen.”

Relatives of the Tejada brothers share their pictures (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Rogelio Tejada’s son shares a photo of his imprisoned father (photo by Julieta Colomer)

I don’t answer, and can feel a lump in my throat.

Another house 40m away across barron land, with old trees that reflect the sun and dogs that sniff new arrivals, is that of Avelino, the cacique. His daughter, Fermina, translates what her mother says: “She says they were attacked by around 10 policemen. They hit him, tied him up on the floor and kicked him and beat him with sticks.” The youngster lowers her voice and looks down. “They also hit her,” she says, pointing at her mother.

The testimonies are identical in another two houses. There are broken doors, some smashed in half and others with just the hinges hanging. The women and children that hid before now pose for pictures; the children laugh when they see their portraits on the screen and ask for another.

It’s the end of the visit. Miguel, the young Wichí who showed us around the community, has gained in confidence. He doesn’t know his age, but guesses 24, and then 20. He has no DNI. He is of large build, wears a cap, jeans, and white t-shirt. He wasn’t in the community on the day of the search, but working on a neighbouring farm. He asks a favour: “If you go to the prison and see my father, please tell him… I miss him.”

Tereré and Ten Cows

Ten minutes from the community we have another stop. The landscape is the same: dry earth, homes made of bricks and adobe, old trees, women and children.

A man approaches on a motorbike wearing a green polo shirt, jeans and flip flops. Eliseo Blanco is a Wichí teacher and a friend of the Tejadas. He shares his tereré, but is unsure whether to accept an interview. I tell him that I was with the Tejadas in their prison and he opens up: “If you are not with Gildo they corner you and you end up losing. They [the Tejada brothers] only asked for what is theirs: land, school, rights. Gildo’s men won’t forgive that. It’s unfair, but that’s how it is.” Eliseo repeats something that the brothers had mentioned in Las Lomitas: Tedín had donated ten cows to the police, on the agreement that they would take his report seriously.

A girl with her hair tied up arrives, carrying a backpack – Nidia García is the Wichí teacher that was in the community when the police came. She says that from the door of the school she saw ten trucks pulled up carrying around 100 police officers armed as if going to war. She claims they did not show a search warrant or bother with dialogue – it was violence from the start.

The police ordered her to go inside the school, “but I was paralysed with fear. I had never seen anything like it – the men were handcuffed on the floor, the women beaten, children running to the hill. It was terrible.”

Nidia García is a key witness, but Judge Francisco Orella never heard her. She says that if called by the court she will confirm her testimony. She knows that she has been signalled out in town, but so far has not received any pressure. And she hopes not to in the future.

A group of Wichí women look on from afar. One of them approaches – she has a purple t-shirt and is carrying her mate and thermos. She is the wife of Evil Tejada, the only one of the brothers not in prison and who is now a fugitive. She explains that they escaped when they saw how the police mistreated his relatives – he fled to the hill with their eight-year-old son. They walked for hours and hid until darkness. They were barefoot and hurt their feet badly – the child is still unable to walk on them – but that day the same hill that provides them with food and medicine also gave them shelter.

She smiles nervously and doesn’t want to talk, looking suspiciously at the recorder. I put it away and she relaxes, summing up the experience in two words: “it’s unfair”.

Evil Tejada's wife (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Evil Tejada’s wife (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Building a Case

Three blocks from the main square in Las Lomitas, a wooden sign says: Civil Association for the Rights of Indigenous People (Adepi). It’s a house converted into an office, with four rooms, three computers, and dozens of files. Lawyer Daniel Cabrera, 33 years old with two children and known for his commitment to helping local farm workers and indigenous people, was the brothers’ first defence lawyer. But they had changed him for someone else, Omar Padilla, a councillor and Gildo ally in las Lomitas, who had promised to get them out in three days.

After weeks still in prison, they realised that they had been played, and returned to Cabrera. He now highlights some of the irregularities in the case:

– The police did not register the identity of the person that reported the alleged crime, who did so without ID and without the registration papers for the motorbike.

– There was no justification provided for the search order, making it null. Demands by the defence for forensics and ballistics testing were rejected.

– The police line ups were unfairly arranged: Avelino Tejada, for example, was put in a line up with two young criollos.

Gabrieal Alcaraz, a lawyer at Endepa, explains another peculiarity of the Formosan justice system. He says the police will open cases, don’t tell either the judge or the accused, and then on a random day will activate them.

That’s what happened with the Tejada brothers. Old cases appeared, with a variety of allegations since 2001: resisting authority, coercion, possession of firearms, assault, breaking and entry, theft, damage, and even holding someone against their will. They are accused as a result of their demands for water, light, healthcare, teachers, and to stop the sale of alcohol in certain areas of their territory.

Journalists and Police

Judge Francisco Orella lives one block from the Adepi office. It’s a meticulous house, with colourful walls and a grey 4×4 truck in the driveway. His court is six blocks away – in both places they say he is not there, and he does not answer his phone.

Manuel Tejada's wife and son, Miguel (photo by Julieta Colomer)

Manuel Tejada’s wife and son, Miguel (photo by Julieta Colomer)

What about his background? On 27th August police raided the Las Lomitas courthouse on the orders of the Supreme Court after reports of a “criminal organisation” operating in the local judicial system. The report, filed by Ramón Juárez, a lawyer for companies and landowners, points to Orella, the prosecutors and the state defence lawyer, among others. They are accused of conspiracy, bribery, procedural fraud, illicit enrichment, cover-ups, and breach of public duty, among other crimes. That same week it was reported that Orella and his son were accused of attempted murder.

The main newspaper is La Mañana, a news bulletin belonging to Insfrán. Following the same line is Formosa TV Color and Lapacho TV. Officials in every town repeat the message of these outlets: for example, in the first week of September, they spread some incredible news: according to INDEC, the unemployment rate in Formosa is only 1.9%.

In contrast, in just three days the provincial police stopped us to as for our IDs on four separate occasions. In El Potrillo a police car followed us for ten blocks.

Who Owns the Land?

In 2010, Amnesty International published a report ‘Exigimos Respeto’ based on an investigation into the situation facing indigenous communities in Formosa. It described the systematic violation of human rights, the looting of ancestral lands, structural poverty, and a political apparatus to marginalised the indigenous people. It highlighted serious violations of international law, mistreatment, institutional discrimination, and actions fitting of a dictatorship such as intimidatory police persecution, anonymous threats, and kidnappings. “The provincial government has not only contributed to these rights violations, but also reinforced a history of discrimination, exclusion, and poverty for indigenous people,” concluded Amnesty.

The report was sent to various national dependencies, including the Secretariat for Human Rights, the Presidential Office, the Cabinet Chief’s Office, and INAI, but none responded or took action.

However, the struggle of the Qom community has gotten the plight of indigenous people in Formosa into the headlines in Buenos Aires and, with some ups ups and downs, into the political and public debate. These two communities have something in common: the oppressed Wichí live in Formosa’s oil region, while the Qom La Primavera community live on the most fertile lands in the province. They are both communities living on rich lands and defending their rights.

In Formosa, this coincidence is repeated over and over again. [Qom leader] Félix Díaz sums it up: “What the Tejada brothers are going through is unjust, ilegal, and illegitimate. It is a violation of human rights and a clear message from Governor Insfrán to spread fear among other communities who claim what it rightfully theirs.”

Translation by Marc Rogers

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Colombia: Mining Companies Forced to Return Land to Indigenous Owners


An Embera Katío community village in Colombia (Photo via Wikipedia)

An Embera Katío community village in Colombia (Photo via Wikipedia)

A High Court in Medellín has ordered mining companies to cease operations in a 50,000 hectare reserve, and return the land to the indigenous families that originally lived there.

The unprecedented ruling is the first of its kind to recognise the territorial rights of more than 1,400 families in the Embera Katío community, who live in the country’s northwestern Chocó department.

According to the court order the National Mining Agency, with support from the military, must expel those not from the community from carrying out mining activities in the area. The ruling also suspends existing mining concessions held by 11 companies, and demands that the state provide the indigenous community with social services and a plan of protection.

“This is the first time in this country and the world that an indigenous community under threat of being wiped out physically and culturally… achieves legal recognition of its fundamental territorial rights,” said the Unit for Land Restitution (URT), which presented the case on behalf of the tribe.

“All the evils of the world combined to affect the community in this area,” added URT director Ricardo Sabogal. “They were displaced by violence and then illegal mining forced them from their lands. Thanks to this sentence, they will be able to return.

“Any mining activity will now have to be done according to the law – any companies that come will have to first consult with the community so that they can participate in decisions that affect their territory,” concluded Sabogal.

UN Award

The court ruling comes in the same week as the UNDP awarded its Equator Initiative Prize to the Association of Indigenous Leaders in Yaigojé Apaporis (ACIYA), a group of 21 communities in Colombian fighting to conserve and studying the National Park in which they live.

According to the award, which recognises achievements in sustainable development, the association has “succeeded in protecting a substantial area of forest and put natural resource management in the hands of resident indigenous communities.”

The Yaigojé Apaporis covers an area of 1,500km2 of mainly Amazonian forest in the country’s southwest.

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UN World Conference on Indigenous People Closes


Evo Morales (Photo by Sebastian Baryli)

Evo Morales (Photo by Sebastian Baryli)

The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples drew to a close in New York yesterday, with Latin American nations taking a leading role.

Bolivian president Evo Morales inaugurated the two-day summit on Monday, calling himself living proof that indigenous people “can govern and not just vote”.

The central issues addressed in the forum, considered a special meeting as part of the 69th UN General Assembly, were land and territory, food sovereignty, and environment.

The summit culminated in the unanimous agreement of governments to draw up national plans to protect the rights of indigenous groups in their countries, including a clause that governments must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from indigenous peoples on matters that affected them, including legislative measures and development projects.

During the conference, strategies were also discussed to ensure the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Bolivian president said the conference must be the start of something bigger.

“This conference must be a starting point in determining the collective actions that must be taken in the defence of life in order to initiate a process of transformation and change through the sovereignty and science of our indigenous peoples,” he said.

In his opening remarks, President Morales warned that capitalism and unbridled development of land are the greatest threat to indigenous movements around the world.

“The fundamental principles of the indigenous movement are life, mother earth, and peace, and these principles of the worldwide indigenous movement are permanently threatened by a system and model, the capitalist system, a model which extinguishes human life and the mother earth,” he said.

The conference was launched after a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) praised his government and that of Ecuador for the progress made in guaranteeing basic rights to indigenous communities. The study recognised efforts made by La Paz and Quito to improve indigenous communities’ access to healthcare and education but highlighted that a lot remains to be done in Latin America to fully guarantee the rights of the 45-million strong indigenous population that inhabits the Southern Cone.

President Morales, noted a number of advances made in Bolivia under his leadership that he says have directly benefited indigenous peoples. Most notable, said Morales, has been Bolivia’s efforts in reducing extreme poverty. A recent UN Development Program report found that Bolivia experienced the greatest relative drop in extreme poverty in Latin America between 2000 and 2012.

In his speech, President Morales also mentioned that Bolivia is the first and only country to have fully incorporated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into its constitution. Bolivia’s new constitution was approved by popular referendum in 2009.

Following the inauguration, President Morales met with UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon for talks, who praised the president as a “symbol of the developing world”.

Up to 2,200 indigenous representatives from roughly 100 countries around the world attended the conference.

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Qom Man Killed in Formosa Hit and Run


Felix Diaz, Leader of The Qom (Photo:  Patricio Guillamón)

Felix Diaz, one of the Qom leaders, speaks at a protest in Buenos Aires (Photo: Patricio Guillamón)

Members of the Qom La Primavera community have cut a Ruta 86 in Formosa to demand justice after a member of their community was run over and killed by a truck. The incident occurred at 8.15pm last night, close to the indigenous settlement, at around Km 1338.

The victim, 22-year-old Aldo Javier Camachi, was the nephew of Oscar Camachi, one of the community’s leaders. According to witnesses, Camachi was walking along the shoulder of the route, not on the asphalt, returning home from a day’s fishing with two friends, when the truck hit him, dragging him over ten metres. The driver, who witnesses say fled the scene, has been detained and is being held in Clorinda.

Víctor Tellez, Secretary General of the Formosa police, said that Camachi was transferred to Laguna Blanca hospital, but died as a result of his injuries. However, witnesses say that Camachi clearly died on the scene. Eliseo Camachi today spoke to Radio Uno and said that his family don’t understand the authority’s haste to remove his nephew’s body, and why they did so without the consent of his family.

Today, around 20 people from the community have cut the route to demand that the judge in charge of the case go to the community to explain the circumstances. Gendarmes and Police are currently directing traffic to use an alternative route.

“We’re tired of this attacks on our brothers,” said a statement on La Primavera’s blog. “We keep demanding that speed bumps are put on the route, but our requests fall on deaf ears. We want an autopsy on the body. How many more will die before anything is done?”

The La Primavera community has been repeatedly in the headlines over the past four years, since the provincial government approved a plan to build a 600-hectare university on the community’s land. Their leader, Felix Díaz, was a vocal opponent of the project and brought the issue to the national agenda after setting up a camp in Buenos Aires in protest of the plan. Last year the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Qom, saying the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INAI) must carry out an independent land survey to allow for a judicial decision on the proposal.

Since their opposition to the plan, there have been numerous incidents of members of the community being run over by speeding trucks, including one incident which involved Díaz himself.

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Peru: Four Indigenous Anti-Logging Activists Killed


Edwin Chota was one of the four xxx

Edwin Chota was one of the four Ashaninka men killed

Four Peruvian tribal leaders have been shot dead on their way to a meeting to discuss ways to stop illegal logging. The group, who were from the Amazonian Ashaninka community, were killed near the border with Brazil, and included outspoken anti-logging campaigner Edwin Chota.

Chota was the leader of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community, and had received several death threats from illegal loggers, who are thought to have been behind the killings.

“He threatened to upset the status quo,” said David Salisbury, a professor at the University of Richmond who was advising Chota on his community’s quest for land titles and had known him for a decade. “The illegal loggers are on record for wanting Edwin dead.”

The group were killed on 1st September, but news has only just filtered out of the killings due to the remoteness of the location.

The president of the Ashaninka organisation Aconamac, Reyder Sebastián Quinticuari, said: “Our people have always defended our resources and have faced illegal loggers who see our reserves as places to exploit.”

Peru’s main indigenous federation, AIDESEP, expressed outrage at police and the judiciary in a statement for “doing absolutely nothing despite repeated complaints” to protect the slain men, who it said had joined “the long list of martyrs who fell in defence of their ancestral lands”.

According to a 2012 World Bank report, an estimated 80% of Peruvian timber exports stem from illegal logging.

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Wichi Protest Arrests by Taking over Formosa Police Station


The indigenous in Formosa often live in extreme poverty (photo: Kate Stanworth)

The indigenous in Formosa often live in extreme poverty (photo: Kate Stanworth)

A group from the El Colorado Wichi community in Formosa last night took over the police station in El Potrillo in protest of the arrest of five community members who were violently detained in neighbouring Las Lomitas on Monday.

The protest began late yesterday afternoon when around 200 people made their way to protest outside of the station. They were joined by more community members, and a group of the protestors entered the police station and took over the building with initial reports saying some 25 police officers were still inside. However, local priest Francisco Nazar, denied the claims that there are hostages, confirming that the group are still in the building but that no police officers are being held.

The group have said they will not abandon the station until there an independent judge looks into the arrest of the five held in Las Lomitas, which would lead to, they believe, their release. Another group of protesters has also blocked Ruta 81.

Their lawyer, Daniel Cabrera, on Tuesday is currently meeting with Judge Francisco Orella, who ordered the police action which they were arrested on Monday, to evaluate the situation.

According to Cabrera, the conflict began after local businessman Pila Tedin and his family took over land that the Wichi claim as their own and started fencing it. Members of the community went to talk to the family and also reported to the police the usurpation of the land. When nothing was done to stop them, last Friday a group went back to the family and demanded they stop. Over the weekend, community members then removed all of the fencing and confiscated the chainsaw that was being used to construct the fencing. The family then reported the incident to the police and on Sunday a Judge Orella ordered a search of the community, which took place with scores of police officers in a dawn raid on Monday.

Witnesses report that between 70 and 100 armed police officers arrived in a dozen vehicles and entered the houses, destroying residents’ belongings, beating people, and violently arresting Nelgado Galeano and brothers Esteban, Avelino, Manuel, and Rodrigo Tejada. Ricardo Tejada was shot and is currently undergoing treatment in Formosa’s Hospital Central for his numerous wounds.

The five have been charged with “armed robbery with use of a firearm in a populated area and belonging to a gang” and “assault and resisting arrest and obstruction of a judicial act”. Cabrera has called the charges disproportionate to the acts they are alleged to have committed.

When news of the arrests broke out, members of other their community and indigenous communities protested in the streets of Las Lomitas, demanding that authorities respect Law 26.160, passed at the end of 2006, which recognises the land rights of indigenous communities, forcing local authorities to undertake surveys of the land in their provinces and suspending any evictions of communities in the meantime.

The incidents escalated to yesterday’s taking of the police station.

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Costa Rica: Violent Attack on Indigenous Community


The Bribri live in three communities in the south of Costa Rica (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Bribri live in three communities in the south of Costa Rica. Saturday’s attack took place in Salitre, the southernmost community (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Organisations have denounced a violent attack on a Bribri community in the south of Costa Rica that took place on Saturday night.

A group of 80-100 men are reported to have gone to Buenos Aires in Puntarenas, armed with lit torches and stones, and forcibly ejected residents from their homes, before setting them on fire. The Bribri were then reportedly chased into the surrounding bush by then men, who brandished hot irons and “branded” some of the residents. The attackers also used two large trucks to block the road to the community with large quantities of sand and stones.

It is not the first time the community has been victim to such violence. “In January last year, a young man was branded as if he were cattle and another had his fingers cut off. Yesterday they burnt down our houses, and I have relatives who, right now, are hidden in the mountains for fear of being attacked,” Yamilet Figueroa, one of the victims, told TeleSur.

The community is located inside Salitre, a 12,700-hectare terrain in the mountainous south of Costa Rica, land the Bribri are claiming they have historic rights to. Around 75% of the land, 9,525 hectares, has been recuperated by the community.

Local landowners are alleged to be behind the attacks, according to the National Front for Indigenous People, Frenapi: “These racist attacks are an attempt to stop the autonomous process of territorial assertion which these communities have started for the recuperation, defence, and autonomy of their land.”

The group also blamed the State for a lack of clarity, negligence, and failure to approve the Law for Autonomy of Indigenous People, which would give the country’s eight indigenous communities a strong legal framework. The failure to pass the law has created a legal vacuum in which such attacks can take place.

President Luis Guillermo Solís has sent a delegation to the Salitre reserve, which has demanded that the local police guarantee the physical safety of those affected.

 

 

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Brazil: Judge Revokes Licence for Amazon Gold Mine


Open-pit mines like this one in Northern Chile require huge amounts of water (photo/Andrew Griffith)

An open-pit mine in northern Chile (photo/Andrew Griffith)

A Brazilian judge has revoked Canadian mining company Belo Sun’s licence to drill in the Amazon, citing the corporation’s failure to assess the impacts of its planned mega-mine on nearby indigenous communities.

If approved, the controversial Volta Grande open-pit project would be Brazil’s largest gold mine, projected to yield 50m tonnes of gold over 12 years. The project is planned for the ‘Big Bend’ of the Xingu River, a south-east tributary of the Amazon River, along which the Brazilian government is already building the Belo Monte Dam, the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam.

“The approval of an environmental license without the required prior analysis of the indigenous component entails a serious violation of environmental law and the rights of indigenous people,” stated Judge Claudio Henrique Fonseca de Pina in his decision to annul the license. “When adding this to the fact that these indigenous lands are also in the direct area of influence of the Belo Monte dam, [the licensing process] requires even more caution in order to assess the project’s scale of impacts on indigenous communities.”

Belo Sun’s investors reacted immediately to the news, with shares plunging nearly 10% on the Toronto stock exchange.

“This is a step forward,” said Leticia Leite of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), a Brazilian NGO that helped launch the Belo Sun No! campaign last year. “Excavating 37.8 million tons of minerals just 10 kilometres from two indigenous territories without conducting studies on the project’s environment impacts on affected communities is illegal and immoral. And Brazil’s judicial system has determined that it is not possible!”

Belo Sun must now complete a study detailing the impacts of its mining operations on local indigenous groups to include in its environmental impact assessment (EIA). The new impact study will need to demonstrate that the proposed mine’s impacts on indigenous peoples will be superficial, in light of the destruction these communities are already suffering under Belo Monte.

The corporation is predicting that completion of the study will take five months, although analysts say this timeline is unrealistic due to the complexity of the impact study, and say that eventual extraction could be put back as much as four years.

Judge Fonseca de Pina’s ruling is appealable, and could be easily overturned. And Belo Sun has the tacit support of the state environmental agency SEMA-Pará, who originally allowed the corporation to sidestep its obligation to consider the mine’s effects on the local communities, claiming that including an indigenous study in the EIA would needlessly “penalise the company and restrict the socio-economic development that the project proposes.”

Open-pit gold mining is considered to be particularly dirty, as vast amounts of rock and materials must be removed, through blasting, leading to the destruction of the environment at the mine site, damage to the surrounding ecosystem, and the opening up of vast craters. Open-pit mines produce eight to ten times as much waste rubble as underground mines. The ore must then be processed to extract the mineral, using cyanide and other chemicals, and processed ore is left on the site in the form of slurry in toxic tailings ponds. Every ounce of gold produced results in 30 tons of mine waste.

 

 

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