US Special Operations Command Trained Military Unit Accused of Death Squad Killings in Honduras March 1, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: annie bird, assassination, campesinos, central america, death squads, honduran military, Honduras, human rights, indigenous, indigenous massacre, indigenous rights, Latin America, military, roger hollander
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This article is based entirely on the report “Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras” published on February 20, 2013. To see the full report with citations:
Since January 2010, there has been a constant stream of killings of members of land rights, campesino movements in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras. At least 88 campesino movement members and supporters have been killed, along with five bystanders apparently mistaken for campesinos. Most recently, on Feb. 16 two campesinos were killed–Santos Jacobo Cartagena was gunned down while waiting for a bus, and Jose Trejo, an outspoken advocate for the investigation of his brother’s Sept. 22, 2012 murder, was shot while driving.
While the 2010 and 2011 State Department human rights reports described deaths of campesinos in the Aguan as the result of “confrontations” between palm oil corporation’s security forces and campesino farmers who claim the land was stolen by the agri-businessmen, only six of the killings have occurred on disputed land during land occupations or evictions. In contrast, 78 were targeted assassinations, 8 of those preceded by abductions, their tortured bodies found later; another 3 victims remain disappeared. Fifty-three people were shot while driving, riding their bicycles or walking along public roads. Another 13 were assassinated in their homes or while working on farms not in dispute.
All of this points to one explanation: a death squad is operating in the Aguan. This is not news to anyone who lives there, where it is considered common knowledge and it is widely understood that police and military participate in the killings. Dozens of acts of violence and intimidation have been carried out by the Honduran military against campesino communities over the same time period and geographical area where the death-squad killings have targeted campesinos, lending greater credibility to the charge.
Local residents and national press have reported the presence of U.S. Army Rangers in the area since at least 2008, and public records of the U.S. government confirm their presence. In 2008, SOCSOUTH conducted two trainings with 135 soldiers each, all from the 1st Special Forces Battalion. The Honduran press has reported that the 1st Battalion and 15th Battalion, both special-forces units, operate as one command, sharing the installations in the Rio Claro military base for training. SOCSOUTH and the U.S.Southern Command, SOUTHCOM, have also funded improvements and expansion of the Rio Claro base since September 2011.
One disturbing observation that resulted from our investigation is that conditions surrounding many of the killings involved techniques included in U.S. training. According to Honduran press, U.S. special forces train the Honduran Special Operations Forces of the 1st and 15th Battalion in insertion, parachuting, explosives, long-distance sharpshooting, intelligence, advanced marksmanship, urban operations, close combat, martial arts and offensive driving. Dozens of campesinos have died after high-speed pursuit in vehicles, either after crashing or being shot, in incidents that can only be described as offensive driving.
Campesinos have reported surviving long-distance sharpshooting assassination attempts, and many have been killed from shots fired from a significant distance. One man was found dead from unexplained internal injuries while it was rumored that the unit was being trained in mortal hand-to-hand combat, raising suspicions. At least one man was killed in a stealth raid assisted by a helicopter, in which an armed group wearing black uniforms with masks quickly and surreptitiously entered a farm in the night, assassinated a campesino, and left–an operation known in military terms as “insertion”.
The improvements to the Rio Claro military base began just weeks after Xatruch II, a military–police joint task force, arrived in the Aguan. Honduras sent a Xatruch II unit to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and at least two of the commanding officers of the Xatruch II deployment in the Aguan participated in Iraq. There is significant evidence that the Xatruch II operation in the Aguan is the same unit that served in Iraq.
From Iraq to Aguan
But Xatruch II is not all that is moving from the Middle East to the Aguan–so is the war on terrorism. The conflict in the Aguan is an 18 year-old land dispute. Campesinos explain that agri-businessmen used violence and fraud to illegally separate them from the palm oil plantations they had labored to create and equip. In 1998 they initiated lawsuits demanding annulment of the title transfers, but ever since they have struggled to maintain legal representation as their lawyers were threatened or bribed into abandoning the cases. On September 22, 2012 they lost the only lawyer who had stuck it out when he was shot to death outside a church. Just three months before, he had won the annulment of 3 of the 28 disputed title transfers.
Honduran military, even the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Security, have consistently distorted the nature of the conflict, claiming there is a guerrilla group operating in the area, connected to drug traffickers. On Sept. 6, 2012, The Times of Israel ran a story citing only Israeli radio, claiming the Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua on the border with Honduras, a story that was then repeated in Latin American press. The Times of Israel then reported further on the story citing the Latin American press reports it had generated itself. The dangerous, unsubstantiated and opportunistic accusations of narco-terrorism levied against the campesino movement in the Aguan by the military fit neatly into the U.S. objective of expanding its military reach in the region.
Security forces in the Aguan explain that the mission of Xatruch II is to defend the land of the businessmen from the “criminal’ campesinos. However, broad evidence indicates that some of the businessmen in conflict with the campesinos are involved in drug trafficking in the region. Local residents have reported that the 15th Battalion and the Tocoa police have provided protection to the traffickers. The police define their mission as defending the property of Miguel Facusse, whose principal residence in the region was implicated in drug trafficking,according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks.
The conflict in the Aguan is a longstanding land conflict, and it must be treated as such. The conflict can be resolved by duly addressing the land-rights claims. Militarization, supported by the U.S. government, will not resolve the underlying conflict and it clearly increases, rather than decreases, the bloodshed.
Only the courts can resolve the conflict, but the courts don’t function and have further collapsed since the June 2009 military coup.
There is a solution to the violence in the Aguan–the courts, not the military.
Crossposted at cipamericas.org
Annie Bird, a Central America & Latin America human rights activist. She is co-director for rightsaction.org & a writer for cipamericas.org’s Americas Program.
“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
Tags: Alberto Acosta, alexander zaitchik, amazon, canadian mining, Ecuador, ecuador constitution, Ecuador history, ecuador indigenous, ecuador indigenous protest, ecuador mining, ecuador rainforest, gold mining, indigenous, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, Rafael Correa, rainforest, roger hollander
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http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013
It was late January 2010 when a non-governmental organization bused Indian chiefs from the Ecuadorean Amazon to a multiplex in the capital. The surprise decampment of the tribal congress triggered a smattering of cheers, but mostly drew stares of apprehension from urban Ecuadoreans who attribute a legendary savagery to their indigenous compatriots, whose violent land disputes in the jungle are as alien as events on “Avatar’s” Pandora.
The chiefs — who watched the film through plastic 3-D glasses perched beneath feathered headdress — saw something else in the film: a reflection. The only fantastical touches they noticed in the sci-fi struggle were the blue beanstalk bodies and the Hollywood gringo savior. “As in the film, the government here has closed the dialogue,” a Shuar chief told a reporter after the screening. “Does this mean that we do something similar to the film? We are ready.”
Three years after “Avatar’s” Quito premiere, declarations of martial readiness are multiplying and gaining volume throughout the tribal territories of Ecuador’s mountainous southeast. The warnings bare sharpest teeth in the Shuar country of the Cordillera del Condor, the rain forest mountain range targeted by President Rafael Correa for the introduction of mega-mining.
In recent years, the quickening arrival of drills and trenchers from China and Canada has provoked a militant resistance that unites the local indigenous and campesino populations. The stakes declared and the violence endured by this battle-scarred coalition is little-known even in Ecuador, where Correa has made muscular use of state security forces in arresting activists and intimidating journalists who threaten his image as an ecologically minded man-of-the-people. This repression has only intensified in the run-up to Correa’s expected reelection on Feb. 17.
My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.
“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”
Beside the bright melons, Ankuash unfolds a frail map of the Condor to come. The industrial future overlays the natural present in a dense geometric circuitry that blots out the region’s rivers and mountains with a patchwork of oddly patterned boxes, as if some madcap Aguirre had gerrymandered the jungle. Rafael Correa’s PAIS Alliance was elected in 2007 with heavy indigenous support, but the map’s vision is the president’s own. His economic development plan, enshrined in a series of controversial laws and strategic declarations, centers on prying Ecuador’s southern rain forests of their rich placer deposits of base and precious metals, which fleck the Condor’s soils and loams like the stars of the universe. Ecuador, Correa has declared, can no longer be “a beggar sitting atop a sack of gold.”
To help him grab these shiny metals, Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence.
But there’s no international outcry on the horizon to concern Rafael Correa and his commercial partners abroad. What they face is a local security problem. It is the same security problem known to regional colonial powers dating back to the Inca. As Correa has always known, and as the Chinese are learning, the Condor is ancestral home to 8,000 Shuar, the most storied warrior tribe in the annals of colonialism in the New World.
“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”
* * *
Among the tribes of the Amazon, only the Shuar successfully revolted against Inca and Spanish occupation. The Incan emperor Huayana Capac led the first attempted conquest of Shuar territory in 1527, an adventure that ended with his rump army bestowing gifts in retreat. The first European to follow Capac’s footsteps, Hernando de Benavente, ran briskly ahead of Shuar arrows back to Lima, where he complained to the Royal Court of “the most insolent [tribe] that I have seen in all the time that I have traveled in the Indies and engaged in their conquest.” Years of gift-bearing Spanish peace missions eventually won Shuar acceptance of trading posts at Maca and Sevilla del Oro. But these were never tranquil. “The Shuar are a very warlike people [and] are killing Spaniards every day,” observed a visitor to the outposts in 1582. “It is a very rough land, having many rivers and canyons, all of which in general have gold in such quantity that the Spaniards are obliged to forget the danger.” Some Shuar, he noted, worked the mines in exchange for goods, but did so “with much reluctance.”
The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.
Most people have heard of the Shuar, even if they don’t realize it. They are the storied Amazonian “head shrinking” tribe. Each of a long succession of enemies have learned firsthand of their tzantza ritual, in which the heads of slain invaders are removed at the collarbone, relieved of their skulls, and shrunk by seasoned boiling in a multi-day ceremony. Tzantza is just one of many rituals rooted in a cosmology of animist spirits. Collectively, these spirits are known as Arutam, a shape-shifting pantheistic godhead whose name loosely translates as “soul power.” Atop a bridge leading to Shuar territory in the southern province of Zamora-Chinchipe, I encountered an oversize statue of Arutam in human form wielding a staff astride a giant toucan, redolent of the dragon-like beasts of “Avatar.”
If James Cameron’s fictional Na’vi of “Avatar” reflect the essence and predicament of one real-world tribe, it’s the Shuar. While they do not expect an action-hero savior to fall from the sky, they recognize that avoiding further bloodshed and protecting the Condor ultimately depends on getting the attention of the wider world, and quickly.
“The world needs to know what is happening in Ecuador, because the destruction of the Condor will have effects for the Amazon, and what affects the Amazon affects the planet as a whole,” said Ankuash. “The world must understand the Condor is not an ordinary patch of jungle.”
* * *
The biologist Alfredo Luna walks with a limp and a cane, the legacy of a plane crash in the Condor that killed two of his colleagues nearly 20 years ago. The plane was carrying a team assembled by Conservation International to conduct the first and only systematic study of the Condor’s hydrological system and the abundant flora and fauna it supports. The team’s findings catapulted the Condor into the elite ranks of global hot spots as ranked by conservation significance. A synopsis of these findings is the subject of a slideshow Luna gives around the world in an attempt to catalyze the conservation community. “The Condor combines the diversity of the Andes and the Amazon in the middle of cloud forest,” Luna said one evening at an NGO office in Quito, pausing his presentation on the image of a marsupial species recently discovered in the Condor. “There is more diversity of life in one hectare of the Condor than all of North America combined.”
Luna stresses that his slideshow only hints at the majesty of the Condor’s biodiversity. “Researchers have just scratched the surface,” he said. What is known is that the Condor breathes with more than 2,000 vascular plants and flowers, including 40 unique varieties of orchid. It is home to hundreds of endemic species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, dozens of which were new to science when first cataloged by Luna’s team. “Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”
The Condor’s ecological riches are a consequence of unusual wetness. The mountains of the Condor sit on massive aquifers containing a fair chunk of the continent’s fresh water. This water trickles out of innumerable crevices and pours forth from countless cascades. The streams feed famous rains. The volume of rain produced in the Condor’s water cycle is enormous, says Luna, thanks to a unique commixture of altitudes, endemic soils, and solar and wind patterns. The heavy rainwater feeds dozens of small rivers that wind east into the Rios Zamora and Santiago, which sustain the region’s agricultural economy. These eventually merge with Peru’s Marañón River, a major tributary of the continental Amazonian watershed.
The amount of water pulsing through the Condor, says Luna, makes laughable government and industry claims that large stores of toxic mining waste can be contained in tailing ponds, and that samples of the region’s wildlife can be preserved in greenhouse Arks for future replanting. “The Condor cycle is supported by at least two dozen kinds of fragile soils and vegetation cover,” he said. “This web of microclimates will not survive the violence of major mining. It all begins with the rain and the rivers, and the mining will affect rainfall, drying up and contaminating important hinges in the larger Amazon River system. The fools don’t understand that disturbing one part disturbs the whole.”
* * *
Shuar life in the Condor remained largely unchanged until well into the last century. Regular contact with the modern Ecuadorean state began at mid-century, when the government began a settlement program in what it called tierra baldia — “no man’s land.” Thousands of mestizo farmers were moved into the mountains and given plots of land. With them came state schools, paved roads, cattle ranching, artisanal miners and frontier towns. Beginning in the 1960s, a new character began appearing in these frontier towns: the wildcat geologist seeking El Dorado. Drawn by the old myths and encouraged by the new infrastructure, they surveyed the mountains, broke rock, sifted soils and bagged samples. “They always said they were studying the flowers,” remembers an old Shuar woman who served many first-wave geologists at her roadside grill, where she sells fish baked in leaves that sweeten the meat. “They walked around with maps and little axes. They came from many countries.”
The samples they took revived the legend of Condor gold. In the 1990s, the first mining concessions were handed to politically connected firms. The World Bank funded a geological survey of the region that turned up traces of more than 300 minerals. International mining juniors were lining up to find the biggest deposits in 1995 when the country went to war with Peru for the third time in half a century, suspending exploration. The Shuar lived along the disputed border and played an important role in the war, reinvigorating their reputation as the Gurkhas of the Amazon. In multiple Shuar villages, veterans of the war spoke of decapitating Peruvian soldiers they killed in jungle firefights and carrying the heads back home for skinning and shrinking. “The tzantza ceremony protects against us from further invasion and shows that we do not kill lightly,” explained a Shuar veteran named Patricio Taishtiwiram. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It also makes us feel like we are winning.”
The foreign mining firms who set up exploratory bases in the Condor after the war probably did not know the tzantza is a living tradition. But they knew enough about the local population to stay low and mask their purpose. “They came in very quiet, always changing names as they grew,” said Tarcisio Juep, a 50-year-old Shuar from a village near the proposed Mirador site. “First it was Gemsa, then Billington, then the Canadian ECSA, and now it’s the Chinese ECSA. They never asked permission. They never explained their plans. Then some years ago they told us they had bought the land, that mining was coming, that they’d give us jobs, that they would be the only jobs. It was a crime in pieces.”
In 2005, Corriente went public with the scale of the Mirador project. The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. (Such projects receive much of President Correa’s “populist” infrastructure spending.)
Corriente announced its plan coated in absurd assurances that the mine and the waste pool were nothing to fear. The company even claimed that after the mine had closed, the tailing pond could be converted into a “resort lake” for swimming and water sports. Corriente printed up leaflets showing people swimming in the crystal waters of this man-made lake that once contained millions of tons of cancer soup. “They think we are stupid and will believe their children’s stories,” said Ankuash, the Shuar chief. “But even our children can see through them. We know what oil drilling has done in the north of Ecuador. We know what industrial mining does. We are in contact with our indigenous friends in Chile and Peru and have learned from them. We know the companies will come in and take all the minerals, leaving devastation behind. Wherever companies are most active, the communities are weakest. Where people used to help each other, they begin to think only of themselves. Families are not as strong. Correa’s mining policy will be the end of everything. Already the exploratory drills are polluting the water.”
In Tundayme, the community closest to the Mirador site, the old agricultural economy has withered. “The exploratory machines create dirty runoff by drilling huge 7-foot holes,” said Angel Arebelo, a farmer who last year moved to the nearest frontier town to drive a cab. “You can taste it in the rivers of the Quimi Valley. It is just beginning. Eventually everyone here will die from the chemicals.”
“We used to grow our own food, corn and yucca, and sell the rest in Pangui. Now they come here to sell,” said Eva Correa, a young Shuar mother in Tundayme. “Everything is upside down. They took our land away and now we need money, but the company pay is not enough and the work is dangerous. The new model is not working.”
One afternoon, I stopped by ECSA’s two-story mirrored-glass corporate office, which sits at the end of El Pangui’s short and dusty commercial strip. In the lobby, a poster showed Chinese managers and local employees in hard hats working together. Another poster featuring bright green frogs advertised the company’s sponsorship of an environmental-photography contest. I was directed to the office of Ruth Salinas, ECSA’s garrulous light-skinned communications officer. She dismissed the idea that mining would undermine local agricultural and tourism and launched into a rant against the Shuar. “The Indians can’t lecture anyone on the environment!” she huffed. “They hunt, you know? They fish with poison leaves that ruin the rivers. They cut down trees. They only want money from us, but they are not responsible enough to use it. They don’t do anything but grow yucca and drinkchichi beer.”
As I got up to leave, she reached into a box and handed me some ECSA literature. One of the pamphlets had on its cover a pretty indigenous girl in traditional dress, squatting by a stream. Above her it said, “Copper: A New Era for the Nation.”
* * *
In October 2006, mestizo and Shuar leaders organized the first action against the introduction of mining in the south: a peaceful march to the Mirador site. The protesters didn’t get far before trucks blocked their path and unloaded dozens of ski-masked men armed with rifles, machetes, sticks, and knives. The organizers of the march were badly beaten. “That was the turning point,” said Ricardo Aucay, a local farmer and leading figure in the local resistance. “The company started the chaos, the mess, the vengeance and the hatred.”
A group of Shuar communities next declared a “mining sweep” of their territory. They gave a Corriente subcontractor until November 1 to vacate the village of Warints, where it had set up a base. When the deadline passed, hundreds of Shuar swept into the camp from the forest side at dawn. They trapped company managers inside while the women and children used long spears of chonta wood to block rescue helicopters from landing. The mining staff was only allowed to leave the following day with their equipment. The Shuar army continued by foot to a site near the main Mirador complex, where they slipped past a military guard and took over the buildings. After a three-day standoff, all of the company’s machines were hauled away on military trucks. The state responded by militarizing the other mining camps. Throughout the area, road protests erupted that blocked mining traffic with burning tires, boulders, and bodies. The protests escalated in response to news that a massive dam and power lines were being built near Macas to provide Mirador with cheap energy. Spreading beyond rural hamlets, a general strike was called throughout the southern provinces.
On November 12, the government of Alfredo Palacio announced a suspension of Corriente’s mining activities and agreed to discuss turning the Condor region into an ecological and tourism reserve. Corriente and its subcontractors simply ignored the decree. On December 1, after the state made clear it was with the company, hundreds of protestors again marched to the Mirador site. While attempting to cut razor wire that had been placed in their path across a narrow bridge, police and private security units attacked. The tear-gas-beclouded battle lasted one hour. Bullets rubber and real ripped through several protestors amid Indian war whoops, chants of “Ecuador!” and old mestizo women crying, “Teach them with your blood, Oh Lord!”
Among the dozens of protestors arrested and beaten was the anti-mining prefect of Zamora-Chinchipe, a Suraguro indian named Salvador Quishpe. Six years later, Quishpe remains in office and organizes with the seven-party alliance contesting Correa in February’s election. “Quito has slowed down payments to the province as punishment for my position on mining,” he told me one afternoon in his home on the outskirts of Zamora. “But money isn’t all. They don’t have enough to pay off the conscience of the entire country. More conflict is coming.”
Those who fought alongside Qichspe echo his conclusion. Vinicio Tibiron was shot through the chest at the bridge protests and expects to be shot at again. “It will be wars throughout the region,” Tibiron told me over a bowl of yucca beer at his remote Shuar village of Ayantaz. “They will send police and military, and we will gather our weapons. Outsiders have always called us savages because they could not conquer us. If they continue, their actions will compel us to show them savagery, to act like the Indians we are.”
Sitting near and observing us is a thick middle-aged woman named Mercedes Samarent, herself a veteran of several violent clashes. “They will be fighting all of us,” she said, holding up a machete. “The men have their weapons, and we have ours.”
* * *
Rafael Correa was elected president in the weeks following the bloody bridge protest. Upon taking his oath, his left-wing PAIS Alliance fulfilled a campaign promise and convened an assembly to draft a new constitution, Ecuador’s twentieth. Burning questions of indigenous rights and environmental protection, it seemed, would be addressed democratically before the entire nation.
The constituent assembly gathered in the western town of Montecristi toward the end of Correa’s first year in office and ratified 500 articles. Among them were reforms allowing the president to run for a second term and dissolve Congress. But the bits that made international news, and promised a resolution to the mining conflict in the south, was the surprise enshrining of the Indian concept of sumak kawsay, or “good living in harmony with nature.” Ecuador’s new constitution also formalized the rights of nature itself. It was with nature’s new constitutional rights in mind that the assembly temporarily suspended all mining activity until the passage of a new mining law, which the president promised soon.
Correa, meanwhile, had pivoted away from the indigenous rights rhetoric of his presidential campaign. In televised speeches, he dismissed Indians as backward “donkey-riders” who were blocking access to the country’s “pot of gold.” Fatal road protests from Zamora to Quito flared back up as it became clear that Correa’s forthcoming mining and water bills would ratify and expand industrial mining and water privatization. After running clashes with police in which a Shuar schoolteacher was killed, the government attempted and failed to shut down the Shuar radio station, Arutam.
In January 2009, Correa reactivated hundreds of mining permits and granted foreign companies access to indigenous territory and resources in any projects he deemed “in the national interest.” All of this occurred just before the start of the Mining World Fair in Ontario, where Correa administration officials told the gathered, “In Ecuador, large-scale exploration has begun.”
The primary target for this message was and remains China. Ecuador is a serial defaulter with a radioactive credit rating, and Correa’s entire economic program is dependent on loans from China in return for wide access to its minerals. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, China has become a happy lender of last resort, offering Quito a credit line of up to $10 billion in long-term, low-interest loans collateralized with the stuff in the ground. Where Western development banks once attached strings of political, economic and regulatory reform, the China Development Bank wants the resources. Toward this end, China has become Latin America’s biggest banker with $75 billion loaned since 2005 — which is more than the World Bank, the IDB and the U.S. Export-Import Bank combined. Beijing’s top regional borrowers are Ecuador and Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has described his nation’s oil as “at the service of China.” As of this writing, Ecuador’s debt to China approaches a quarter of its GDP.
Mirador is just one of a number of recent Chinese strategic investments in Latin American mineral reserves. The firms Zijin, Minmetals and Chinalco have snatched up the largest copper mines in Chile, Peru and Mexico. But Mirador is the prize. The concession is estimated to hold up to 11 billion tons of copper, with a large secondary store of gold. Adding another layer of strategic depth to the holding, the contract includes rights to the waste rock, possibly a signal of Chinese expectations that the site contains uranium and even molybdenum, a coveted rare earth suggestive of Avatar’s unobtainium. Even before estimates had been made of Mirador’s bounty, Chinese gentlemen are said to have lurked among Zamora’s dirt-floor provincial gold markets, examining bags of rock and sand brought in by small-scale miners in rubber boots, who understood the Chinese had interests beyond their ken.
* * *
On the morning of my return north to Quito, I attended an environmentally themed panel discussion in a swank downtown hotel. Vandana Shiva, the globetrotting Indian anti-GMO and water-rights activist, was the star. Shiva had just returned from an official tour of Rafael Correa’s showcase conservation project, Yusani National Park. Flanked by the leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups, Shiva praised the president for his vision and happily announced her acceptance of a post as “goodwill ambassador” to Yasuni. Her comments were more suited to an international audience than an Ecuadorean one. She seemed taken aback when local activists challenged her on Correa’s mining policy and an emerging corporate police state in the southern provinces. Shiva isn’t alone in praising Correa without knowing much about his policies. John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” penned a column for CommonDreams.com gushing about a “new consciousness” in Correa’s Ecuador that “honors the dream of the people of the forests.”
The indigenous groups that supported Correa in 2007 do not share Perkins’ enthusiasm. Nor does the seven-party left-wing alliance campaigning against him. The leading figure of this alliance is Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former minister of mines and the first president of the 2008 constitutional assembly. “There is nothing new in Correa’s development plan for the next century. He has simply replaced Uncle Sam with Uncle Chen,” Acosta told me after a campaign stop in Zamora. “He cites the dependency school theorists, but his idea is the same center-periphery economic model of exporting raw materials. The government is thinking short-term about sustaining its social programs and political position at the expense of long-term sustainable industries. There’s a modern parallel to the Conquistadors, who gave the indigenous mirrors for gold. It’s happening again.”
Those who have organized against Correa’s policies have not fared well. If they’re lucky, they are merely harassed. More than 200 other non-violent activists end up in court and face serious jail time. “Like a dictator, everyone in government repeats his pro-development themes and slogans: Responsible mining, man over nature, Indians versus progress,” said Fernanda Solis, a weary-eyed campaign coordinator for the Quito group Clinica Ambiental. “There is no independent judiciary. The three powers of government are acting with Correa and everyone knows it. Because Correa represents the left, opposing him opens you up to the charge of supporting the U.S., or the old right that bankrupted everyone. He’s betrayed the new constitution and proven himself a neoliberal with redistributive touches. He’s avoided pacts with the U.S. but has sold the country to China.”
Last March, Solis helped organize a 370-mile march from Zamora to Quito under the banner, “For water, for life, for the dignity of the people.” Seven thousand people walked boisterously under enormous flags of indigenous rainbows and Popular Front red. Correa’s government issued the permit request only after he organized a counter-protest to meet the marchers in Quito. In a radio address that described anti-mining Indians as tools of “the old right,” Correa mobilized his supporters against what he warned was an indigenous-led coup attempt.
Amid stacks of reports in her cluttered office, I asked Solis about the upcoming election, as well as the narrowing political route open to the opposition through international forums such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
“Correa will win reelection and nothing will change,” she said. “Like the Mapuches in Chile, it is going to get violent.”
* * *
When I last saw Domingo Ankuash, he was celebrating the birth of his latest grandson, whose name is Espada, or sword, but which he defined with a flourish as lanza de Guerra. He was also organizing two summits of anti-mining forces, including a meeting of Shuar and their ancestral enemies, the Achuar, living on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border. The first summit concluded with a statement citing the 2008 Constitution and urging the world to take notice: “We warn the country and the world that the government intends to militarize the Amazon region to promote the interests of mining and oil companies. The Cordillera del Condor and the rest of our territories are inalienable, indefeasible, and we state our decision to defend them to the end.” Similar declarations continue to emerge like smoke signals from across the Condor. A recent statement of the Yaupi village declares, “We will not take a step backward in defending our territories. Interlopers will be submitted to the punishment of our ancestors. Any such bloodshed will be on the Government’s hands.”
The hour of renewed escalation may be near. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous organizations filed legal action in Ecuadorean courts; they are currently preparing another suit for international bodies citing conventions on indigenous consultation. Both are seen as acts of desperation, final attempts at a peaceful solution few expect. The state, meanwhile, is already spending China’s money, and developing budgets on the expectation of more to come. Other international mining firms, having been told Ecuador’s south is open for business, are lining up on the door.
The Shuar are not without an alternative plan. They say they can develop the region sustainably with agriculture, small-scale ranching, dairy, and regulated small-scale traditional mining. “Industrial mining is not sustainable,” said Ankuash. “The gold and the copper will be gone in a few years, leaving behind nothing but poisoned earth for our people. We can have an economy here without destroying nature and the culture. We are open to the world. Let the people come here and see the native way — the bears, the monkeys, the trees, the cascades.”
And the visions. Some Shuar villages have taken advantage of growing Western interest in ayahuasca, the potent hallucinogen and healing plant used throughout the Amazon. As we walked back from the waterfall to Domingo’s village, I saw what looked like an apparition: a young blonde woman in a white cotton dress sitting by the river directly under a beam of sunshine. She had traveled from Berlin for a week-long ayahuasca regimen under the guidance of a local Shuar shaman named Miguel Chiriap. She pointed me down a nearby path, at the end of which I found to a large open-air structure of wood and thatch. Sitting on one of a dozen pillows arranged in a circle was a young herbalist from Hull, England, named David. One of several westerners at the retreat, he was paying hundreds of dollars a week to work with Chiriap, he glowed with the kind of serenity earned from drinking ayahuasca 15 consecutive nights. He was surprised and saddened to learn he was sitting in the middle of a soon-to-be exploited mining concession. “It would be a shame to see all this ruined,” he said. “It’s paradise, isn’t it?”
The government continues to exploit the promise of paradise even as it prepares to annihilate the reality. Police cars and tourism posters in Los Encuentros, the company town of Kinross Gold, display scenes of nature above the slogan “Jewel of the Amazon.” When I met with the mayor of El Pangui, a nervous little yes-man from Correa’s ruling alliance, he dutifully muttered industry lies while sitting beneath yellowing tourism posters touting the area’s pristine forests, roaring cascades, dew-kissed orchids, and smiling Indians.
The dissonance between Ecuador’s tourism pitch and the imminent destruction of the south followed me back to Mariscal, Quito’s hostel district. There, a Jumbotron lords above the clubs and cafes day and night, beckoning backpackers south with high-definition images of happy natives and brightly plumed birds of paradise. “This,” declares the a slogan on continuous loop, “is Ecuador.”
I spent much of my last day in Ecuador drinking coffee at a café with a good view of this Jumbotron. After a month in the south, the slick nature montage appeared to me as the billboards in dystopian science fiction, a sunny, high-tech tourism version of “War Is Peace,” or Latin versions of the electronic messages projected into the dark, rainy worlds of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” I was pulled out of this reverie by the appearance on the screen of a giant pixilated toucan. With wings spread wide, the bird reminded me of the Arutam statue above the bridge in Zamora-Chinchipe. As told to me by a Shuar shaman named Julio Tiwiram, the image of Arutam and the toucan comes from a bit of tribal folklore dating to first-contact with the Conquistadors.
Arutam, who lives in the rivers, the trees, the fish and the flowers, would also like to recline, Zeus-like, on a golden throne high above the mountaintop mists. One day, foreigners “with beards and large eyes” came into the area seeking food. But what they really coveted was Arutam’s golden throne. After eating their fill, the strangers searched for Arutam’s treasure. To thwart them, the spirit hid the throne deep inside the mountains. He told the Shuar to stay vigilant, that the strangers must be kept out, by force if necessary. The bearded men could not be trusted, he said. They would take everything and leave them nothing with which to live. He warned them that though he hid the gold, they would one day return. Arutam then mounted a giant toucan, looked in the direction of the Condor’s highest peak, and flew away.
Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.
Idle No More: Indigenous Uprising Sweeps North America January 10, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Environment, First Nations.
Tags: Aboriginal Affairs, bill c-45, Canada, Canada Conservatives, canada environment, canada government, canada indigenous, canada treaties, environment, environmental destruction, environmental justice, First Nations, hunger strike, idle no more, indigenous rights, kristin moe, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
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Idle No More has organized the largest mass mobilizations of indigenous people in recent history. What sparked it off and what’s coming next?
It took weeks of protests, flash mobs, letters, rallies, and thousands of righteous tweets, but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally caved. He agreed to a meeting with the woman who had been petitioning him for twenty-four days, subsisting on fish broth, camped in a tepee in the frozen midwinter, the hunger striker and Chief of the Attawapiskat Theresa Spence.
The mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our relationship to the land.
No, this is not normal parliamentary process. The hunger strike was a final, desperate attempt to get the attention of a government whose relationship with indigenous people has been ambivalent at best and genocidal at worst, and force it to address their rising concerns. The meeting, set for this Friday, January 11, is unlikely to result in any major changes to Canada’s aboriginal policy. Yet the mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our collective relationship to the land. The movement has coalesced under one name, one resolution: Idle No More.
Closed-door negotiations spark a movement
The Idle No More movement arose as a response to what organizers call the most recent assault on indigenous rights in Canada: Bill C-45, which passed on December 14. Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian Act, removes environmental protections, and further erodes the treaties with native peoples through which Canada was created.
Indigenous leaders accuse the Harper administration of “ramming through” legislation without debate or consultation.
On December 4, when representatives of First Nations came to the House of Commons to share their concerns about the proposed bill, they were blocked from entering . A week later, after being repeatedly denied a meeting with Harper, Chief Spence began her hunger strike. Since then, the movement has grown to encompass a hundred years’ worth of grievances against the Canadian government, which is required by Section 35 of the Constitution Act to consult with native people before enacting laws that affect them. Indigenous leaders accuse the Harper administration of “ramming through” legislation without debate or consultation.
Even worse is the bill’s “weakening of environmental assessment and the removal of lakes and rivers from protection,” says Eriel Deranger, Communication Coordinator of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is directly downstream from toxic tar sands mining. She knows firsthand the importance of protecting waterways from industrial pollutants. “Indigenous people’s rights,” she says, “are intrinsically linked to the environment.” She adds that the removal of such protections paves the way for resource extraction, bringing Canada closer to its self-stated goal of becoming a global energy superpower. This isn’t just a native thing, Deranger says; this is something that affects everyone.
And so begins the largest indigenous mass mobilization in recent history. Native people and their allies from all over North America have gathered to peacefully voice their support for indigenous rights: they’ve organized rallies, teach-ins, and highway and train blockades, as well as “flash mob” round dances at shopping malls.
With Twitter and Facebook as the major organizing tools, #idlenomore has emerged as the dominant meme in the indigenous rights movement. In addition to events across Canada, a U.S. media blitz tour has inspired solidarity actions all over North America, as well as in Europe, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Mainstream media and the Harper government are taking notice.
Anger at environmental destruction in Canada boils over
But why now? The answer, says Deranger, is that people are ready. Idle No More arose at a moment of growing awareness of environmental justice issues, frustration with lack of governmental consultation, and widespread opposition to resource extraction on indigenous land—like the tar sands in Deranger’s home province of Alberta and the diamond mines in Chief Spence’s Ontario. It comes after years of grassroots organizing around indigenous rights—which are, in the end, basic human rights.
Visit almost any reserve in Canada, and you’re likely to see third world social indicators in a first world country: high incarceration rates, inadequate housing and sanitation, reduced life expectancy—due in part to abnormally frequent suicides—lack of employment and education opportunities, and substance abuse. This, after more than a century of colonization by a government that refuses to acknowledge its identity as a colonial power. Meanwhile, native youth are the fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population, according to . Is it any surprise that they’re taking on repressive legislation and using social media to organize?
For Canadians—and potentially all North Americans—this is a moment of reckoning. Just as Chief Spence’s hunger strike forced the issue with Harper, Idle No More forces us all to confront the ugliness of our collective colonial history, and to recognize that colonization continues today.
It holds up a mirror to our society, questioning the historical narrative we’re all taught to believe. It asks: On what values was our country founded? And, because identity is created out of that narrative: Who are we, really? And who do we want to be?
Idle No More Gains Worldwide Support January 3, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations.
Tags: attiwapiskat, Canada, canada government, canadian indians, First Nations, idle no more, indigenous, indigenous rights, maori, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
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Published on Wednesday, January 2, 2013 by Common Dreams
‘There has been a global assault on indigenous sovereignty’
– Beth Brogan, staff writer, www.commondreams.org
As global support for the Idle No More movement grows, a Maori women’s group in New Zealand held a rally on Dec. 28, calling for an end to “a global assault on indigenous sovereignty.” (Photo courtesy the New Zealand Herald)
The Idle No More movement continues to garner support in the United States and countries as far away as New Zealand as Attiwapiskat Chief Theresa Spence continues her plea to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
A Maori women’s group held a rally on Dec. 28, calling for mobilized action, the New Zealand Herald reports.
“We feel there has been a global assault on indigenous sovereignty,” said Marama Davidson, spokeswoman for the Auckland-based Maori women’s collective Te Wharepora Hou. “This is the global call we’ve been waiting for. Now, we can join together and start looking at solutions.”
Spence, chief of the Northern Ontario First Nations, is now in her fourth week of a hunger strike as she demands to meet with Harper to discuss First Nations issues including the protection of First Nations treaty rights. During that time, she has subsisted on only fish broth and medicinal tea.
Rallies have continued throughout Canada, and into the United States, where thousands of supporters have held peaceful marches and rallies, flash mob round dances and—on Sunday evening— blocked trains, carrying 2,500 passengers, between Montreal and Toronto on Sunday.
Thousands attended an “Idle No More Flash Roundy” on Saturday at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities Daily Planet reports. Two days later, a similar protest, reportedly attended by hundreds, was held at a Walmart inn Cloquet, Minnesota.
“When I found out that C-45 had passed, and what it meant for Canadian Indians, I knew I had to do something,” Mesha Camp, who organized the protest at the Mall of America, said. “Down here, our land can’t be sold. They [the Canadian legislators] made it legal to come in and take those lands, making them unsovereign nations. They’re saying if you don’t give up sovereignty, we won’t abide by the treaties.”
Allene Ross, a Dakota from Minnesota, told the Twin Cities Daily Planet that it is important “for all tribes to stand united. We need to defend our sovereignty rights worldwide.”
About 100 demonstrators marched, carrying drums, from the Walpole Island border crossing to Algonac, Michigan, on Sunday, where they waved flags, chanted and banged on drums, then holding a ceremony in a parking lot, the Courier Press reports.
“We want all the non-native people to really listen to what the government is trying to do,” said George Henry of Walpole Island. “The government has kept things pretty quiet over the years … so we’re going to tell our own story now.”
Support Grows as Harper Continues to Ignore Indigenous Upswell December 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Human Rights, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: idle no more, indigenous rights, roger hollander
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‘Idle No More’ support spreads from Hawaii to Palestine
As First Nation Chief Theresa Spence enters the 18th day of her hunger strike, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper still refuses to meet with her, turning his back on the swelling ‘Idle No More’ movement at his door.
‘Idle No More’ protestor, Cheyenne Rain Small, braved negative temperatures Thursday night to rally in support of Chief Theresa Spence (Photo: Alexis Bonogofsky)
On Friday, Canadian federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq encouraged Spence to abandon her fast and, instead, agree to meet Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, The Canadian Press reports.
“If it was another country calling on him for a meeting, he’d be there in no time. Why are we treated so differently?” Spence stated in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
On Friday night, in honor of the full moon, organizers are calling on Indigenous People to reclaim their sacred sites, by “conducting ceremonies, singing, dancing, educating or doing whatever makes sense for your community and according to the traditions of your nation.” Friday evening there will also be a rally in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Thursday night’s flash mob outside of the Vancouver convention center drew a crowd of over 200 people. Also Thursday, supporters braved negative 7 degree temperatures to partake in a rally on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana.
Toronto freelance journalist Tim Groves put together a map illustrating the full reach of the movement. With markers spreading as far as Palestine and Hawaii, readers can view the overwhelming extent of “each rally, flash mob, blockade and show of support.”
A recent poll found that the majority of Canadians said they supported grassroots protests, similar to ‘Idle No More’ and the Occupy movement.
“People are looking at other methods of political participation beyond conventional parties,” said pollster Keith Neuman.
Meanwhile, Harper continues his refusal to discuss Canada’s relationship with its indigenous peoples.
Spence, who began her hunger strike on Dec. 11th, is resolved to starve herself unless Harper meets to discuss treaty rights, particularly Bill C-45, which includes changes to the Indian Act about how reserve lands are managed and removes thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water.
In an indication that Harper would continue to ignore her request, Aglukkaq—an Inuk herself—made the statement that aboriginal policy falls within the Aboriginal Affairs Minister’s jurisdiction and therefore, that he should be meeting with the Northern Ontario Chief.
Discussing the ‘Idle No More’ movement on CBC’s Friday morning program, sociology professor Jeff Denis, compared the growing indigenous rights movement to 2011’s Arab Spring. Citing the youth and social network savvy of the Canadian indigenous population, he explained why it is an apt reference:
They are the fastest-growing population in Canada. They are increasingly well-educated and aware of injustice.
They have high expectations for the future, but they still face tremendous barriers in terms of racism, lack of job opportunities, cuts to social programs and so forth.
If we think about other recent social movements around the world—including the Arab Spring, for example—those are just some of the factors that might be expected to facilitate this type of movement.
Idle No More: Women Rising to Lead When it’s Needed Most December 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Women.
Tags: Canada, canada first nations, candad budget, First Nations, harper government, hunger strike, ilde no more, indigenous rights, indirenous, muna mire, political protest, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
Idle No More: Women Rising to Lead When it’s Needed Most
Chief Theresa Spence is now on Day 13 of her hunger strike. Too weak to leave the teepee she is living in on Victoria Island, a mere stone’s throw from Parliament, she called for a round dance yesterday at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Prime Minister Harper’s residence.
Image: Aaron Paquette
Throughout the duration of her hunger strike, Harper has maintained a chilly silence around the grassroots Indigenous movement now widely known as Idle No More, taking to Twitter instead to share his jokes about bacon with the Canadian electorate. What started as a string of emails between four Saskatchewan women back in November in protest of Bill C-45 eventually became a hashtag on social media, snowballing over time into a global movement for Indigenous rights.
Chief Spence is starving herself for her home community of Attawapiskat where there is a dire housing crisis, but more broadly for all Indigenous peoples in Canada, many of whom have rallied around her. Spence is asking for a meeting with the Prime Minister, Governor General and other leaders, and will fast until she gets it.
Spence began her fast just as the grassroots movement began to gather steam, and has said that she is “not afraid to die” for her people, taking their lead on non-violent direct action. In turn, Indigenous people have taken their lead from her. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike have started hunger strikes in solidarity. Across Canada and throughout the world, peaceful demonstrations have disrupted the normal order of things this winter.
On Friday, the winter solstice saw unprecedented protest action. Supporters of the movement staged solidarity demonstrations from as far away as London, England, Los Angeles and Egypt. In Canada, major thoroughfares were shut down and flash mobs took over malls and public spaces as protestors performed traditional round dances in support of the movement.
In Edmonton, protestors blocked downtown streets as they marched from Walterdale Bridge over to Canada Place, holding round dances in the middle of Jasper Avenue and in Churchill Square. Organizers at the rally in Churchill Square lauded protestors for showing up to march despite -20 C temperatures, noting that “this was nothing compared to what the ancestors went through.”
“That’s what this is about. Our treaties and the lack of recognition that Canada and the Harper government is giving to our treaties. Our treaties are strong, they have international recognition and we have to remember that. They aren’t just written documents, they are a living spirit. We have to stand strong, this is the time for us to set our agenda, for us to stand proud. For us to say no. Enough is enough. We will not let this government unilaterally impose legislation on us, especially when it affects our lands, our waters and all the living things that give us life and that we use to sustain ourselves as indigenous people,” said one of the organizers of yesterday’s rally, Janice Makokis, a lawyer from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
“We’re here to also support Chief Theresa Spence as she has gone on a hunger strike, this is her eleventh day. And she’s not only doing that for her community, she’s doing that for us. As a woman, and as women who started this movement, we must continue to recognize women and stand proud with them,” she added.
The role played by women leaders and organizers of the movement was underscored many times during the rally. Speakers called on women to continue leading the movement they started in the name of Indigenous self determination and climate justice.
“There is an old prophecy that said when the world needed it most, the women would rise to lead us. I see that happening right now. This is a woman initiated movement and you can feel the difference in it,” says Aaron Paquette, a First Nations artist and writer, who has been involved with the movement since its inception. Paquette is responsible for much of the art that has come to graphically represent the movement, especially through social media.
Art has also played an important role in the movement, inspiring people to join a growing collective of protestors and allowing those protestors to imagine a different future for indigenous peoples in Canada.
“I feel that being an artist as an Indigenous person is different from the common understanding. While I create for the joy of it, I also feel a responsibility to use my art to benefit my community, to speak to them, to share, so that we can grow together,” says Paquette.
Paquette sees the timing of the movement as representative of its character. For him, the solstice day of action was reflective of what indigenous people have been through, in Canada and across the globe.
“This is an organic movement. There was no grand strategy, it just happened. It has come now because it’s necessary. Symbolically, the winter solstice marks the end of a long night and the welcoming of light [and] renewal. There is a long road ahead before the spring. The days will get colder, the struggle will not be easy. But the sun gets stronger and so do we,” Paquette said.
Paquette’s vision for the future of the movement includes solidarity from settlers on Turtle Island. Many nonindigenous people have already joined the movement, which is growing by the day.
“Our nations are rising. We are extending our hand to everyone to join us. Enter the hoop and be welcome. Finally do something that makes you happy instead of afraid, that empowers you instead of making you feel impotent, that feels right and makes you proud to be human,” Paquette offers.
Paquette imagines the future of the movement as one of joyful resistance leading to genuine change at the community level. He believes the time has come to transform the way we think about climate justice and the environment.
“Ultimately, I would like to see Idle No More fundamentally transform the way we look at Mother Earth and our role in our communities. I would like to see the maturing of the human race. I would like to see all the people discard their anger and their fear and be happy.”
Organizers at yesterday’s rally announced that Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Steve Courtoreille told Parliament earlier that same day his nation would be launching a legal challenge to Bill C-45. He invited other First Nations leaders to join him in doing so. The Prime Minister’s silence has not deterred Spence, Paquette and other movement leaders, who are determined to see their goals met.
“Sounds like a long shot, but we’re used to that. We don’t think in quarterly statements and yearly projections. We think in terms of generations,” Paquette said.
Muna Mire recently completed an internship with rabble’s podcast network and is a student in her final year at the University of Toronto where she is currently completing an Honours B.A. in English, Political Science and Sociology.
Tags: genocide, indian tribes, indigenous, indigenous rights, james anaya, land claims, native americans, native discrimination, native poverty, native rights, native unempolyment, racism, roger hollander, United Nations
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Roger’s note: reading this article, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Return stolen land to Native Americans? Well, that would be most of the country, wouldn’t it? Can you imagine the racist US government doing anything constructive, much less returning actual real estate, to a People with little or no political clout? And, why the UN rapporteur on indigenous rights? Where is the UN rapporteur on genocide when you need him?
Published on Saturday, May 5, 2012 by Common Dreams
UN wraps up ‘contentious study’ of Native American communities
In an investigation monitoring ongoing discrimination against Native Americans, the United Nations has requested that the US government return some of the stolen land back to Native Americans, as a necessary move towards combating systemic racial discrimination.
A Native American at his home on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, which has some of the US’s poorest living conditions. Photograph: Jennifer Brown/Star Ledger/Corbis
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, “said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and ‘numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination,'” the Guardian reports.
“You can see they’re in a somewhat precarious situation in terms of their basic existence and the stability of their communities given that precarious land tenure situation. It’s not like they have large fisheries as a resource base to sustain them. In basic economic terms it’s a very difficult situation. You have upwards of 70% unemployment on the reservation and all kinds of social ills accompanying that. Very tough conditions,” Anaya stated.
“I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not divisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation.”
* * *
The Guardian/UK: US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations
A United Nations investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the US government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combating continuing and systemic racial discrimination.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said no member of the US Congress would meet him as he investigated the part played by the government in the considerable difficulties faced by Indian tribes.
Anaya said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination”.
“It’s a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level,” he said.
Anaya said racism extended from the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes down to local issues such as education.
“For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching,” he said.
“And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they’re out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong.”
* * *
Inter Press Service: U.N. Wraps Up Contentious Study of Native American Communities
A United Nations special envoy on Friday called on the U.S. government to step up efforts to address historical injustices that continue to affect the country’s indigenous population.
James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, warned that historical wrongs, particularly the loss of land, continue to have an overriding impact on the well-being of Native American communities.
Anaya has just finished a 12-day research mission probing the current status and experience of the U.S.’s roughly 5.2 million-strong Native American population.
The trip marked the first time that the U.N. has waded into the contentious issue of U.S. treatment of its indigenous communities, one of the poorest and most marginalized populations in the United States.
The unemployment rate for American Indians has typically been double that of the white population. On reservations – self-governed tracts of land given to Native American communities by the U.S. government – Anaya reported a 70 percent unemployment rate.
Native Americans have also long suffered from disproportionately low statistics in health and education, as well.
* * *
The United States must do more to heal the wounds of indigenous peoples caused by more than a century of oppression, including restoring control over lands Native Americans consider to be sacred, according to a U.N. human rights investigator.
James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, just completed a 12-day visit to the United States where he met with representatives of indigenous peoples in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. He also met with U.S. government officials.
“I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced,” Anaya said in a statement issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva Friday.
That oppression, he said, has included the seizure of lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the loss of languages, violation of treaties, and brutality, all grounded in racial discrimination.
Anaya welcomed the U.S. decision to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 and other steps the government has taken, but said more was needed.
Dispatches from the Field: Women in Prison — an American Growth Industry November 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, First Nations, Women.
Tags: 14th amendment, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, decriminalize marijuana, Delita Starr, eddie warrior, ellen shahan, female inmates, incarceration, indigenous rights, jury nullification, marijuana, marijuana legalization, oklahoma corrections, oklahoma justice, oklahoma prisons, Patricia Spottedcrow, prison industrial complex, roger hollander, war on drugs, women in prison, women prisoners, women's prisons, womens issues
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Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth — except the USA — does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.
In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.
Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?
By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.
Here’s one such story.
Oklahoma, Not OK
On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.
Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”
Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison — ten years for distribution and two years for possession — to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.
Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.
Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day — ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.
Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in Prison, Eddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.
“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”
Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”
However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.
A Clear Case of Civil Rights Violations
A growing civil rights movement in Oklahoma is demanding Spottedcrow’s release.
The Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Treaties (SPIRIT) got involved in Spottedcrow’s case “because she is Native American, poor, and a minority,” says Brenda Golden, of SPIRIT. “We are not pro-marijuana and do not advocate breaking the law. But we do believe Patricia’s sentence is way too harsh for the crime she committed and is indicative of the treatment we receive in Oklahoma…. We are committed to continuing the fight to get this sentence reduced so Ms. Spottedcrow can be reunited with her four small children.”
Trial Attorney Josh Welch took her case pro bono. Calling it an “abuse of judicial authority,” he filed a motion in Kingfisher County to modify her sentence, saying, “A judge’s responsibility is to help people, not just punish them.” On Monday, October 3, Mr. Welch received an Order from Associate District Judge Robert Davis modifying Spottedcrow’s sentence from the original twelve years to eight years in prison with four years’ probation. Welch says he’s happy the sentence was modified, but not happy that only four years were removed. “The new judge didn’t back off the first sentence. He said the reduction was because she had done well while incarcerated. We disagree with the sentence. She shouldn’t even be in jail.”
“This may not be easy,” Welch told SPIRIT’s Brenda Golden in an email, “but we will not stop until she’s released.” Welch plans to file an Application for Post-Conviction Relief. Change.org, has created a petitionto the Governor of Oklahoma requesting a pardon for Spottedcrow. As of this writing, they’ve gathered almost 35,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed.
A Trail of Tears
In the Women in Prison documentary, Judge Susie Pritchett, who imposed the original sentence, states that Spottedcrow “needed to learn that there were consequences to this lifestyle she had chosen.” Tragically, and in direct opposition to the sort of outcome the judge would seem to favor, Spottedcrow’s lifestyle was indeed forever changed. Because of her conviction, she can never again pursue her chosen field. Her “chosen lifestyle” was that of a certified medical assistant employed by a nursing home. When the economy tanked, not because of any choice Spottedcrow ever made, she lost her job. In fact, almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Spottedcrow was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight. But as she conceded in an interview with Ali Meyer of Oklahoma News Channel 4, “It was a stupid mistake that I paid an awful lot for.”
Speaking of consequences, however, what about the consequences of Judge Pritchett’s actions? Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of them parents of children under age eighteen. What happens when the state takes a mother away from her children for an entire decade?
Children of female inmates are at enormous risk to continue the cycle and end up in prison themselves, according to another Women in Prison participant, Dr. Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, who adds that thirty percent of the female prison population had at least one incarcerated parent themselves. African-American children are nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are three times more likely than white kids to have an incarcerated parent. All told, a million and a half children in America have a parent in state or federal prison, which, according to theFamily and Corrections Network, “means a crisis for that child.”
The effect on Spottedcrow’s children has been devastating. Aged 1, 2, 4, and 9 at the time of her arrest, all but the eldest are unable to comprehend her disappearance. And because Spottedcrow is housed a full three-hours’ drive from her mother’s home, her family is unable to visit. As the youngest learns to talk, she knows her mother only as a voice on the phone. Meanwhile, Starr tries to explain to her grandkids. “It’s hard. The little girls do not understand why their mom’s gone…. The baby had a real hard time. We’ve spent nights crying. . . . She goes to the bedroom door and knocks: ‘Mama! Mama!’ And we cry.”
In Long Beach, California, when members of The Human Solution learned of Spottedcrow’s plight, they took up a collection and arranged for her children to receive new clothes to wear on a trip to visit their mom. In return, the Oklahoma woman who helped arrange the clothing donation made a cash contribution to The Human Solution so people would have gas money for court support. Thus, the movement to free prisoners of the drug war grows bigger and stronger.
“We’ll Do This My Way”
It also grows louder. On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, angry protesters screamed in frustration outside the Long Beach courthouse where former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were quickly losing ground. In preparing for their upcoming trial, Judge Charles D. Sheldon had eliminated as “irrelevant” all medical evidence and witnesses. “We’ll do this my way,” he said, ruling out the two doctors who were prepared to testify that the Joes were, at the very least, qualified medical-marijuana patients. Having already been denied the right to defend themselves as legally compliant dispensary owners, the Joes had retreated to their fall-back position — that of being patients first. But with his latest decision, Judge Sheldon had taken that away, too.
Protesters claimed the judge had denied the Joes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. In two previous California medical-marijuana cases, defendants had been allowed an affirmative defense, meaning they were able to tell the jury they were legally compliant dispensary owners, as well as qualified medical-marijuana patients. In one such case, the defendant was found not guilty. In the other, the case was dismissed in the interest of justice. Not so for the Joes.
Like Patricia Spottedcrow, Grumbine and Byron have turned down plea deals, choosing instead to exercise their right to a jury trial. Motivated by the same do-good instincts that led them to create a medical-marijuana collective in the first place, they put their fate in the hands of a jury for the sake of all medical-marijuana patients and caregivers. They hoped to solidify the legal standing of their fellow patients and dispensary owners, along with their own, in a precedent-setting case. They thought the jury would hear all the facts. They were wrong. Instead, says Grumbine, it’s “a steamroller to conviction.”
At a November 9 hearing — their twenty-second court appearance — the Two Joes suffered yet another defeat. Having filed a motion to quash the warrant that triggered a massive tri-county raid and turned their lives upside down, Grumbine and Byron had to appear before Judge Judith L. Meyer, who signed the original warrant. She denied the motion. After opining that the medical-marijuana-dispensary thing “is all a sham,” Judge Meyer reminded the defendants that their next court date with Judge Sheldon was on November 23 “in Department K, as in Kangaroo.” To quote Dr. Hunter S. Thompson out of context once again, “Jesus! How much more of this cheap-jack bullshit can we be expected to take?” Kangaroo court, indeed.
Don’t get out of jury duty, get into it!
Grumbine and Byron have only one defense left: the defense of last resort – Jury Nullification. Simply put, Jury Nullification (or “Juror Nullification”) means a juror has the power – nay, the awesome responsibility – to refuse to convict if they believe the law is corrupt or the proceedings have been compromised. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) was created to inform American citizens that “juror veto – juror nullification – is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny.” With thousands of people in the street, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators getting arrested in droves for rising up against government tyranny and abuse of power, the time for J-Null may have come.
Jurors Can Stop Government Tyranny by Refusing to Convict
As a juror, your first and greatest duty is to your fellow citizen. While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.
Jury convictions, right or wrong, just or unjust, are almost never overturned. In a recent case in Texas, Troy Davis was executed even after many jurors, upon hearing new evidence, tried to take back their guilty verdict. Imagine having to live with the knowledge that you sent a man to his death, based on insufficient or false evidence. In the case of Grumbine and Byron, there was no victim. Both defendants were motivated by a desire to help end suffering by providing patients legal access to a plant that helps and heals. For this, each now faces up to seven years in the slammer.
“Jurors cannot be required to check their conscience at the courthouse door,” says FIJA. Rather, they are empowered to use it in court, with absolutely no fear of retribution. So in the future, don’t get out of jury duty, get into it. The life you save could be Joe Grumbine’s.
We’ll take a closer look at Jury Nullification in an upcoming post. In the meantime, FIJA has created a Juror’s Handbook to help inform potential jurors of their legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt laws. “Short of being elected to office yourself,” says FIJA, “you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.”
Bolivian Minister Resigns as Protests Spread Over Crackdown September 26, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: amazon indians, amazonia, ayamara, Bolivia, bolivia protests, bolivia violence, bolviia police, cecilia chacon, Evo Morales, human rights, indigenous rights, quechua, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: this appears to be a classic example of a popular leftist government in power being seduced into undertaking “economic development” projects regardless of destructive social and environmental consequences. Taking state power puts a “leftist’ government into the conundrum of having to produce economic “results” within the only structure that exists, that is, capitalist economic relationships. You can call yourself “socialist” (as do Bolivia’s Morales, Venezuela’s Chavez and Ecuador’s Correa), but socialism and capitalism are polar opposites, they cannot co-exist in a single economy. What you end up with are minor reforms but no real inroads against the neo-liberal and extractionist economic policies against which the current governments’ campaigned while in opposition.
Published on Monday, September 26, 2011 by Agence France Presse
LA PAZ — Protests over a planned highway through a Bolivian rainforest preserve spread Monday as the defense minister resigned in repudiation of a police crackdown on a protest march against the project.
A native Bolivian from the Isiboro Secure indigenous territory and national park, known by its Spanish acronym TIPNIS, clashes with police as he and dozens of others break away from police custody to block the airport runway as they were being forced to board a plane and return towards their homeland in Rurrenbaque September 26, 2011. (REUTERS/David Mercado)
Angry residents erected barricades and set them on fire on the runways of an airport in the northeastern Amazon region to free about 300 marchers who had been detained by police on Sunday and were to be flown home.
“Residents blocked the airport and prevented the detainees from being transferred,” the mayor of Rurrenabaque, Yerko Nunez, told the privately owned Panamerican radio, adding the police fled.
Riot police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse a long march on La Paz by Indians from the Amazon to voice their opposition to government plans for a highway through the rainforest preserve.
Police rounded up hundreds of marchers and forced them onto buses in an operation that left several people injured.
An AFP journalist saw several activists with superficial face wounds taken away by dozens of police officers, who were loading the marchers into buses.
The police action came under fire from UN officials and human rights group, and on Monday Bolivian Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon announced she was resigning in protest.
“I do not agree with the intervention in the march and I cannot justify the measure when other alternatives existed,” she said in a letter to leftist President Evo Morales.
She warned the right would take advantage of the police action to sow discontent against Morales’ government.
Indigenous activists from Bolivia’s Amazon basin region left the northern city of Trinidad in mid-August in a bid to march on the capital La Paz to protest the highway plan.
The road would run through a nature preserve that is the ancestral homeland of 50,000 natives from three different Amazonian groups, who have lived largely in isolation for centuries.
After more than a month of hiking from the Amazon rainforest, the protesters arrived just outside Yucumo on Saturday after breaking through a police barricade by forcing the country’s foreign minister to march with them.
Morales, attempting to defuse tensions, said Sunday a referendum would be held to determine whether the road project should go ahead.
It was not immediately clear how soon the vote would be held.
Morales, the country’s first elected indigenous president, favors the road project, arguing it is needed for development.
But Amazon natives fear landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people — Bolivia’s main indigenous groups — will flood into the area and colonize the region.
“The most important thing for us is that they stop the violence as soon as possible,” said the UN envoy in Bolivia, Yoriko Yasukawa, reminding authorities it was their responsibility to “protect the people.”
Veteran human rights activist Maria Carvajal told AFP that police had surged into the demonstrators’ camp with “extreme violence,” adding: “I could not believe what was happening.”
In Santa Cruz, a group of 16 Amazon Indians began a hunger strike Monday in the city’s cathedral to protest the “outrage carried out by the government, using the police to repress a peaceful march,” protester Emigio Polche told the PAT television station.
Aymara and Quechua Indians joined in another hunger strike in Cochabamba at the San Francisco church, a spokesman for the group, Reynaldo Flores, told Bolivision television.
“We are ashamed at what is happening in our country,” Flores said.
Bolivia is South America’s only mostly indigenous nation.
Ecuadorian Court Rules Against Chevron in Historic Case February 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: contamination, ecology, Ecuador, environment, indigenous, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, Latin America, oil, roger hollander, sofia jarrin, standard oil, texaco
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(LOOK FOR THE DOCUMENTARY “CRUDE” AT A LOCAL THEATRE OR ON DVD)
|Written by Sofía Jarrín|
|Tuesday, 15 February 2011 22:08|
|The military procession travelled from the end of the pipeline to the highlands of Ecuador, to celebrate the country’s first barrel of crude oil extracted from Lago Agrio, Sucumbios province, on July 26, 1972. Ecuador’s military running the government, dictatorship-style, was honoring the signed contract with Texaco Petroleum Company to fulfill the promise of economic prosperity and development for the small Andean country. Many present during the official ceremony dipped their hands in the thick substance to signal the beginning of a new era. That first barrel of crude oil is still sitting in a corner of the Military School “Eloy Alfaro” museum.
Forty years later, a court in the same small town of Lago Agrio, ruled against the oil company requiring Texaco, now Chevron Corporation, to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon and permanently affecting the lives of thousands of villagers in the area. According to the plaintiffs, the environmental contamination left by the company in a span of 26 years is ten times worse than the Gulf of Mexico spill.
“We can tell our neighbors and those affected that justice exists. They can dream again of drinking clean water, not with oil residue like we’ve had to drink until now. We can dream that the cleanup of the land can begin and dream of a better way of life,” said Guillermo Grefa, an indigenous Amazon leader.
The residents of Sucumbios spent the last 18 years seeking justice for the environmental damages suffered in their territories by Texaco’s oil exploration. These are mostly indigenous people who before the oil company moved in, were hunters, gatherers, subsistence farmers who depended on the rivers as their main water source. Now the region has the highest incidence of cancer in the country, with an excess of deaths among men from all types of cancer 3.6 times higher in the villages closest to the oil fields, according to a study published in the Occupational Environmental Medicine journal. Child leukemia is three times the national average as well.
Worse stories can be found on the book Las palabras de la selva (The jungle speaks), a psychosociological report on the impact of Texaco’s oil exploration on the Amazon communities of Ecuador published by the Institute of Development and International Cooperation Studies. Based on ground analysis and oral testimonies, the researchers found that 72.4 percent of the population were affected by the land and water pollution generated by the oil fields, although most lacked information about what could be harmful to their health, such as eating dead, contaminated fish. From those interviewed, 87.8 percent reported to have lost their crops and 22.1 percent were forcibly displaced. Indigenous tribes went into a process of “forced acculturation” that meant to many, the loss of spiritual and cultural relations they once had with the rainforest. The introduction of money, alcohol and new diseases forever changed their way of life.
The researchers also found out that sexual violence was also a recurring problem, and despite cultural restraints of shame and silence around these issues, one in seven people said to have known personally, including the names of the victims and incidents details, cases of sexual violence against indigenous women and girls allegedly perpetrated by Texaco workers and settlers.
Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled 399 oil fields in an area as big as 1 million acres (430.000 hectares) and extracted as many as 1,500 barrels of crude oil with a profit of around $30 billion. In the process, Chevron has admitted that Texaco dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of toxic water into streams and soil in the rainforest – about 4 million gallons daily at the height of its operation. According to the Amazon Defense Front, Texaco administered over 900 unlined, open-air waste pits out of the jungle floor and filled them with deadly toxins that were run off via a piping system into nearby streams and rivers. The company also burned or vented millions of cubic meters of natural gas into the atmosphere without adequate controls.
In a confidential memo dated July 17, 1972, Texaco gave specific instructions to its operational base in Ecuador by stating that “only major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan instructions are to be reported”, further clarifying that a major event is that “which attracts the attention of the press and/or regulatory authorities.” That was just the beginning of a series of attempts by Texaco and its parent company since 2001, Chevron, to shadow the truth about the environmental damage inflicted during a time when little regulations existed.
During the length of the trial, the company was accused of constantly manipulating the facts and other acts of corruption, among which the worst was likely the creation of a fake lab in Ecuador to make an “independent assessment” of the environmental damages that surprisingly contradicted the plaintiffs findings. Chevron also held an extensive lobbying campaign in the United States to pressure the Bush administration to force Ecuador to drop the case. There are accusations of case materials that have mysteriously disappeared, and confirmed death threats against the lawyers who represented the affected communities.
The case, Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco, began on November 3, 1993, when 30,000 people from Ecuador’s Amazon filed a class action suit against Texaco in New York federal court. The trial was then forced to move from New York to a local court in Ecuador in 2002, alleging that any decision required national jurisdiction.
In Ecuador, two local judges were removed from the case under direct pressure from Chevron which accused the courts of being corrupt, unfair, and inadequate. This forced each incoming judge to review tens of thousands of documents, as Ecuador’s legal proceedings rely on written instead of oral statements. The third, Nicolás Zambrano, was considered to be a more conservative judge, but he finally ruled against Chevron ordering the company to pay $8.6 billion in damages and twice that amout if they refuse to “publicly apologize to the victims of the Ecuadorian Amazon for the crimes committed.”
“No amount of money will give their lives back and the damage caused by the pollution. However, this amount is not enough to remediate what has been affected,” said Luiz Yanza, co-founder of the Amazon Defense Front. “We have to remember that water, life, the earth were damaged. That many people died. That is why we believe that amount must be reviewed.”
The plaintiffs have announced they will appeal the decision to demand the $27 billion they think is needed to repair the damages done to the environment and improve people’s health in the region. Chevron Corporation has also vowed to appeal, calling the court’s ruling the product of fraud, and is leaning on a recent jurisdiction by a New York judge that blocked any award from this case for 28 days citing the “company [is] of considerable importance to our economy.”
In a statement released by Pablo Fajardo, one of the best-known attorneys representing the indigenous tribes said that rather than accepting responsibility, Chevron continues its campaign of warfare against the Ecuadorian courts.
“We call on the company to end its polemical attacks and search jointly with the plaintiffs for common solutions. We believe the evidence before the court deserves international respect and the plaintiffs will take whatever actions are appropriate consistent with the law to press the claims to a final conclusion,” he said.
Image from www.ChevronToxico.com.