Indigenous people in Latin America: a history of oblivion and violence

Lima.- It is one of the greatest social challenges in Latin America, where little seems to have changed in the last two centuries: the indigenous communities in the continent live among state oblivion and a violence that seems to be the only thing that does not change from one government to another.

The International Day of Indigenous Peopleswhich is commemorated this Tuesday, arrives on the continent, again, with many debts and a need: to attend to the needs of their ancestral communities.

Brazil: The Bolsonaro Threat

The indigenous have denounced the increase in violence and a growing harassment of their communities in Brazil, especially since the arrival to the Presidency of the far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, in January 2019.

“Since the redemocratization We have never experienced a scenario as violent as the one we are in right nowis only comparable to the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985),” Dinamam Tuxá, one of the executive coordinators of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), told Efe.

The data is worrying. Cases of invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to heritage on indigenous lands by illegal loggers, miners, hunters and fishermen have skyrocketed since 2019, when they already increased by 137% compared to 2018.

This type of aggression did not stop even in 2020the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, when 263 cases were reported, according to the latest available data from the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI), a body linked to the Brazilian Episcopate, which also denounced the murder of 182 indigenous people that year, 61% more than in 2019.

In parallel, rates of deforestation and fires in the Brazilian Amazon it has also followed an increasing trend in the last three and a half years.

Tuxá maintains that this “regression” is a “direct reflection of the hate speech promoted by Bolsonaro”, a supporter of mining in indigenous reserves and who has promoted the relaxation of environmental laws and cut the budget of the bodies that oversee the Amazon.

The indigenous leader is not very optimistic about the near future. He believes that an eventual victory of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the presidential elections in October will “soften” the situation, but will not “heal” it completely.

“The impact of Bolsonaro’s policies will be felt for a few years,” he said.

Colombia, indigenous people at the center of the conflict

After decades of armed conflict in which the massacres, displacements and homicides they were even deeper than with other types of populations, as the Truth Commission has just revealed, in Colombia these communities still continue to suffer the onslaught of violence every day.

In this country there is still a “physical and cultural genocide“, in the words of the spokesman for the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Óscar Montero, who assured Efe that so far this year at least 85 indigenous people have been murdered.

In his words, they are the ones who “are putting their chest and forehead against the structural violence that exists in the territories, that is, drug trafficking, the rearming of the FARC dissidents and paramilitarism.”

All this in a context in which the situation of the armed conflict is almost at the level of the worst year since the peace agreement and the situation in the territories inhabited by indigenous peoples is critical.

The organizations hope that the situation will improve with the new government of Gustavo Petrowhich promised to implement the peace agreement, wants to start talks with other armed groups and has appointed an indigenous woman, Leonor Zalabata, as head of the Colombian embassy to the UN.

In any case, reversing the situation immediately is tremendously difficult and nothing indicates that the violence will diminish in the short term.

Ecuador, a cry for the Amazon

Since the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica), the Quito-based organization that brings together the indigenous peoples of the nine countries that share the Amazon, launched a countdown on Tuesday to protect 80% of the world’s largest tropical forest by 2025.

The objective is to prevent the progressive deforestation of the green lung of the planet from exceeding the 20% barrier, which they consider to be a point of no return.

At the same time, Ecuadorian indigenous people live this day immersed in open dialogues with the Government after the protests they led in July due to the high cost of living and against the economic management of President Guillermo Lasso.

In these mobilizations that lasted for 18 intense days, they won the pulse of the Executive in one of their main demands: repeal a decree that promoted oil activity and limit new mining concessions.

Peru, a challenge for one in four citizens

In Peru, where 25% of the population identifies as indigenous or nativethe challenges to recognize cultural diversity as a fact of value and protect the rights of indigenous peoples are still multiple.

This is how she regrets it in an interview with Efe Melania Canales Poma, president of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (Onamiap), who adds that the situation continues intact after Pedro Castillo came to power.

He recalls that the current president, still as a candidate, and despite the fact that “he has never identified himself as indigenous, (although) he may have the face of an indigenous person,” boasted of looking after the historically relegated populations.

“They have not let him work (…) He has been harassed by all this racism, classism, this discrimination. Apart from that, we have an authoritarian Congress (…) that is looking for its interests,” Canales justifies.

For the woman, Quechua and native of the Andean region of Ayacucho“political will” is urgently needed to guarantee the rights to intercultural health and education, above all, he insists, after the pandemic revealed that health is only a right of the rich in Peru, where there are 55 indigenous peoples, 51 of them Amazonian and 4 Andean.

The president of Onamiap also mentions the need to carry out a political reform that allows indigenous populations to have greater participation in spaces of power, without the need to depend on political parties.

“We don’t even have representation in the Executive Branch, or in the Legislative Branch, or the Judiciary,” says Canales, after opining that the country requires a new Constitution “that truly collects things from the people and not just from the sector that has power.” .

Chile, the Mapuche crisis

In Chile, the Mapuche people are going through one of their most tense moments in decades. Several rural regions of the south, where this ethnic group comes from, have experienced an escalation of violence in the last year with arson attacks, shootings and hunger strikes by indigenous people.

These episodes are part of a historic conflict that pits some Mapuche communities against the Chilean State and large forestry companies that exploit ancestral forests claimed by the indigenous people.

For Salvador Millaleo, one of the most renowned expert lawyers in indigenous affairs, it is a long-standing dispute that has recently been fueled by the actions of the government of progressive Gabriel Boric, who, despite promising that he would not, militarized the area. last May.

The Mapuche issue is a low-intensity, localized conflict with few deaths. We cannot talk about terrorism, but it is necessary to confront state policies to establish dialogue with the communities, and that has not been achieved,” he told Efe.

Parallel to the recrudescence of this dispute, the original peoples have achieved historical conquests. In 2021 they were included for the first time in the drafting of the new Constitution with 17 seats distributed among 10 ethnic groups (Mapuche, Aymara, Diaguita, Lickanantay, Quechua, Rapa Nui, Yagán, Kawéskar, Colla and Chango).

The constituent project – which will be submitted to a plebiscite in September – established that Chile is “a plurinational State” and that the original peoples have the right “to autonomy and self-government”, a fact widely celebrated among pro-indigenous communities and organizations.

Mexico, a cry against violence

In Mexico, where more than 23 million inhabitants consider themselves indigenousone of the highest figures in the region, indigenous peoples face the proliferation of armed groups, particularly in Chiapas, the state with the largest indigenous population.

The disputes of organized crime for the control of the territory forced displacement of indigenous peoples has increased, according to reports from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Internal displacement in Chiapas tripled in 2021derived from violence by armed groups, and the municipalities where this phenomenon is reflected are Aldama, Chalchihuitán, Venustiano Carranza, Chenalhó, Pantelhó and, lately, La Trinitaria and Frontera Comalapa.

This is the case of Juan Santis Méndez, a Tzotzil indigenous man who left his community for security reasons in the face of a confrontation between civilians called Los Machetes and an armed organized crime group, Los Herrera, on July 8, 2021, in Pantelhó.

He is taking refuge in San Cristóbal de Las Casas with a group of 200 other indigenous people, who request the protection of the local and state government, invoking reparation for the damage, land restitution and compensation.

“We were afraid, they came to my community and threw bombs and bullets, we feared for the lives of the children, that’s why we fled to the mountains, today to return they ask us for a fine of 50,000 pesos (about 2,500 dollars) that we do not have”, explained to Efe.

Bolivia, a dimmed hope

Bolivia is one of the countries with the largest indigenous population. According to the last census of 2012, between 41% and 49.3% of its population identified with one of the 36 peoples or nations recognized by the 2009 Constitution, which declared the country a plurinational State.

In recent years, the presence of the indigenous population has become visible in elective or appointed public positions by the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS).

Precisely this question is a matter of division among some indigenous peoples who ask for greater political participation outside of a party.

Likewise, they feel that their rights and ways of life are not respected despite being recognized in the Constitution and they consider that one of the reasons is that they are not part of the groups that support the ruling party.

Proof of this has been the confrontation of the lowland peoples (Amazon and eastern Bolivia), considered critical of the Government, who demand measures against subjugation and respect for their territories before communities from other regions, especially Aymaras and Quechuas. , mostly related to the ruling party.

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These communities, called intercultural, have also presented requests for land titling and reforms to the agrarian legal regime in the face of what they consider to be benefits to agro-industrial entrepreneurs, while denying that they are overwhelming.