Saturday, February 7, 2009

Zapotec Indigenous People Demand Transparency: Oaxaca, Mexico

PRESS BULLETIN FROM UNION OF ORGANIZATIONS OF THE SIERRA JUÁREZ OF OAXACA (UNOSJO, S.C.) - Oaxaca, Mexico

TO ALL STATE, NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES:

We kindly request that you publish the present bulletin in your respective means of communication.

Towards the end of 2008, the results of the research project México Indígena (Indigenous Mexico) were handed over to two Zapotec communities in the Sierra Juárez in the form of maps. Research had been undertaken two years earlier by a team of geographers from University of Kansas. What initially seemed to be a beneficial project for the communities now leaves many of the participants feeling like victims of geopiracy.

In August 2006, the México Indígena research team arrived at the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO, S.C.) to present research objectives and garner support to commence work in the Sierra Juárez region. At the time, the team included a Mexican biologist Gustavo Ramírez, an Ixtlán native well known in the area, who was responsible for initially approaching UNOSJO.

Project leader and geographer Peter Herlihy explained the project objectives to UNOSJO, S.C., initially stating that it was to document the impacts of PROCEDE [a Mexican Government program has had on indigenous communities. He failed to mention, however, that this research prototype was financed by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) of the United States Army and that reports on his work would be handed directly to this Office. Herlihy neglected to mention this despite being expressly asked to clarify the eventual use of the data obtained through research.
Sierra Juarez Oaxaca Indigenous Land
Herlihy mentioned that his team would collaborate with the following organizations: the American Geographical Society (AGS), Kansas University, Kansas State University, Carleton University, the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí and the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). He failed, however, to acknowledge the participation of Radiance Technologies, a company that specializes in arms development and military intelligence.

Although UNOSJO, S.C. participated in some of the México Indígena Project's initial activities, the organization soon ceased participation due to unclear project intentions. The Santa Cruz Yagavila and Santa María Zoogochi communities also ended up feeling the same distrust and they too abandoned the Project. For these reasons, the México Indígena research team localized activities within the San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila communities, both located in the Zapotec region known as El Rincón de la Sierra Juárez.

In November 2008, México Indígena members Peter Herlihy and John Kelly attended a meeting of the UCC, the Unión de Comunidades Cafetaleras "Unidad Progreso y Trabajo" (the Union of Coffee-Producing Communities "Unity, Progress and Work"), held in the community of Santa Cruz Yagavila. They announced the completion of the Yagila and Tiltepec community maps and offered their services to other organization-member communities. They went on to mention that research had been carried out with the collaboration of UNOSJO, S.C.'s own Aldo Gonzalez, a fact that was immediately refuted.

Following the aforementioned UCC meeting, UNOSJO, S.C. began looking into the México Indígena Project. Investigation revealed that México Indígena forms part of the Bowman Expeditions, a more extensive geographic research project backed and financed by the FMSO, among other institutions. The FMSO inputs information into a global database that forms an integral part of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army counterinsurgency strategy designed by FMSO and applied within indigenous communities, among others.

Since 2006 the Human Terrain System HTS has, since 2006, been employed with military purposes in both Afghanistan and Iraq and according to what we g=have been able to determine Bowman Expeditions are underway in Mexico, the Antilles, Colombia and Jordan.

In November 2008, the México Indígena Project completed the maps corresponding to Zapotec communities San Miguel Tiltepec and San Juan Yagila. Contrary to the often-mentioned promise of transparency, México Indígena created an English-only web page, a language that the participating communities do not understand. Before the communities received the work, said maps had already been published on the Internet. Furthermore, the communities were never informed that reports detailing the project would be handed over to the FMSO.

In addition to publishing the maps, the México Indígena team created a database into which pertinent information was entered: community member names and the associated geographic location of their plot(s) of land, formal and informal use of the land and other data that cannot be accessed via the Internet.

According to statements made by those heading the México Indígena research team, this type of map can be used in multiple ways. They did not specify, however, whether they would be employed for commercial, military or other purposes. Furthermore, as the maps are compatible with Google Earth, practically anyone can gain access to the information. Yet only community members can decipher information expressed in Zapotec (toponyms), unless, of course, one has the capacity to translate them, as in the case of FMSO linguistic specialists.

UNOSJO, S.C. is against this kind of project being carried out in the Sierra Juárez and distances itself completely from the work compiled by the México Indígena research team. We call upon indigenous peoples in this country and around the world not to be fooled by these types of research projects, which usurp traditional knowledge without prior consent. Although researchers may initially claim to be conducting the projects in "good faith", said knowledge could be used against the indigenous peoples in the future.

We hereby demand that Peter Herlihy honor his promise of transparency and that the Mexican public be made aware all his sources of funding and the institutions that received information on findings obtained in the communities.

We further demand that, in light of these facts, the Mexican Government, firstly the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources for having financed part of the research, as well as the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of External Affairs, Deputies and Senators for possible violations of the Indigenous Peoples' National Sovereignty and Autonomy, clarify its position on the matter.

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The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) is a Zapotec indigenous organization, established in 1990 by 26 regional and community-based indigenous campesino organizations in Oaxaca’s Juarez Mountains.

The Zapotecs are one of the largest indigenous groups in the region. UNOSJO works to promote the rights of the Zapotec people and has been the leading organization defending resource rights for Juarez mountain communities, most notably in their work on saving forests from illegal logging, protecting watersheds and access to water and defending collective indigenous land rights.

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