Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 8-14, 2009: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues for the Week of April 8-14, 2009

Russia: Moscow’s Heavy-Handedness Pushing a Well-Armed Siberian People toward Violence

Moscow’s push for the construction of a hydro-electric dam on the Lower Tunguska in Siberia is having an unexpected and very much unwanted consequence: the transformation of the land of the Evenk nationality into “a hot spot” far from any other, according to a leading Siberian analyst.

In an article posted online on Friday, Dmitry Verkhoturov says that “the struggle around the project of the Evenk Hydroelectric Station on the Lower Tunguska has entered a new stage,” one in which Moscow’s heavy-handedness is pushing the members of the numerically small but well-armed Evenk nation to consider violence (

As it has elsewhere, Russian officials have tended to assume that they can either ignore the protests of local people against projects that will destroy their homelands or successfully use a much-practiced “political technology” to divide the locals and thus allow Moscow to rule. But in the case of the Evenks, Verkhoturov says, the center has miscalculated.

On the one hand, the 35,000 Evenks have joined forces with other minorities and with environmental protection groups to call attention to the ways in which Moscow’s planned dam will flood their lands, destroy their traditional way of life, and leave them with little or no hope for the future.

And on the other, Moscow’s usual approach in such circumstances has not worked. Typically, agents of the center adopt the following strategy. They try to “split local residents into two parties: those who favor the project and those who oppose it, allowing the central government to claim that most local people support whatever Moscow wants. Read more about the Evenks indigenous people here....

Bolivia: Declaring Autonomy in Bolivia

One indigenous community in Bolivia is moving closer to the autonomy promised in the country’s new constitution.

Representatives of the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chiman peoples formally declared their indigenous territory, the Indigenous Territory and National Isiboro Secure Park (Tipnis), to be autonomous Feb. 9, making it the first indigenous region to declare autonomy based on provisions of the new Bolivian Constitution.

Indigenous leaders presented the formal statute of autonomy at an assembly in Beni where it will be submitted to a vote by communities in that region. The new constitution, ratified in January, recognizes “indigenous autonomy” as “self-government as the free determination of the original peoples and nations.”

In their resolution, the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chiman peoples cited articles 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 296 and 385 of the constitution as the legal basis for their application; “…with all the established rights, duties and powers.”

“With that determination,” stated an official Bolivian government press release about the resolution, “the process towards self-government is begun. …”

What is not clear, however, is what else exactly would be needed to formally acquire autonomy. The constitution states that, “…the law establishes minimum requirements in terms of population and other factors for the creation of indigenous autonomy. …” It also notes that Bolivia has 36 indigenous peoples, characterized by the sharing of “territory, culture, history, languages and organization and their own juridical, political, social and economic institutions.” Read more about the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chiman peoples here....

Africa: U.S. Ambassador Threatens More Sanctions Against Zimbabwe

United States and British attacks on Zimbabwe’s independence are escalating. On April 9, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, warned that U.S. economic sanctions would be increased unless President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF implemented all imperialist-imposed economic measures.

The United States and Britain imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003. The sanctions have the stated goal of overthrowing the government of Zimbabwe. The six-year-long blockade has devastated the country, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people.

The sanctions were imposed when the country’s land reform movement, supported by the ZANU-PF and Mugabe’s government, began rightfully expropriating white-owned farmland that had been stolen from the people through a century of racist colonial domination and violence.

Zimbabwe is currently governed by a unity government, which is made up of the ZANU-PF and the imperialist-favored Movement for Democratic Change, led by U.S.-supported Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. On March 27, Tsvangirai, appearing on BBC World News report, defended the right of the white settlers to hold onto the majority of the country’s rich agricultural land:

"This government is aware that most of the ongoing disruptions of agricultural production, which are being done in the name of the land reform process, are actually acts of theft. … Those continuing to undertake these activities will be arrested and face justice in the courts. … I have asked the minister of home affairs to ensure that all crimes are acted upon and the perpetrators arrested and charged." Read more about the land reforms here....

Colombia: Colombian Indians Seek Security

Colombia's indigenous peoples have traditionally opposed attempts by any side to involve them in the country's long-running conflict between left-wing rebels, government forces and paramilitary gangs.

But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has recently managed to recruit one tribe, albeit with difficulty, into his campaign against Marxist guerrillas.

Just out of sight of the Caribbean Coast, the mountains of the Sierra Nevada climb to snow-capped peaks of 5,800m (19,000ft).

This part of the country has long been fought over by guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drugs cartels, who all want control over its drug crops and the routes that roll down to the sea and across to the US.

Some 1,000 metres above sea level lies the heart of the reservation of the Arhuaco people, one of the more traditional indigenous tribes, whose members wear white robes and speak a language that greeted the Spanish Conquistadors when they landed here some five centuries ago. Read more about the security concerns here....

Bolivia: Bolivian President Announces Hunger Strike

President Evo Morales announced he was starting a hunger strike on Thursday to pressure Bolivia's congress to set a firm date for general elections that are likely to return him to power.

Bolivia's opposition-led Senate has failed to approve a law to handle the elections, which are mandated by a Morales-backed constitutional reform approved by voters in January.

The socialist president, who took office in 2006, has suggested opposition leaders are trying to block the planned December elections with delaying tactics.

He told reporters Thursday he was starting the strike "to defend the vote of the people."

Fourteen leaders of labor and social groups said they were joining the president on the hunger strike.

They did not say how rigorous it would be, but such protests in Bolivia usually involve taking water and chewing coca leaves, which help ward off hunger pangs. Morales rose to prominence as leader of a coca-growers' union. Read more about Morales' hunger strike here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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