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LATIN AMERICA
World Bank urged to take its own advice
Inter Press Service
6/9/2005
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In spite of political advancements, indigenous population faces a grim reality, study says.

Following the release of a new World Bank report, indigenous groups have said that the international lending institution should follow its own advice and modify its policies. The report illustrates that despite indigenous communities’ increasingly active political role, there has been little change in the extreme poverty and marginalization, in which the majority of Latin America’s indigenous population is steeped.

The study, "Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004", released May 18, focuses on the five countries in the region with the largest indigenous populations: Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. Indigenous people account for roughly 10 percent of the total Latin American population.

"The report brings some evidence of positive changes in indigenous people’s conditions over the decade 1994-2004," said Gillette Hall, World Bank economist and co-author of the study, citing the improvement in education rates among indigenous people as an example.

However, the report also notes that the indigenous population’s income levels "have consistently lagged behind those of the rest of the population."

The poorest and most underrepresented

In Bolivia and Guatemala, where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, at least 75 percent of indigenous people live in poverty, according to the report.

Ninety-six percent of the largely indigenous rural population of Ecuador is poor, while in Mexico, the extreme poverty rate is 4.5 percent higher in indigenous municipalities than in non-indigenous areas.

In Peru, nearly half of all poor households are indigenous.

Indigenous lawmaker Ricardo Díaz from Bolivia said that the study should be taken note of by the World Bank itself as well as by governments in the region.

"It is clear that the Bank continues pressuring governments to privatize, that it is still under Washington’s thumb, and that it maintains harsh policies toward indigenous people," said Díaz, a representative of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), Bolivia’s strongest opposition party, which is led by indigenous legislator Evo Morales.

With this report "the World Bank is trying to whitewash its image, but we all know it is partly to blame for many of our problems," said Rafael González, spokesman for the Committee for Campesino Unity in Guatemala, a country where indigenous people comprise the majority of the population.

Roads constructed for extractive industries such as logging, mining, and oil production, funded by international financial institutions like the World Bank, have led to the destruction of millions of acres of rainforest and other areas traditionally inhabited by indigenous people, activists say.

"The portion of national legislatures that is indigenous, in every country, remains far below the portion (of the population) that is indigenous, implying that indigenous people remain underrepresented in national lawmaking bodies," says the report.

It adds that "international organizations and national governments have passed progressive policies and important constitutional resolutions for indigenous peoples, but the rights guaranteed in those documents are often unrealized."

But while González and Díaz hope the document would have some effect on World Bank’s policies and strategies, they said they were not holding their breath.


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