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ANDEAN COUNTRIES
Living on the edge
Ramiro Escobar*
4/3/2009
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Rights of transborder indigenous groups especially threatened, experts warn.

From the big city, the jungle border region of Andean nations Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru seems to be little more than a vast expanse of green and hills. The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights knows this well, and in a recent report called for “special attention” that these indigenous communities in the region require.

In a United Nations report released early this year entitled, “What´s Happening to Indigenous Rights,” the Colombian government´s aerial fumigations of “what they call ´illicit´” coca crops along its border with Ecuador and Peru, are a major cause of concern for indigenous groups in the area.

Another worry is the crossfire of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the country´s military. The report said the “cocktail is dangerous and seems to be souring the reality on the border.”

Major threats
According to Peruvian political analyst Ricardo Soberón, the Putumayo River area, which marks the border between Peru and Colombia, is particularly at risk because it´s a major cocaine trade zone. Huitoto and Tikuna indigenous people reportedly participate in the trade, given their starkly few job and economic opportunities, said Soberón.

The tense situation affects all people living along the border, but the indigenous citizens especially. Guido Cornale, a representative of the United Nations Children´s Fund, UNICEF, in Peru said: “they are always in a more vulnerable situation, since these governments fail to apply global development plans to these areas.”

UNICEF saw firsthand the harsh reality along the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border in the Cordillera del Condor, which was the site of the Cenepa border war in 1995.

Mario Tavera, a UNICEF representative, said that gold mining, mostly informal, and potential hydrocarbons concessions are particularly threatening indigenous peoples in this area.

On the Peruvian side, the Awajún and Huambisa people, and the Shuar and Ashuar in Ecuador, all belong to the “Jíbaro” family, a major uniting point, says Pacha Cabascango, an Ecuadorian and member of the Kayamby group and an official at the Andean Community of Nations.

“The official demarcation,” she said, “sometimes doesn´t coincide with the territorial area of the indigenous, and that´s a problem. The consequences are logical: each Andean government bases their border policies without taking history into account, and according to its own ideological profile.

Cabascango said that, for instance, the Colombian government has very different policies on borders and indigenous peoples from the Bolivian and Ecuadorian governments.

Development “with identity”
She added that, despite the obvious differences between the peoples and situations along the border, they are working toward development “with identity” that respects and promotes indigenous cultures.

“Until recently, the policies of the CAN have been centered on the economy and on trade, but we have to go beyond that,” she said.

Constant incidents reveal the need for the CAN to have an integrated border policy. On Feb. 18, in the Colombian village of Barbacoas near the Ecuadorian border, the FARC allegedly killed at least 17 indigenous Awa, for supposedly collaborating with the army.

The case led to a visit by Craig Johnstone, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But investigations did not advance and the solution to this issue doesn´t seem to be included in Plan Colombia, a multi-billion anti-drug and anti-subversive plan bankrolled by the United States government since 1999. “It has only added more fuel to the fire,” Soberón said.

On the Peruvian-Bolivian border there are also problems. On June 20, 2007, in Rio Blanco, Brazil — which also borders the two Andean nations — the second Trinational Meeting of Indigenous Peoples of the Brazil-Peru-Bolivia Border brought new incidents to light, including social , economic, environmental, social and cultural aggressions suffered by these peoples “in the name of so-called ´progress.´”

The expansion of the farming belt, mining, uncontrolled logging, hydrocarbons exploration, tourism and large-scale energy and infrastructure projects were mentioned as some of the worsening problems faced by transborder indigenous peoples.
There is no indication that their demands have been attended to by the governments, except for promises of better coordination. On March 23, the Permanent Forum between the State and Amazon Indigenous People was formed in Lima.

In February 2002, Luis Alberto Oliveros, the then-coordinator of the Andean Community´s Border Integration and Development Projects Bank, said that “intra-Andean borders should be conditioned to fulfill the role of articulation points of our national economies in order to operate as a kind of hinge that eases exchange between border counties.”

To achieve this, however, one has to imagine borders as active areas and their inhabitants, above all, indigenous, as citizens with the same rights as other citizens.
—Latinamerica Press.


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The Shuar people along the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border are threatened by oil and mining exploration. (Photo: www.ecuador.indymedia.org)
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