Indigenous peoples build their own strategy at the fourth Summit of the Americas

Preparations for the fourth Summit of the Americas, where the heads of all states in the Americas except Cuba will meet, are underway. It will take place Nov. 4 - 5 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

In the fold of globalization, the heads of state in the Americas, including President Bush, will gather to discuss and sign new economic and political agreements. Led by the United States and Canada, the propagators and driving forces of these summits, it takes place every four years. The first summit was held in Miami in 1994.

Also being organized - with economic and political support from the Canadian government, the Assembly of First Nations of Canada and the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Argentina - is the second Summit of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, to take place in Buenos Aires one week before the presidents' summit.

The first summit of indigenous peoples, also sponsored by the Canadian government under the theme ''Indigenous Peoples Connecting to the New Economy,'' took place in Ottawa in March 2001 three weeks before the third Summit of the Americas, held that year in Quebec City.

Many indigenous organizations from across the continent are in disagreement with the planned official indigenous summit in Buenos Aires, which they see as being manipulated by the Canadian government. These groups have decided to organize a more independent indigenous summit in Mar del Plata (420 kilometers to the south on the Atlantic coast) on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, three days prior to the presidents' summit.

In Argentina, The Mapuche Confeder-ation of Neuquen, the Indigenous Commission of the Argentinean Lawyers Association of Argentina (CJIRA), in consultation with important indigenous peoples' organizations such as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Kuna Congress of Panama and about 20 more organizations of the Americas, including American Indians from the United States and Canada, are involved in the organization of the independent summit and have made a call to other indigenous organizations of the continent to come to Mar del Plata.

Some history: In March 2001, under the invitation of the Assembly of the First Nations and entirely financed by the Canadian government, about 170 delegates from Latin America traveled to Ottawa to attend the Indigenous Summit of the Americas. The indigenous delegates from Latin America attended in good faith; but after studying the draft document in the agenda submitted by the AFN, they expressed the suspicion that the intention of the Canadian government appeared to be to make indigenous delegates endorse globalization agreements such as Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The document assumed a positive presentation of economic policies that are very controversial and often opposed by many southern indigenous organizations. The assumed theme of the conference was found in the title: ''Indigenous Peoples Connecting to the New Economy.'' The indigenous delegates reported that the draft would undermine their rights and rewrote large portions of the document; later, they were displeased to find that their final document, which they wanted to hear discussed, was severely softened before presentation to the heads of state.

Also, indigenous delegates from Latin America were disappointed at and frustrated with the arbitrary and strategically intrusive decision from the far North to hold the Indigenous Summit of the Americas three weeks before the president's summit. To facilitate the expense for Indian delegates, the southern groups had agreed to an indigenous meeting within days of the nation states' summit. The northern decision confused their own strategies, which was to lobby the presidents; it also impeded them from joining the thousands of people who gathered in Quebec to protest current economic globalization policies.

When asked why the change of dates, an official from the Canadian government who wanted to remain anonymous said bluntly: ''The Canadian government will pay for the meeting but does not want indigenous peoples joining anti-globalization protests.''

The official indigenous summit in Buenos Aires, with a more than half-million-dollar budget funded by the Canadian government, will display hundreds of cultural indigenous performers, youth, women, elders and business people, plus high-tech demonstrations. Then the delegates will return to their countries, because there is no arrangement made for them to travel to Mar del Plata to join the civil society forums.

An official of the Indigenous Affairs Ministry of the Canadian government, now working for the AFN, was appointed executive secretary of the Indigenous Summit. Last year in an informal talk in New York, he stated that, ''We, Aboriginals, are not to get involved with anti-globalization protesters.'' He also mentioned that a document will be elaborated in Buenos Aires and that a delegation of indigenous representatives chosen at the Indigenous Summit in Buenos Aires will travel to Mar del Plata to deliver the document to the presidents' summit.

Last March, when the conflict between indigenous organizations in Argentina stalled progress because of the issue with the Canadian government, a delegation from the Canadian Ministry of External Affairs of the Canadian government traveled to Buenos Aires to try to convince them to reconcile their differences and work together for the success of the summit.

Community-connected representatives of indigenous peoples from the Americas have strong and very pressing issues. We are concerned about the economic globalization strategies conducted by transnational corporations who are exploiting and taking away indigenous peoples' land and territories, most often with the complicity of nation-state governments. Many of those projects are still financed by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, private commercial banks and other international financial institutions.

At the same time, indigenous leaders who are defending their rights are repressed and even assassinated by military and paramilitary groups. The war against terrorism driven by President Bush after 9/11 has been adopted by governments to criminalize the peaceful demands of indigenous peoples, accusing them of terrorist activities against democracy. Amnesty International, in its 2005 reports, states: ''The war on terror is a new source of abuses of human rights; it is threatening to expand to Latin America, targeting indigenous peoples that are demanding autonomy and protesting market policies and neo-liberal globalization.''

In our estimation, the Canadian government went a bit far this time in trying to divide the indigenous movements and separate them from many potential allies among genuine and representative civil society organizations who are demanding justice and want to build a more democratic and inclusive society. We agree with the Ecuadorian Indian leader, Luis Macas, who said recently: ''It's a hypocrisy that the Canadian government is sponsoring that event [the official indigenous summit] while they are opposing and denying the indigenous rights in all the international conferences, and their oil, mining [uranium], logging, water and other corporations are taking advantage of the globalization, plundering natural resources and contaminating the environment.''

In the indigenous summit's agenda in Buenos Aires, the AFN features an indigenous business summit. There will be hundreds of cultural performers and they will offer ''The Powwow of the Americas.'' This too is typical of Northern Indians/Southern Indians relationships. The pow wow is a folkloric activity and cultural element of the Native peoples of parts of Canada and United States but it is not engaged at all by indigenous peoples in Latin America. We indigenous peoples have to build unity between North and South, but paternalism and political manipulation gets in the way of our understanding, even among Indians.

Arthur Manuel, a Shushwap from British Columbia and former chief, said: ''The United Nations, in the last session of Human Rights in Geneva, recommended to the Canadian government to make efforts to improve the lives of Native peoples who are the poorest of the poor. Yet, the Canadian government has been successful in co-opting the indigenous leadership by creating a well-paid Canadian Aboriginals bureaucracy and is now trying to export a model to Latin America.''

(For more information, visit www.cumbrecontinentalindigena@iste.org or e-mail cumbrecontinentalindigena@yahoo.com.ar.)

Nilo Cayuqueo, Mapuche from Argentina, is the co-director of Abya Yal Nexus for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples based in Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at nilocayu@earthlink.net.
Please visit the Indian Country Today website for more articles related to this topic.

 


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