'War on Terror' Has Latin American
Indigenous People in Its Sights
by Gustavo González
www.commondreams.com, June 7,
SANTIAGO, Chile - The "war on terror",
identified in Amnesty International's annual report as a new source
of human rights abuses, is threatening to expand to Latin America,
targeting indigenous movements that are demanding autonomy and
protesting free-market policies and "neo-liberal" globalization.
In the United States "there is a
perception of indigenous activists as destabilizing elements and
terrorists," and their demands and activism have begun to
be cast in a criminal light, lawyer José Aylwin, with the
Institute of Indigenous Studies at the University of the Border
in Temuco (670 km south of the Chilean capital), told IPS.
Pedro Cayuqueo, director of the Mapuche
newspaper Azkintuwe, also from the city of Temuco, wrote that
the growing indigenous activism in Latin America and Islamic radicalism
are both depicted as threats to the security and hegemony of the
United States in the "Global Trends 2020 - Mapping the Global
Future" study by the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC).
NIC works with 13 government agencies,
including the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and is advised
by experts from the United States and other countries. Cayuqueo
described the report as "a veritable x-ray" of potential
"counterinsurgency scenarios" from now to the year 2020.
In the process of drafting the report,
NIC organized 12 regional conferences around the world, one of
which was held in Santiago in June 2004.
The reporter said the emergence of increasingly
organized indigenous movements and the strengthening of their
ethnic identities become, in that view, targets of "the so-called
low-intensity warfare doctrine, a renovated version of the National
Security Doctrine" that formed the basis of U.S. interventionism
in Latin America from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War in
the early 1990s.
The indigenous question would thus appear
to form part of what the United States sees as future threats
to its hegemony.
In Latin America, the Andean subregion
is seen as the "hottest" area, because of the growing
political role played by well-organized indigenous movements in
Bolivia and Ecuador, but also because of the impact on indigenous
peoples of armed conflict and drug trafficking in Colombia.
Farther south in the Andes mountains,
Mapuche organizations in southern Chile and Argentina have become
more and more radical in recent years in their claims to their
ancestral territory, demands for autonomy and the creation of
indigenous reserves, and defense of the environment, which is
threatened by transnational mining and forestry corporations that
are granted tax breaks and other incentives by governments.
"The indigenous nations exercise
and preserve a profound democratic essence in their organizational
and decision-making structures, but transnational corporations
foment their exclusion from society and push indigenous people
to violence, which could translate into armed struggle,"
Aymara leader Juan de la Cruz Vilca told IPS in Bolivia.
In Bolivia, 70 percent of the population
of 9.2 million identify themselves as indigenous, and the indigenous
movement, along with other sectors, is demanding a constituent
assembly to rewrite the constitution and "re-found the republic"
to grant self-determination to the country's 36 native groups,
added de la Cruz Vilca.
The activist, the former president of
Bolivia's Confederación Sindical Unica de Trabajadores
Campesinos de Bolivia, a peasant farmer union, accused foreign
oil companies of backing the demands for regional autonomy put
forth by business and large landowners in the wealthy eastern
regions of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, where the country's
natural gas reserves are concentrated.
"Behind that movement lies a hidden
plan aimed at generating a violent reaction by the indigenous
movements, in order to justify external military intervention,"
"It's true that indigenous peoples
are a threat, from the point of view of the political and economic
powers-that-be. They see us as terrorists, but we aren't, because
our struggle is open, legal and legitimate," said Ricardo
Díaz, an indigenous lawmaker with the leftist Movement
Towards Socialism (MAS), the strongest opposition party in Bolivia.
In Ecuador, indigenous people account
for an estimated 40 percent of the population of nearly 13 million.
For the first seven months of the government
of Lucio Gutiérrez, who was removed from his post by Congress
on Apr. 20 after a week of protests, the Pachakutik Movement,
the political arm of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous
Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), formed part of the administration.
CONAIE president Luis Macas told IPS
that if his movement, "which guides the indigenous struggle
along peaceful channels, didn't exist, the poverty in which our
communities, and the Ecuadorian people in general, are steeped
could become a breeding-ground for the emergence of organizations
that could try to change the social situation through violence,
but that hasn't happened," said Macas.
"We are not a threat to the world,
or to the United States. On the contrary, we hold out a hope,
an alternative for humanity," said Feliciano Valencia, coordinator
of human rights in the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern
Cauca, in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca.
The shamans (traditional healers) "had
warned that very difficult times lay ahead, with a black cloud
hanging over our territories," the Nasa indigenous leader
commented to IPS, saying the Colombian government was already
following policies aimed at the persecution of social and indigenous
movements even before the "Global Trends 2020" report
The Nasa people number around 150,000,
making them the second-largest indigenous group in Colombia, which
is home to 90 aboriginal communities that make up around two percent
of the population of 44 million.
Although Colombia's 1991 constitution
granted autonomy to indigenous peoples in their reserves, that
provision is not respected, and there are continuous occupations
of land by the military and irregular armed groups, said Valencia.
He also protested the spraying of coca
and poppy crops and the displacement of indigenous peoples from
their land by those interested in getting their hands on natural
Chilean Deputy Minister of Planning Jaime
Andrade Huenchucoy, the government agent in charge of indigenous
affairs, told IPS that the native peoples in his country represent
no threat of destabilization or terrorism, as described in the
José Santos Millao, one of the
Mapuche members of Chile's National Corporation of Indigenous
Development, remarked to IPS that the U.S. intelligence services
"suspiciously or stupidly" cast the protests of indigenous
peoples as part of "terrorist" tendencies, in order
to distort their "legitimate demands."
In Chile, 6.4 percent of the population
of 15.2 million identify themselves as indigenous members of six
ethnic groups, although other estimates put the proportion at
In neighboring Argentina, meanwhile,
native peoples make up between 1.5 and 2.0 million people, out
of a population of 37 million.
In both Chile and Argentina, the Mapuches
comprise the biggest indigenous group.
The land conflicts that are currently
raging began with the arrival of the foreign mining, oil, forestry
and water companies, Mauro Millán, leader of the Mapuche
Tehuelche Organization of Argentina, told IPS. "The United
States is trying to depict the reaction of the Mapuche people
in defense of their land as an internal security problem facing
our countries," he said.
In an interview with IPS, Rafael González,
spokesman for the Committee of Campesino Unity in Guatemala, said
that "since the Sept. 11 (2001) terror attacks (on New York
and Washington), anyone who criticizes the establishment is dubbed
a terrorist" by the U.S. government.
In the view of anthropologist Pedro Ciciliano
at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the NIC report
is "exaggerated and fraught with errors typical of U.S. intelligence
based on biased information."
"Indigenous people can be considered
a threat, because they are poor and are pressing for their rights,
but they don't represent a terrorist threat," the anthropologist
In Brazil, where 400,000 indigenous people
represent 0.2 percent of the population, it is absurd to say their
demands and protests have a destabilizing effect, said Jairo da
Silva, deputy coordinator of the indigenous council of the northern
state of Roraima, and Paulo Maldós, a political adviser
to the Missionary Indigenist Council, which has ties to the Catholic
Maldós commented to IPS that Latin
America's indigenous people are in the midst of an "ethnic
reconstruction," which explains why the declining workers'
movement has been increasingly eclipsed by associations of rural
workers and peasant farmers.
He cited the case of Bolivia, where miners,
previously linked by a powerful, well-organized labor union, have
been overshadowed by coca farmers.
With respect to ethnic diversity, "the
real destabilizing factor is the narrow-minded attitude of some
states, like the Chilean state, which refuse to recognize the
country's multi-ethnic nature and to design mechanisms that permit
it to be expressed," said lawyer Aylwin.
"A state that recognizes that multi-ethnic
nature and establishes political and territorial rights for indigenous
people to allow them to develop within their own cultures has
much fewer problems in terms of stability than states which deny
that reality," he argued.
With additional reporting by Marcela
Valente (Argentina), Franz Chávez (Bolivia), Mario Osava
(Brazil), Constanza Vieira (Colombia), Kintto Lucas (Ecuador)
and Diego Cevallos (Mexico).
Index of Website