This month in Paris, some of my photos from Brazil will be exhibited at the Maison des Associations in the 11th Arrondissement as part of a show called “Looking to the Future: Children of Amazonia and Mexamerica” (“Regard sur l’Avenir; enfants de l’amazonie et Méxamérique”). The Facebook event is here. The exhibit will be up through the month of March. On March 22, the documentary Voix d’Amazonie (Amazon Voices — trailer here)will be shown. If you’re in Paris, check it out!
Here’s a blurry pic of the last show in Paris, in December, which I neglected to mention on this blog. Since I happened to be in town reporting on the Tribunal for the Rights of Nature I was able to stop by. The two photos at bottom left are mine:
Last weekend, while the official COP21 negotiations were going on north of Paris at a site called Le Bourget, leaders of indigenous nations in North and South America were in Paris calling for justice for what they say are ongoing violations of the rights of the earth itself.
The “rights of nature” were recognized in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010, designed as an alternative to the COP meetings. The declaration, which gave rise to the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, created “a manifesto for earth justice,” in the words of the president of the current tribunal, Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law. The book, published in 2003, lays out a case for granting legal rights to communities and ecosystems.
The first such tribunal was held last year in Quito, Ecuador, and its second session was almost a year later in Lima, Peru.
Among the cases heard by this tribunal, several dealt with oil exploitation in Ecuador — a country that, ironically, was the first to include the rights of nature into its 2008 constitution. One of these cases focused on Yasuní National Park.
Yasuní is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve and a biodiversity hotspot. Nowhere else are there more documented species of mammals, birds, amphibians and vascular plants. As one presenter noted, in one tree in Yasuní, one can find 94 species of ants; one hectare holds more tree species than the US and Canada together.
But Yasuní also sits above the largest oil reserve in Ecuador – 846 million barrels – presenting a threat to the people and animals living in it. More at Mongabay.com>
Three indigenous Honduran Tolupanes were shot and killed on August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca. Upside Down World reports that the alleged killers, Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute (no relation to Enriqueta), were hired guns for the Bellavista Mining Company, “which has been extracting antimony from the surrounding mountains without the consent of the community and with a mining concession that is in dispute. The two men also hire themselves out to illegal loggers that deforest the mountainsides.”
Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.
This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).
In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.
According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hit men of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.
Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblock on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.
The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.
Now, the families have returned to San Francisco de Locomapa with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Upside Down World:
It is a bittersweet reunion. The tears of the joyous reunion are mixed with those of grief for the three that were gunned down. MADJ has convened this convocation to both honor the martyrs and to formally have official representatives of the Republic of Honduras sign the Act of Implementation of Protective Measures that were ordered on December 19, 2013 by the [IACHR].
On December 19, 2013, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for the members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their families, in Honduras. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the members of the MADJ have been receiving a series of threats and acts of harassment and violence because of their work in defense of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples in the Locomapa sector of the department of Yoro. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law submitted by the petitioners, the Commission believes that the information presented suggests that the situation of the MADJ members and their respective families is serious and urgent, as their lives and physical integrity are said to be under threat and at grave risk. Therefore, pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and physical integrity of the 18 members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their family members; reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their families on the measures to be adopted; and inform the Commission as to the steps taken to investigate the incidents that gave rise to the adoption of this precautionary measure so that such incidents do not happen again.
As Upside Down World notes, “After decades of indifference to the plight of the Tolupanes, it was not until the IACHR intervened that anyone from the Honduran government paid any attention. This new attention is a testament to the dedication of MADJ and the members of the community that have maintained the struggle to defend their natural resources. Some 38 members of the community are protected by this act, but it is a hollow gesture if the representatives of the government don’t abide by it, which has historically been the case in Honduras.”
25th anniversary of Constitution sees massive mobilisation across country and around the world
Night is falling in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Territory. In the centre of a thatch-roof hut stands Raoni Metuktire, cacique (chief) of the Kayapó people. All day long, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the territory, other indigenous leaders have been speaking on everything from the need for better education to the dangers of the Belo Monte mega-dam being built in the Amazon.
The third largest dam in the world, Belo Monte will flood 500 square km and dry up 100 km of river. The particular section of the river most affected is home to communities of the Kayapó, Juruna and Arara tribes, among others, and a total of 20,000 people will be displaced. Belo Monte, one of dozens of giant dam projects planned for the Amazon region, typifies the Brazilian government’s preference for development over conservation.
Raoni begins a war dance and a low chant that builds to a crescendo. He speaks forcefully, in the Kayapó language.
His nephew Megaron Txucarramãe, himself a highly esteemed Kayapó leader, translates: “I want you to feel strong, you are great! I want to see you fighting!”
The wooden disk in Raoni’s lip punctuates his exhortation. The gathered tribes, from the Arara to the Xavante, painted in ink made from the genipapo fruit, loudly cheer their assent.
A famous picture of Raoni has lately made the rounds on the internet. In it he sits, head in his hands, overcome by emotion. The photo is usually captioned something like: “Chief Raoni cries for his forest.”
The photo points to an essential truth – Brazil’s tropical forest is being destroyed at an accelerating rate, and Raoni is a legendary and outspoken defender of indigenous rights. But the picture is not what it seems. According to the Daily Kos, the actual explanation for Raoni’s display of emotion is that he has just been reunited with a member of his family.
The danger of facile Facebook memes like this one is that they distort reality. In this case, the picture could be considered to rob Raoni of his agency. It harkens back to the “crying Indian” ads of the 1970s in the U.S. (The actor in which, incidentally, was an Italian-American in makeup and a wig, and which may have contributed to more pollutionthan it prevented.) Such images depict natives as passive victims, taking it lying – in Raoni’s case, sitting – down, while the bad white guys take their land and pollute their water.
The story is, of course, based on five centuries of truth. And in countries with any surviving indigenous populations, it goes on today. According to the NGO Survival International, a proposed Brazilian constitutional amendment would give Congress the power to participate in the demarcation of indigenous lands. A bill currently under discussion would open up indigenous land for army bases, mining, dams and other industrial projects, and another would open up indigenous reserves to large-scale mining for the first time. More at The Platform >
Screened this for the first time yesterday and it generated a lot of discussion, so I thought I’d share. It’s powerful and very well done. Highly recommended. Plus, the whole thing is available to watch free online:
Accolade Award winning Feature Documentary “Open Pit” is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru. A film by Gianni Converso. Produced by Daniel Santana and Gianni Converso.
In the heart of Cajamarca, Newmont Mining Corporation operates the Yanacocha Gold Mine, one of the largest Open Pit mining operations in the world.
Using the cyanide leach process, Newmont Mining has come to define “dirty gold” for a generation of Campecinos – the indigenous people who have lived at the top of the Peruvian Andes since the Inca civilization.
Faced with devastating mercury pollution, heavy metals and acid mine drainage, the people of Cajamarca fight a desperate battle to defend their water resources, their families – and their way of life.
Backed by money from the International Finance Corporation and The World Bank, Newmont Mining enforces their business model through corruption, intimidation and violence.
Open Pit is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru.
In the year 2004, for once the government of Guatemala broke with the tradition of impunity and officially acknowledged that Myrna Mack was killed by order of the country’s president.
Myrna had undertaken forbidden research. Despite receiving threats, she had gone deep into the jungles and mountains to find exiles wandering in their own country, the indigenous survivors of the military’s massacres. She collected their voices.
In 1989, at a conference of social scientists, an anthropologist from the United States complained about the pressure universities exert to continually produce: “In my country if you don’t publish, you perish.”
And Myrna replied: “In my country if you publish, you perish.”
She was stabbed to death.
From Eduardo Galeano’s new book Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, excerpted at Toward Freedom.
I’m ashamed to admit I had never heard of Myrna Mack. In reading up on her story I learned she was stabbed, 27 times, outside her downtown Guatemala City office on Sept. 11, 1990. At the time of her death, she had been researching and publishing information about the plight of internally displaced persons in Guatemala. In 1993, a low-level sergeant was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime.
In February 2003 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard oral arguments in the case brought by the Mack family against the Guatemalan government for allegedly failing to ensure timely justice in the Mack case. On December 19, 2003, the Court unanimously found Guatemala in violation of Articles 1 (obligation to respect rights), 4 (right to life), 5 (humane treatment), 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
In April 2004, President Oscar Berger joined the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court on Thursday in publicly acknowledging government responsibility for the 1990 killing of human rights activist Myrna Mack.
“In the name of the state, I ask for the forgiveness of the Mack family and of the people of Guatemala for the murder of this young anthropologist,” Berger said.
One of the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, the Hadza, is celebrating the anniversary of a historic land victory.
In October 2011, the Tanzanian government took the unprecedented step of recognizing the importance of land to the Hadza, by formally handing over land titles to a community of 700 people. The decision was the first time Tanzania had ever recognized a minority tribe’s land rights.
1,300 Hadza live in northwest Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Eyasi. Whilst the majority now live in settlements, and supplement their diets with wild foods, approximately 300-400 Hadza survive almost entirely off the natural produce around them.
It explores how the tribe’s search for honey relies on a bird guiding them to bees’ nests in ancient baobab trees, and how their bowstrings are made from animal ligaments, and the arrows fletched with guineafowl feathers.
One Hadza man said, ‘We have no record of famine in our oral history. The reason is that we depend on natural products from the environment such as berries, tubers, baobab fruits, honey and many wild animals for food. By living in this way, the environment we depend on is not damaged and remains healthy.’
Having lived in the Great Rift Valley for millennia, the Hadza have an enduring connection to the land.
But over the last 50 years, the tribe has lost 90% of its land, along with the wildlife and plants it relies on for its livelihood.
One Hadza man said, ‘Because we do not plant crops or herd livestock, most people including government leaders, consider our lands to be empty and unused.’
In 2009, National Geographic published a feature story on the Hadza, which was notable to me for this very un-NatGeo passage:
The days I spent with the Hadza altered my perception of the world. They instilled in me something I call the “Hadza effect”—they made me feel calmer, more attuned to the moment, more self-sufficient, a little braver, and in less of a constant rush. I don’t care if this sounds maudlin: My time with the Hadza made me happier. It made me wish there was some way to prolong the reign of the hunter-gatherers, though I know it’s almost certainly too late.
The entire article, by Michael Finkel, is very much worth reading. (Though who knows how much of it is true.)
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy