19 May 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Latin America


Four indigenous Latin American leaders hailed the region’s progress today, applauding, in particular, the personal interest shown by President Evo Morales in advancing the rights of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples.


Speaking at a Headquarters press conference ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled half-day of discussions on issues relating to indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, Central American and South American subregions, they agreed that their respective countries, and the region as a whole, had registered good progress on indigenous issues since the General Assembly’s 2007 adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  However, they urged full implementation of the Declaration in order to make it even more effective.


Participating in the press conference as the two-week-long tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approaches its midway point were Saul Vicente Vasquez from Mexico, Juan Carlos Jintiach from Ecuador, Mayra Gómez and Gabino Apata Mamani, both from Bolivia.


Mr. Vasquez, a 25-year veteran community leader, organizer, human rights activist and economist, said the progress made so far was particularly important in the legislative realm, where it had resulted in the recognition of indigenous peoples and their rights.  However, he was concerned that, with the exception of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua, not all legislatures were fully or uniformly implementing the Declaration’s requirements across Latin America.  He said it was also important that 22 of the countries that had signed International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples were in Latin America.


He observed that important issues, such as land, territorial and water rights, as well as recognition of free, prior and informed consent, were yet to be implemented, yet they would form the focus of tomorrow’s discussions.  It was encouraging that the alliances formed between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples had propelled the former to more important roles, he said, citing the case of Bolivia, where indigenous peoples had actually become the Government.  Despite those gains, however, their marginalization, poverty and exploitation continued to take effect and could not be concealed, he said, pointing out that the extraction of minerals and other mega-projects were carried out without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples that occupied the lands in which they carried out their operations.


Mr. Jintiach, Coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador, said that, with almost 3 million people in that sprawling area, some people still had “no voice”, rights or freedoms.  As an umbrella body for indigenous peoples, one of his organization’s major accomplishments had been to harness and coordinate the work of many groups to work together on common concerns.  The group represents some 390 indigenous peoples’ organizations and groups in nine countries.


Praising Bolivia’s role in always “opening the door” and acting as the bridge linking indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin, he said the next steps, which must be taken immediately, included working on how to implement the Declaration on the ground, and recognizing that human beings, as much as animals and plants, had the same rights to live together in harmony and peace.


Ms. Gómez, Co-chair of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus at the current session, said that, as life givers, women were intrinsically linked to life and, as such, intrinsically connected to the sacredness of Mother Earth.  Women attending the session would, therefore, take the opportunity to stress how mega-projects were hurting the earth and how they affected not just indigenous peoples, but other peoples of “all colours and persuasions, and all that had life” — trees, animals and water.  The earth was affected by activities that were denying indigenous peoples the use of water through privatization, damming or relocation, she emphasized.  “Just this constant violence exerted towards Mother Earth; that is the voice that we have decided, as the Global Caucus, to bring to this tenth session.”


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For information media • not an official record