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Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 16:08:31 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-LATAM: Indigenous Women Disappointed with OAS
Article: 65077
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.19409.19990523121948@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Indigenous Women Disappointed with OAS

By Diego Cevallos, IPS, 21 May 1999

MEXICO CITY, May 21 (IPS) - Women representatives of 14 Latin American indigenous communities meeting up to Friday in Mexico said they were disappointed that a draft declaration on native rights remained at a standstill, after more than a decade of debate in the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Bogged down in endless rounds of discussions, corrections and objections by governments, and with a low level of participation by indigenous representatives, the OAS draft document should be reformulated and expanded to include gender issues, agreed the participants in the Continental Forum of Indigenous Women of the Americas.

Attended by indigenous leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela, the gathering ran Tuesday through Friday in the city of Patzcuaro, some 300 kms west of the capital.

The OAS draft declaration should be submitted to a regionwide consultation process, because as it stands it fails to represent the aspirations of all indigenous groups, said Mauricia Castro, from Honduras.

In the view of Soledad Ortiz from Mexico, the Inter-American Indigenous Institute (III) - the OAS body that organised this week's conference - should reformulate its strategies with respect to the declaration, and provide for a higher level of participation by indigenous representatives.

Guatemalan Nobel Peace prize-winner and indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchu said in an interview with IPS that she was disappointed, because the OAS draft declaration and a similar one also dicussed for over a decade in the United Nations remained in limbo.

Indigenous people initially had high hopes that the two documents, designed to guarantee a certain degree of autonomy for ethnic groups and commit governments to promoting the development of vernacular cultures, would be approved quickly after the United Nations declared a decade of indigenous peoples in 1993.

But significant advances toward the final adoption of the declaration have yet to be seen.

Next month, delegates from several countries will meet in Guatemala for a new round of discussions on the OAS draft declaration. Participants at this week's gathering in Mexico pledged to lobby their governments to send indigenous representatives and diplomats well aware of indigenous issues to the meeting.

The Americas are home to between 36 and 55 million indigenous people, most of whom live in extreme poverty. Only one country of the region, Uruguay, has no native population to speak of.

Studies by the III, whose regional headquarters is located in Mexico, point out that indigenous people comprise more than 40 percent of the population in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru - four of the poorest countries in Latin America.

The OAS draft declaration indicates that states are responsible for guaranteeing respect for indigenous rights, and demands that the most widely-spoken indigenous tongues be declared official languages.

The declaration also requests that part of the lands taken from indigenous people be returned to them, while calling on governments to share with native communities the profits reaped from the exploitation of natural resources such as minerals.

Indigenous groups in the region have gained important political spaces in recent years, but many of them are only virtual because they do not work, said Myrna Cunningham with the University of the Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, who mentioned the Latin American Indigenous Parliament as an example.

World Bank reports and other studies describe indigenous communities as the poorest of the poor in Latin America. Ethnic origin determines living standards in the region, the studies point out.

Although indigenous organisations and leaders have stood firmly by their demands, governments continue to resist recognising rights of autonomy and self-determination, due to their fears that the state will be broken apart, said Mexican anthropologist Rodolfo Stavenhagen.