Friday, October 21, 2011

Indigenous and Afro-descendants grasp at common voice

Carmen Herrera

Both groups face discrimination and threats to their lands.

For the first time, leaders from indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples from throughout Central America met to form a common agenda.

More than 70 leaders from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama met in Managua Sept. 27-28 for the First Meeting of Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Authorities: Collective Rights in the Context of Central American Integration.

Tribal and community leaders, mayors and municipal authorities debated issues like land titles and demarcation, inclusion of women, native languages, at the meeting which was organized by the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development and the Central American and Caribbean Conference for Decentralization and Local Development, or CONFEDELCCA.

To better articulate their agenda with a common voice, participants formed the Permanent Council of Native Peoples and Afro-Descendents of Central America.

“The objective of this first meeting has been to start an articulation process to influence public policies, as well as the development and decentralization of the states,” said Carlos H. Guarquez Ajiquichí, of the Guatemalan Association of Indigenous Mayors and Authorities.

Guarquez Ajiquichí also suggested teaming up with the Central American Integration System, or SICA, and the Central American Parliament to ensure that their goals reach the region’s heads of state.

One “historical problem,” he said, “is the distribution of land, since in every country in the region large-scale landowners hold a disproportionate amount of territory.”

“This is where the problem with the distribution of wealth that benefits a few comes from, and that affects indigenous peoples above all, those who have lived in misery on tiny plots of land even though the land belongs to us,” he said.

Women’s role
Nicolasa Jiménez, Ngöbe-Bugle indigenous leader from Panama, said that one of the meeting’s objectives was to increase women’s politic participation in their own community groups and in society in general.

“Indigenous women are fighting for active integration and participation,” she said. “We are fighting for more capacity building for women, because there are only a few of us who hold decision-making positions.”

The International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples has been ratified by every Central American country except for El Salvador and Panama.

While Convention 169 is seen by some international law experts as one of the most complete international indigenous rights law, local authorities have often ignored it.

For example, in Guatemala, indigenous communities have been consulted on some projects that would affect them, but their votes are not considered binding.

Afro-descendant groups in Honduras said that the alliances they made with indigenous leaders here have been fruitful, because they have the same problems: discrimination, invasion of their lands, a lack of respect and recognition for their language.

René Castro, deputy mayor of an Honduran Garifuna municipality — an Afro-descendant group living mostly on the country’s northern coast — say Afro-descendants are making efforts for Convention 169 to also be applied to his community now that the country has ratified the agreement.

“We have representation in some state institutions,” aiming at this end, he said.

Intercultural society
But another participant was not so optimistic about the situation in Nicaragua. Mauricio Solís, of the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development, said that “in practice” these groups’ rights are limited.

“Indigenous communities are not consulted; local governments interfere in indigenous community elections and there is little governmental funding designated for indigenous peoples,” he said. “In Nicaragua’s case, we see that there is a lot of discourse about indigenous peoples, but in practice, there is a lot of politicizing, exclusion and marginalization.


For years, Solís’ organization has promoted multiculturalism for the country, with a vision of having a citizenry that recognizes the diversity of the region’s population, like the indigenous and Afro-descendants, who have a political, economic, cultural and social agenda.

His network, along with CONFEDELCCA, held the meeting to give indigenous and Afro-descendants authorities a place for reflection and debate over the situation facing their communities and to look for links with other national and international organizations and movements which work for their rights to be ensured.

“We have agreed to go through all the information collected during this meeting so it can be shared with our peoples,” said Solís. “In the following months, we’ll work on a framework to help map out the next steps.” —Latinamerica Press.

Labels: , ,