II Cumbre Continental de Pueblos y Nacionalidades Indígenas de Abya Yala (Américas)

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Militarization in Latin America: Latin America under the Gun
Indigenous delegates describe militarization and ‘paramilitariazation’

By Robin Nieto

Quito - Quietly and painfully, indigenous delegates at the Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of the Americas described the militarization of their regions from Ecuador through Colombia and as far as Mexico. While the most blatant form of militarization in Ecuador is the U.S. air base in the coastal city of Manta, delegates here described the effects of military build-up on their daily life.

Marlon Santi, a 26 year-old native leader from the Amazon region described how oil exploration has led to increased military presence in direct conflict with his nation, the Sarayakus. Because of contamination by oil spills and direct dumping of waste into Amazon waterways by private oil companies, the Sarayakus have protested the abuse of their traditional land and taken the consequences for it by the military, police and hired thugs, who Santi says, are all in the business of protecting oil companies.

According to Santi, four of his community members were imprisoned and tortured while others were threatened with the same. Their protests against oil companies have been broken up by thugs and protestors chased away with the threat of death.

Due to the complete lack of defense for the Sarayaku people, Santi says they have no choice but to protect themselves. “Every human being has the right to defend himself. We cannot just cross our arms and let them abuse us. Any results of future conflicts will be the responsibility of the military,” Santi said.

And even while the Sarayakus face constant threat, they are being blamed for the violence by a campaign of disinformation against them even though they have videotaped evidence of the abuses says Santi.

Santi said there is war of aggression against the leaders of social and indigenous movements in the country, “they want to cut off the heads of the leaders of our movement,” Santi said pointing out the assassination attempt against Leonidas Iza in February, 2004, the leader of the largest indigenous confederation, CONAIE.
Santi said his own life has been threatened because of his work in opposing the military presence in the Sarayaku region of the Amazon.

Santi made it clear that the Ecuadorian military is following orders that comes not only the Ecuadorian government but from international forces defending the interests of multinational companies. Santi specified Burlington as one company under protection by the Ecuadorian military.

In neighbouring Colombia, millions of people have been displaced due to continuous conflict, but as 28-year-old Estefan Valeta, a Colombian delegate said, few people know that the land vacated by refugees fleeing for their lives, is being distributed among the same paramilitaries responsible for driving them out.

“There is currently a systematic attempt at legalizing the apporpriation of land owned by refugees by paramilitary leaders,” Santi said.

According to Valeta, the indigenous people of Colombia reject the peace process underway between paramilitaries and the government of Colombia which they say will only legitimizes the paramilitaries.

“What I want to stress is that ‘paramilitarization’ is part of the militarization process. It should never be overlooked,” Santi said.

In Mexico, Cesar Chavez, 29, says that after NAFTA was ratified, a new phenomenon began in Mexico not seen before, the rise of paramilitaries with the specific purpose of controlling the native population of Mexico. And when there is paramilitary violence against native people, Chavez says, it is blamed on intertribal warfare by authorities. And finally, few people speak about the abuses.

Indigenous delegates from Canada down to Brazil are present at this week’s indigenous summit in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Themes of discussion from July 21 to the July 25 th include :

1) Land, Natural Resources, Autonomy and Sovereignty
2) Identity of indigenous nations and Intellectual Property
3) The rights of communities, nationalities, and social movements within the World Social Forum
4) Militarization
5) Gender and the participation of indigenous women

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