SANTIAGO, Chile – The ”war on terror”, identified in Amnesty
International’s annual report as a new source of human rights abuses, is
threatening to expand to Latin America, targeting indigenous movements that are
demanding autonomy and protesting free-market policies and ”neo-liberal”
In the United States ”there is a perception of indigenous activists as
destabilizing elements and terrorists,” and their demands and activism
have begun to be cast in a criminal light, lawyer José Aylwin, with the
Institute of Indigenous Studies at the University of the Border in Temuco (670
km south of the Chilean capital), told IPS.
Pedro Cayuqueo, director of the Mapuche newspaper Azkintuwe, also from the
city of Temuco, wrote that the growing indigenous activism in Latin America
and Islamic radicalism are both depicted as threats to the security and hegemony
of the United States in the ”Global Trends 2020 – Mapping the Global
Future” study by the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC).
NIC works with 13 government agencies, including the CIA (Central Intelligence
Agency), and is advised by experts from the United States and other countries.
Cayuqueo described the report as ”a veritable x-ray” of potential
”counterinsurgency scenarios” from now to the year 2020.
In the process of drafting the report, NIC organized 12 regional conferences
around the world, one of which was held in Santiago in June 2004.
The reporter said the emergence of increasingly organized indigenous movements
and the strengthening of their ethnic identities become, in that view, targets
of ”the so-called low-intensity warfare doctrine, a renovated version
of the National Security Doctrine” that formed the basis of U.S. interventionism
in Latin America from the 1960s to the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
The indigenous question would thus appear to form part of what the United States
sees as future threats to its hegemony.
In Latin America, the Andean subregion is seen as the ”hottest”
area, because of the growing political role played by well-organized indigenous
movements in Bolivia and Ecuador, but also because of the impact on indigenous
peoples of armed conflict and drug trafficking in Colombia.
Farther south in the Andes mountains, Mapuche organizations in southern Chile
and Argentina have become more and more radical in recent years in their claims
to their ancestral territory, demands for autonomy and the creation of indigenous
reserves, and defense of the environment, which is threatened by transnational
mining and forestry corporations that are granted tax breaks and other incentives
”The indigenous nations exercise and preserve a profound democratic essence
in their organizational and decision-making structures, but transnational corporations
foment their exclusion from society and push indigenous people to violence,
which could translate into armed struggle,” Aymara leader Juan de la Cruz
Vilca told IPS in Bolivia.
In Bolivia, 70 percent of the population of 9.2 million identify themselves
as indigenous, and the indigenous movement, along with other sectors, is demanding
a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and ”re-found the republic”
to grant self-determination to the country’s 36 native groups, added de
la Cruz Vilca.
The activist, the former president of Bolivia’s Confederación
Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, a peasant farmer union,
accused foreign oil companies of backing the demands for regional autonomy put
forth by business and large landowners in the wealthy eastern regions of Santa
Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, where the country’s natural gas reserves
”Behind that movement lies a hidden plan aimed at generating a violent
reaction by the indigenous movements, in order to justify external military
intervention,” he maintained.
”It’s true that indigenous peoples are a threat, from the point
of view of the political and economic powers-that-be. They see us as terrorists,
but we aren’t, because our struggle is open, legal and legitimate,”
said Ricardo Díaz, an indigenous lawmaker with the leftist Movement Towards
Socialism (MAS), the strongest opposition party in Bolivia.
In Ecuador, indigenous people account for an estimated 40 percent of the population
of nearly 13 million.
For the first seven months of the government of Lucio Gutiérrez, who
was removed from his post by Congress on Apr. 20 after a week of protests, the
Pachakutik Movement, the political arm of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous
Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), formed part of the administration.
CONAIE president Luis Macas told IPS that if his movement, ”which guides
the indigenous struggle along peaceful channels, didn’t exist, the poverty
in which our communities, and the Ecuadorian people in general, are steeped
could become a breeding-ground for the emergence of organizations that could
try to change the social situation through violence, but that hasn’t happened,”
”We are not a threat to the world, or to the United States. On the contrary,
we hold out a hope, an alternative for humanity,” said Feliciano Valencia,
coordinator of human rights in the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern
Cauca, in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca.
The shamans (traditional healers) ”had warned that very difficult times
lay ahead, with a black cloud hanging over our territories,” the Nasa
indigenous leader commented to IPS, saying the Colombian government was already
following policies aimed at the persecution of social and indigenous movements
even before the ”Global Trends 2020” report was issued.
The Nasa people number around 150,000, making them the second-largest indigenous
group in Colombia, which is home to 90 aboriginal communities that make up around
two percent of the population of 44 million.
Although Colombia’s 1991 constitution granted autonomy to indigenous
peoples in their reserves, that provision is not respected, and there are continuous
occupations of land by the military and irregular armed groups, said Valencia.
He also protested the spraying of coca and poppy crops and the displacement
of indigenous peoples from their land by those interested in getting their hands
on natural resources.
Chilean Deputy Minister of Planning Jaime Andrade Huenchucoy, the government
agent in charge of indigenous affairs, told IPS that the native peoples in his
country represent no threat of destabilization or terrorism, as described in
the NIC report.
José Santos Millao, one of the Mapuche members of Chile’s National
Corporation of Indigenous Development, remarked to IPS that the U.S. intelligence
services ”suspiciously or stupidly” cast the protests of indigenous
peoples as part of ”terrorist” tendencies, in order to distort their
In Chile, 6.4 percent of the population of 15.2 million identify themselves
as indigenous members of six ethnic groups, although other estimates put the
proportion at 10 percent.
In neighboring Argentina, meanwhile, native peoples make up between 1.5 and
2.0 million people, out of a population of 37 million.
In both Chile and Argentina, the Mapuches comprise the biggest indigenous group.
The land conflicts that are currently raging began with the arrival of the
foreign mining, oil, forestry and water companies, Mauro Millán, leader
of the Mapuche Tehuelche Organization of Argentina, told IPS. ”The United
States is trying to depict the reaction of the Mapuche people in defense of
their land as an internal security problem facing our countries,” he said.
In an interview with IPS, Rafael González, spokesman for the Committee
of Campesino Unity in Guatemala, said that ”since the Sept. 11 (2001)
terror attacks (on New York and Washington), anyone who criticizes the establishment
is dubbed a terrorist” by the U.S. government.
In the view of anthropologist Pedro Ciciliano at the National Autonomous University
of Mexico, the NIC report is ”exaggerated and fraught with errors typical
of U.S. intelligence based on biased information.”
”Indigenous people can be considered a threat, because they are poor
and are pressing for their rights, but they don’t represent a terrorist
threat,” the anthropologist told IPS.
In Brazil, where 400,000 indigenous people represent 0.2 percent of the population,
it is absurd to say their demands and protests have a destabilizing effect,
said Jairo da Silva, deputy coordinator of the indigenous council of the northern
state of Roraima, and Paulo Maldós, a political adviser to the Missionary
Indigenist Council, which has ties to the Catholic Church.
Maldós commented to IPS that Latin America’s indigenous people
are in the midst of an ”ethnic reconstruction,” which explains why
the declining workers’ movement has been increasingly eclipsed by associations
of rural workers and peasant farmers.
He cited the case of Bolivia, where miners, previously linked by a powerful,
well-organized labor union, have been overshadowed by coca farmers.
With respect to ethnic diversity, ”the real destabilizing factor is the
narrow-minded attitude of some states, like the Chilean state, which refuse
to recognize the country’s multi-ethnic nature and to design mechanisms
that permit it to be expressed,” said lawyer Aylwin.
”A state that recognizes that multi-ethnic nature and establishes political
and territorial rights for indigenous people to allow them to develop within
their own cultures has much fewer problems in terms of stability than states
which deny that reality,” he argued.
With additional reporting by Marcela Valente (Argentina), Franz Chávez
(Bolivia), Mario Osava (Brazil), Constanza Vieira (Colombia), Kintto Lucas (Ecuador)
and Diego Cevallos (Mexico).