Indigenous leaders from 9 nations of Amazon call for end to destructive development projects


 Indigenous leaders from 9 nations of the Amazon call for end to mega-projects that threaten their lives, culture and communities, while endangering treasured forests. First initiatives of US$130 billion-dollar network planned for South America ignoring required process of informing and obtaining consent of affected indigenous peoples…

VILLAVICENCIO. COLOMBIA (17 December 2013)— In a declaration released today, and backed up by new pieces of research, indigenous leaders representing the Amazonian peoples of nine South American countries called for an end to predatory investment practices that are threatening their survival and opening up some of the world’s most environmentally valuable forests to enterprises seeking new sources of fuel, food, biofuel and mineral wealth.
“We must replace this mentality of development at all costs, aimed at ensuring the entry of big capital into the region at the expense of natural resources and the way of life of indigenous people,” said the statement released during an event that brought indigenous leaders from throughout the Amazon to the II Regional Summit of the Amazon in Villavincensio, Colombia.
The statement, issued by COICA, an umbrella group of all the indigneous organizations in the region,  cited in particular a continent-wide plan, funded largely by Brazil’s national development bank, or BNDES, and integrating the continent through a series infrasture projects.
The planned US$130-billion network of infrastructure projects, known as IIRSA, would eventually provide the means of transporting millions of tons of soy, palm oil and minerals from regions not currently viable for large-scale agriculture or mining. Expected to be completed in 2020, the system when comprise giant hydropower plants, expanded rivers that will accommodate industrial-size boats, and multi-lane roadways that will snake through the forest, often across lands that have long been recognized as that of indigenous residents.
“We live in an extreme situation in our territories as a result of the programs and projects being developed by the IIRSA program under UNASUR and COSIPLAN,” the statement continues. “Benefiting the nation-states of China and the U.S., and primarily funded by the (BNDES, the World Bank and the International Development Bank), this plan threatens indigenous peoples with the loss of their territories.”
Indigenous leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela called today for a re-assessment of the IIRSA projects, and resistance to those that are implemented without the legal requirements that indigenous peoples be the benefit of free, prior and informed consent to the projects, well before they are built.
Supporters of the IIRSA projects argue that they seek to integrate the nine nations, so they are viewed as a positive by governments of the Amazon countries. But indigenous leaders say the project will trigger a social and ecological disaster of global proportions.
They called in their statement for a “re-orientation” of IIRSA, one that would require projects to adhere to a clear and transparent set of guidelines for implementing the requirement for informing and obtaining the consent of indigenous peoples who are affected by the mega-projects. Whether mining activites, hydroelectric dams, agribusiness, or the production of oil , biofuels, forestry, or fisheries, the banks, enterprises and governments that sponsor such projects would be able to move forward only after all the peoples in the affected regions had provided their free, prior and informed consent.
Maria Elena Rodriguez , a researcher from the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE ), a non -profit organization that monitors transparency major projects undertaken by the Brazilian state, presented research at the summit that suggested most of the IIRSA projects are being carried out without respect for Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples of 2007 , which requires that any project affecting indigenous peoples obtain first their free , prior and informed consent.
Cesar Rodríguez Garavito , an attorney and director of the International Center for Law, Justice and Society in Bogota (known as Dejusticia), released a study of individual infrastructure projects in six countries: Brazil , Chile, Colombia , Ecuador , Paraguay and Peru. He too showed that the governments of the six countries participating in the IIRSA plan had failed to fulfill the spirit of 169 ILO. In many cases, he said, indigenous peoples who attended events– where they heard optimistic accounts of what they could expect from the project– were labeled as «informed and having consented,» just because they signed in at the door.
The COICA statement called for stopping IIRSA projects in cases where the sponsors and their government allies fail to adhere to the spirit of ILO 169, which has been signed and is binding for all but two of the governments of the 9 Amazon countries—France (French Guyana) and Suriname.  
Citing schemes like UN REDD +, aimed at conserving forests in collaboration with forest peoples, as well as the US$130 billion that will be spent on projects under IIRSA, the COICA statement demanded control over the decisions made on the 170 million hectares of land recognized as belonging to the region’s indigenous peoples.

The are also calling for:
·       Tenure rights for a  still-contested 100 million hectares, including rights to the land, the sub-soil, forests, water and other natural resources, governed by collective statutes by the peoples so that strategic decisions are taken by the whole of each village, moving toward a system of Indigenous Territorial Constituencies, and other forms of self-determination.
·        Implementation of Indigenous REDD … allowing the strengthening of climate resilience in the forests, on the basis of  indigenous rights and world views, and as the best managers of the forests,  and guided by climate policies that represent collaborations between governments and indigenous people.
The COICA statement noted as well the need to be flexible and to address each project as implemented by different governments. It also noted the desire of the affected peoples of the Amazon to share their vision of harmony between humanity and nature, spreading the concept of a “full life,” one based on unity and inter-dependence.
“A full life is only understandable on our territories, where we can breathe and live under trees, at one with the water and with nature; listening to the grandparents and the mountains…sharing our wisdom and knowledge with all societies of the world…returning to the spirits of the forest to find the joy of inner peace and maintain the pride of knowing who we are.”
The proliferation of roads, the increasing demand for agricultural and forest products by the international market, oil and gas exploration have contributed to rapid growth of cities within the region, which is accelerating deforestation, sedimentation and water pollution.
» The forests of the Amazon are known as the lungs of the planet because they are fundamental to the production of the oxygen we all breathe. But despite this we’re sweeping the forests away, threatening both the people living in the forests, and humanity in general, «said Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest . «If the world expects sustainable development,  they should  support development that respects human rights and protects the environment for future generations. «
«We understand the meaning of development, but we believe this should be done in a respectful manner, in collaboration with the people affected by the projects. It is about respecting life. We do not want a vision of development that harms our land and our people.»

The Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA ) , was established in 1984 with the goal of serving as an association for all indigenous organizations in the Amazon lowlands , and charged with representing their interests internationally. Of the millions of acres of land that make up the Amazon , 30% is claimed by indigenous peoples, 170 million hectares have already been recognized by the authorities as the property of indigenous people, while another 100 million hectares are still contested.
Coica is a network of national organizations of indigenous peoples. Among its members are COIAB in Brazil , AIDESEP in Peru , in Bolivia CIDOB , OPIAC in Colombia , GONAE in Ecuador , ORPIA in Venezuela , APA in Guyana and Suriname , and FOAG OIS in French Guyana.