Andean Indigenous Interest and Rights regarding the Politics of the Amazon
In today's society, there is a tremendous need for global initiatives to support biodiversity, conservation and the protection of nature, as well as the culture of local inhabitants, especially those living in the Amazon. In recent years, many governments and coalitions have partnered with communities and native leaders to protect biodiversity and culture.
Grass-roots organizations and scientific discoveries have increased awareness about these issues, which include democratic participation by indigenous people, intellectual property rights, and cultural and ethnic identity. Within the context of globalization, the world is shrinking, and the dominant cultures, those of Europe and the United States, are penetrating the local world, including the indigenous groups in the Amazon basin. This paper will discuss the Andean indigenous interest and rights regarding the politics of the Amazon.
Global interest in ecological issues began in the mid-1980's. The World Commission on Environment and Development's Brundtland Report was one of the first calls from the United Nations for action (Foller, 1997). Concern over the tropical forest of the Amazon region, and the right to land and survival of its native peoples. spread quickly and soon became a global issue.
Since the Europeans first encountered the Amazonian region, various images of the people living in the region have been developed. The first image is one of superiority.
As early as the sixteenth century, Europeans have documented stories of their encounters with the indigenous populations.
In "The conquest of America: The question of the other," Todorov (1982) describes the encounter between two separate world views by interpreting how Christopher Columbus and the first conquerors were caught within their own social context, as were the Amazonian people. Todorov describes the Europeans' world-view as three-dimensional, expressed as the Natural (harmony between man and nature), the Human (culture, material wealth) and the Sacred.
Basically, the difference in cultures led to many misconceptions. The natives did not wear clothing, an act that the Europeans interpreted as an obvious lack of culture. Therefore, the Europeans viewed the natives as closer to the natural world, and they became as a part of the landscape,.".. somewhere between birds and trees" (Foller, 1997). Christopher Columbus observed that the native were pagans, without law and religion. Columbus could not see past his own views of culture, which included money, clothes and material things, to understand the unique culture of the natives.
As a result, from the beginning, there was a general feeling of superiority, which causes protectionist behavior (Foller, 1997). Due to this image, the early Europeans perceived the natives as weak, poor, ignorant, infantile and helpless, and unable to take care of their problems. While these images have been modified as time went on, a good part of this perception persists even today, as the fate of the region is more than ever before integrated into global society and the prevailing capitalistic system.
The next image contradicts the first image. This is the image of the noble ecological savage, which is based on the idea of the Amazonian people as living in harmony with nature (Foller, 1997). This is the image most frequently spread by the media, which often uses the indigenous people as a universal symbol for saving the planet from ecological damage.
Basically, the natives have become the key symbols and participants in the development of an ideology and organizational network that links Amazonian conflicts to international issues and social movements. There is a major problem with this image, as it is little more than a Western projection of how we would like the indigenous peoples to be, and is accurate.
The third image is that of the Amazon region as empty space, which is an inaccurate misconception that makes various parties feel that they have the right to enter the area and take it over as if no one had any claims to the land (Foller, 1997). For example, many ecologists looking for study sites that would allow for examination of natural' processes uncontaminated by anthropogenic effects tend to neglect the human history of the region.
These three images outline the problems that the indigenous people face politically, socially and culturally. The view of superiority is a major problem. "The activities of the various actors differ according to their incentives, which images they have of nature, and the degree of their motivation to act on behalf of the indigenous people. The economic activities taking place in the Amazon today are in the mainstream of globalization, in the sense that people living in the tropical forest are affected by events and decisions taken far away from them. Their land, culture, identity, worldview and knowledge are changing due to this globalization process. The invasion of the world system, with national, international and transnational actors into Amazonia, which is affecting the environment and the lives of its inhabitants, is not only being accepted, but also met with a certain resistance (Foller, 1997)."
About the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical forest in the world, and includes eight countries (Brazil, Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) and French Guiana. The Amazon is well-known around the world for its biodiversity, geological reserves, and human culture. It holds the largest river in the world, as well as the most diverse fish species, and more plant species than all of North America and Europe combined.
For these reason, there is great concern over conservation and development in the area, which has increase more and more since the first humans sought to transform its natural resources to enhance human civilization. Today, global communication has globalized trade and the world's economic systems, perhaps, posing to further impact the conservation and development dynamics of the Amazon.
Since the 1950s, Amazonian countries have opened the forest's natural resources (such as timber, minerals, fossil fuel reserves) to domestic and international markets. Amazon development has resulted in the urbanization and industrialization of cities. However, these developments pose a variety of risks to the indigenous people of the Amazon region.
The natives depend upon specific lands and territories for their economic livelihoods, social well-being, and cultural survival. According to the World Bank (2002): "Historically, indigenous lands have been coveted by outsiders, and indigenous labor has been mobilized for indentured or low-paid work in mines and on cattle ranches and plantations. Missionaries have played an important role in cushioning the negative effects of Western contact (disease, forced dislocation, etc.), but their programs have been introduced at the price of generating dependency and a loss of indigenous religions. values, and cultural pride."
After World War II ended, Latin American governments have become global leaders in initiating the processes of cultural change among indigenous communities (Davis and Partridge, 2002). In many cases, they have done so through creating labor abuses, agrarian reform legislation, and the design of various educational, public health, job-training, and rural development programs. The majority of these government programs have been international and paternalistic, and hardly any have considered the cultural strengths of the indigenous populations or even involve their participation.
While there have been some cases of bilingual education and improvements in public health, government-sponsored rural development efforts have not improved the overall welfare or opportunities of the nation's indigenous population (Davis and Partridge, 2002).
Instead, government programs have ensured that the natives remain the poorest, most underprivileged and most destitute of the region's population, with the highest rates of infant mortality and childhood malnutrition and the lowest rates of literacy, and schooling.
The Indigenous Peoples Fund
The Indigenous Peoples Fund, a global organization created to promote the long-term, sustainable self-development of the native peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, is one of the major ways that the indigenous people have gained ground in the past few years.
Between 1991 and 1992, several meetings of the representatives of the Amazon region's indigenous peoples and governments, international organizations, non-regional governments, and non-governmental organizations decided that the conditions for the development of indigenous peoples should be improved by recognizing their rights and making resources available for their social and economic advancement.
As a result, the Indigenous Peoples Fund, along with many other coalitions, was created to promote the establishment of a constructive dialogue between and among the representatives of the different indigenous groups, governments, and other agencies, and foster the establishment of technical and financial relationships among these groups to identify, prepare, administer, and execute indigenous projects whose ultimate purpose will be the long-term, sustainable development of the Amazon area.
The main purpose of the Indigenous Peoples Fund is to help create the legal, political, technical and financial conditions needed for the development of indigenous peoples. The fund was designed to address the needs of about 40 million indigenous peoples who have not yet benefited from previous development efforts. It helps indigenous peoples obtain access to the tools and resources necessary to develop their own strategies for development, and determine their own relationships with national development processes.
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