Racism Hurts People and Democracy in Peru

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

A family from Sachac, a Quechua farming community in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southeastern Peru, where Quechua is still the predominant language and where ancestral customs are preserved. When members of these native families move to the cities, they face different forms of racism, despite the fact that 60 percent of the Peruvian population identifies as ‘mestizo’ or mixed-race and 25 percent as a member of an indigenous people. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

A family from Sachac, a Quechua farming community in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southeastern Peru, where Quechua is still the predominant language and where ancestral customs are preserved. When members of these native families move to the cities, they face different forms of racism, despite the fact that 60 percent of the Peruvian population identifies as ‘mestizo’ or mixed-race and 25 percent as a member of an indigenous people. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Sep 1 2022 (IPS) – Banning the use of the same bathroom, insults and calling people animals are just a few of the daily forms of racism experienced by people in Peru, a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual country where various forms of discrimination are intertwined.


“In the houses where I have worked, they have always told me: ‘Teresa, this is the service bathroom, the one you have to use,’ as if they were disgusted that I might use their toilets,” Teresa Mestanza, 56, who has worked as a domestic in Lima since she was a teenager, told IPS.

She was born in a coastal town in the northern department of Lambayeque, where her parents moved from the impoverished neighboring region of Cajamarca, the homeland of current President Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher and trade unionist with indigenous features.

With Quechua indigenous roots, she considers herself to be “mestiza” or mixed-race and believes that her employers treat her differently, making her feel inferior because of the color of her skin.

Sixty percent of the population of this South American country of 33 million people describe themselves as “mestizo”, according to the 2017 National Census, the last one carried out in Peru.

For the first time, the census included questions on ethnic self-identification to provide official data on the indigenous and Afro-Peruvian population in order to develop public policies aimed at closing the inequality gap that affects their rights.

A study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) ranks Peru as the country with the third largest indigenous population in the region, after Bolivia and Guatemala.

Teresa Mestanza has experienced discriminatory, if not outright humiliating, treatment because of the color of her skin, as a domestic worker in Lima since she arrived as a teenager from a Quechua community in northern coastal Peru. She defines herself as ‘mestiza’ or mixed-race and believes that this is the reason why some of her employers try to "make me feel less of a person." CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Teresa Mestanza has experienced discriminatory, if not outright humiliating, treatment because of the color of her skin, as a domestic worker in Lima since she arrived as a teenager from a Quechua community in northern coastal Peru. She defines herself as ‘mestiza’ or mixed-race and believes that this is the reason why some of her employers try to “make me feel less of a person.” CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Before the invasion by the Spaniards, several native peoples lived in what is now Peru, where the Tahuantinsuyo, the great Inca empire, emerged. At present, there are officially 55 different indigenous peoples, 51 from the Amazon rainforest region and four from the Andes highlands, which preserve their own languages, identities, customs and forms of social organization.

According to the census, a quarter of the population self-identified as indigenous: 22 percent Quechua, two percent Aymara and one percent Amazonian indigenous, while four percent self-identified as Afro-descendant or black.

During the Spanish colonial period, slaves were brought from Africa to do hard labor or work in domestic service. It was not until three decades after independence was declared that the country abolished slavery, in 1854.

Indigenous and Afro-Peruvian populations are historically discriminated against in Peru, in a country with traditionally highly segmented classes. Their needs and demands have not been met by the State despite legal frameworks that seek to guarantee equality and non-discrimination and specific rights for indigenous peoples.

This situation is reflected on a daily level in routine racism, a problem recognized by more than half of the population (52 percent) but assumed as such by only eight percent, according to a national survey conducted by the Ministry of Culture in 2018.

Sofia Carrillo is a journalist, activist and anti-racist feminist and Afro-Peruvian proud of her roots, who has faced racism since childhood and despite this made Forbes Peru's list of the most influential women in the country this year. CREDIT: Amnesty International

Sofia Carrillo is a journalist, activist and anti-racist feminist and Afro-Peruvian proud of her roots, who has faced racism since childhood and despite this made Forbes Peru’s list of the most influential women in the country this year. CREDIT: Amnesty International

“Racism is hushed up because it hurts less”

A journalist, activist, and radio and television host who was chosen by Forbes Peru magazine as one of the 50 most powerful women in the country this year, Sofia Carrillo is an Afro-Peruvian proud of her roots who has faced many obstacles and “no’s” since childhood.

“It was not seen as possible, for example, for me to be a studious girl because I was of African descent, and black people were not seen as intelligent. And that was represented on television and generated a great sense of rebellion in me,” she told IPS in Lima.

Faced with these messages she had only two options. “Either you believe it or you confront the situation and use it as a possibility to show that it is not true. I shouldn’t have to prove myself more than other people, but in a country as racist and as sexist as this one, that was the challenge I took on and what motivated me throughout all the stages of my life,” she said.

In her home racism was not a taboo subject, and was discussed. But this was not the case in the extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles “because it’s better not to be aware of the situation, so it hurts less; it’s a way to protect yourself,” Carrillo said.

“It is not uncommon for people of African descent to even say that they do not feel affected by racism or discrimination, because we have also been taught this in our families: that it will affect you if you identify it, but if you pretend it does not happen, then it is much easier to deal with,” she said.

Her experience as a black woman has included receiving insults since she was a child and sexual harassment in public spaces, in transportation, on the street, “to be looked at as a sexual object, to be dehumanized,” she said.

She has also had to deal with prejudices about her abilities in the workplace. And although she has never stopped raising her voice in protest, it has affected her.

“Now I can admit that it affected my mental health, it led to periods of deep depression. I did not understand why, what the reasons were, because you also try to hide it, you try to bury it deep inside. But I understood that one way to heal was to talk about my own experiences,” Carrillo said.

Enrique Anpay is 24 years old and finished his university studies in Lima last year, where he experienced episodes of racism that still hurt him to remember. In the picture he is seen carrying one of his grandmother's lambs in the Quechua farming community of Pomacocha, where he is from, in the central Andean region of Peru. CREDIT: Courtesy of Enrique Anpay

Enrique Anpay is 24 years old and finished his university studies in Lima last year, where he experienced episodes of racism that still hurt him to remember. In the picture he is seen carrying one of his grandmother’s lambs in the Quechua farming community of Pomacocha, where he is from, in the central Andean region of Peru. CREDIT: Courtesy of Enrique Anpay

Racism to the point of calling people animals

Enrique Anpay Laupa, 24, studied psychology at a university in Lima, thanks to the government scholarship program Beca 18, which helps high-achieving students living in poverty or extreme poverty.

Originally from the rural community of Pomacocha, made up of some 90 native Quechua families in the central Andes highlands region of Apurimac, he still finds it difficult to talk about the racism he endured during his time in Lima, until he graduated last year.

He spoke to IPS from the town of Andahuaylas, in Apurímac, where he now lives and practices as a psychologist. “In 2017 we were 200 scholarship holders entering the university, more than other years, and we noticed discomfort among the students from Lima,” he said.

“They said that since we arrived the bathrooms were dirtier, things were getting lost, like laptops…I was quite shocked, it was a question of skin color,” he said.

During a group project, a student from the capital even told him “shut up, llama” when he made a comment. (The llama is a domesticated South American camelid native to the Andes region of Peru.)

“I kept silent and no one else said anything either,” Anpay said. Although he preferred not to go into more details, the experience of what he went through kept him from encouraging his younger brother to apply for Beca 18 and to push him to study instead at the public university in Andahuaylas.

Afro-Peruvian women participate in a festive demonstration demanding respect for their rights, on the streets of Lima on International Women's Day, March 8, 2022. CREDIT: Courtesy of Lupita Sanchez

Afro-Peruvian women participate in a festive demonstration demanding respect for their rights, on the streets of Lima on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2022. CREDIT: Courtesy of Lupita Sanchez

Racism affects the whole country

Racism is felt as a personal experience but affects whole communities and the entire country.

Carrillo said: “We can see this in the levels of impoverishment: the last census, from 2017, indicates that 16 percent of people who self-identify as ‘white’ and ‘mestizo’ live in poverty as opposed to the Afro-Peruvian population, where poverty stands at around 30 percent, the Amazonian indigenous population (40 percent) and the Andean indigenous population (30 percent).”

A study by the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics on the evolution of poverty between 2010 and 2021 showed that it affected to the greatest extent the population who spoke a native mother tongue, i.e. indigenous people.

The percentage of this segment of the population living in poverty and extreme poverty was 32 percent – eight percentage points higher than the 24 percent recorded for the population whose mother tongue is Spanish.

Carrillo considered it essential to recognize the existence of institutional racism, to understand it as a public problem that affects individuals and peoples who have been historically discriminated against and excluded, who have the right to share all spaces and to fully realize themselves, based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

She criticized the authorities for thinking about racism only in terms of punitive actions instead of considering a comprehensive policy based on prevention to stop it from being reproduced and handed down from generation to generation, which would include an anti-racist education that values the contribution made by each of the different peoples in the construction of Peru.

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What Makes a Human Rights Success?

Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Multimedia, North America, Podcast, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

KATHMANDU, Aug 4 2022 (IPS) – The largest ever settlement in Canadian legal history, 40 billion Canadian dollars, occurred in 2022, but it didn’t come from a court – it followed a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In 2016 the Tribunal affirmed a complaint that the Government of Canada’s child welfare system discriminated against First Nations children. (First Nations are one of three groups of Indigenous people in Canada).


When I heard about that amount and subsequently how the government was negotiating the details of that settlement, I was astounded. Although I’ve had an interest in and reported regularly about human rights in the past three decades, my most intense experience has been here in Nepal, where for a couple of years I worked at the United Nations human rights office.

Nepal’s Human Rights Commission has a long history of having its recommendations virtually ignored by the government of the day. In fact, since 2000, only 12% of the NHRC’s 810 recommendations have been fully implemented. So when I compared the situation in Nepal to the tribunal’s decision and aftermath in Canada, my first question was ‘how’? How could the human rights situation in the two countries be so different that one government was compelled to pay out $40 billion for discrimination while another could virtually ignore recommendations?

First, I have to confess that my understanding of the human rights framework in Canada and Nepal was lacking. As today’s guest, Professor Anne Levesque from the University of Ottawa, explains, Canada, like Nepal, has a federal human rights commission (as well as commissions in its provinces). But Canada also has the tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that hears complaints and can issue orders. Nepal however, lacks a human rights body that has legal teeth.

But is that the whole story, or are there other reasons why the Government of Canada must – and does – pay up when it loses a human rights case while the Government of Nepal basically files away the NHRC’s recommendations for some later date? Nepal, by the way, is not a human rights pariah. It is serving its second consecutive term on the UN Human Rights Council and the NHRC has been given an ‘A’ rating by an independent organization for conforming to international standards.

Resources

As a lawyer who’s helped fight for the rights of First Nations children, here’s what you need to know about the $40 billion child welfare agreements – article by Anne Levesque

Ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

Public advocacy for the First Nations Child Welfare complaint

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Indigenous Peoples Must Continue To Challenge Human Rights Violations: PODCAST

Civil Society, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Multimedia, Podcast, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

KATHMANDU, Jul 7 2022 (IPS) – Today we are starting a new series focused on human rights. For people working to create a more sustainable and just world – as we are – a human rights based approach makes sense as it starts from the premise that only by recognizing and protecting the dignity inherent in all people can we attain those goals.


Today’s guest, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has immense experience in human rights. She is the founder and executive director of Tebtebba Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples in the Philippines, her home country, and beyond. She was the Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples from 2005 To 2010, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2014 to 2020.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode — from Vicky’s analysis of her time as special rapporteur to recent rhetoric around ‘building back better’, the circular economy and other touted economic reforms, versus the reality on the ground. Indigenous communities are facing growing pressure from both states and the private sector to extract the natural resources that they are trying to protect. This dichotomy between the words and deeds of these powerful actors must be continually exposed and challenged by Indigenous peoples, says Vicky.

Asked whether governments of poorer countries are doing enough to protect human rights, without hesitating Vicky answers no. But she also points out that these countries are themselves pressured by international agreements, brokered largely by rich countries, that leave them with few options but to exploit natural resources.

She also tells me about an exciting project — the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a body of 23 global experts, is creating a General Recommendation on Indigenous women and girls. Among other things, it recognize the individual and collective rights of Indigenous women, the latter including respect for their rights to land, languages and other culture. Vicki says it is the first time that a UN treaty body is developing a recommendation focussed on Indigenous women.

Resources

Tebtebba Foundation

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples

IPS Coverage About Indigenous Peoples Rights

The dichotomy between the words and deeds of powerful actors must be continually exposed and challenged by Indigenous peoples, says today’s guest, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

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One Hundred Years On, Argentine State Acknowledges Indigenous Massacre in Trial

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Regional Categories

Indigenous Rights

During one of the hearings in Buenos Aires, the court trying a 1924 indigenous massacre in the Chaco heard the testimony of historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera, from the University of Buenos Aires, who has been studying indigenous history in Argentina for decades. The expert witness described in detail the conditions in the Napalpí indigenous “reducción” or camp where the massacre took place. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

During one of the hearings in Buenos Aires, the court trying a 1924 indigenous massacre in the Chaco heard the testimony of historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera, from the University of Buenos Aires, who has been studying indigenous history in Argentina for decades. The expert witness described in detail the conditions in the Napalpí indigenous “reducción” or camp where the massacre took place. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

BUENOS AIRES, May 13 2022 (IPS) – It’s a strange trial, with no defendants. The purpose is not to hand down a conviction, but to bring visibility to an atrocious event that occurred almost a hundred years ago in northern Argentina and was concealed by the State for decades with singular success: the massacre by security forces of hundreds of indigenous people who were protesting labor mistreatment and discrimination.


“We are seeking to heal the wounds and vindicate the memory of the (indigenous) peoples,” explained federal judge Zunilda Niremperger, as she opened the first hearing in Buenos Aires on May 10 in the trial for the truth of the so-called Napalpí Massacre, in which an undetermined number of indigenous people were shot to death on the morning of Jul. 19, 1924.

The trial began on Apr. 19 in the northern province of Chaco, one of the country’s poorest, near the border with Paraguay. But it was moved momentarily to the capital, home to approximately one third of the 45 million inhabitants of this South American country, to give it greater visibility.

In a highly symbolic decision, the venue chosen in Buenos Aires was the Space for Memory and Human Rights, created in the former Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), where the most notorious clandestine torture and extermination center operated during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which kidnapped and murdered as many as 30,000 people for political reasons.

“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina. People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.” — Duilio Ramírez

The hearings in Buenos Aires ended Thursday May 12, and the court will reconvene in Resistencia, the capital of Chaco, on May 19, when the prosecutor’s office and the plaintiffs are to present their arguments before the sentence is handed down at an unspecified date.

“This trial is aimed at bringing out the truth that we need, and that I come to support, in the place where they brought my daughter when they kidnapped her. This shows that genocides are repeated in history,” Vera Vigevani de Jarach, seated in the front row of the courtroom, her head covered by the white scarf that identifies the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, told IPS.

Vera, 94, is Jewish and emigrated with her family to Argentina when she was 11 years old from Italy, due to the racial persecution unleashed by fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1939. In 1976 her only daughter, Franca Jarach, then 18 years old, was forcibly disappeared.

“Truth trials” are not a novelty in Argentina. The term was used to refer to investigations of the crimes committed by the dictatorship, carried out after 1999, when amnesty laws passed after the conviction of the military regime’s top leaders blocked the prosecution of the rest of the perpetrators.

A petition filed by a member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (made up of mothers of victims of forced disappearance) before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) led later to an agreement with the Argentine State, which recognized the woman’s right to have the judiciary investigate the fate of her disappeared daughter, even though the amnesty laws made it impossible to punish those responsible.

Eventually, the amnesty laws were repealed, the trials resumed, and defendants were convicted and sent to prison.

Indigenous communities and human rights organizations held an Apr. 19, 2022 demonstration in Resistencia, capital of the Argentine province of Chaco, at the beginning of the trial for the truth about the Napalpí massacre. CREDIT: Chaco Secretariat of Human Rights and Gender

Indigenous communities and human rights organizations held an Apr. 19, 2022 demonstration in Resistencia, capital of the Argentine province of Chaco, at the beginning of the trial for the truth about the Napalpí massacre. CREDIT: Chaco Secretariat of Human Rights and Gender

Historic reparations

“My grandmother was a survivor of the massacre and I grew up listening to the stories of labor exploitation in Napalpí and about what happened that day. For us this trial is a historic reparation,” Miguel Iya Gómez, a bilingual multicultural teacher who today presides over the Chaco Aboriginal Institute, a provincial agency whose mission is to improve the living conditions of native communities, told IPS.

The trial is built on the basis of official documents and journalistic coverage of the time and the videotaped testimonies of survivors of the massacre and their descendants, and of researchers of indigenous history in the Chaco.

The Argentine province of Chaco forms part of the ecoregion from which it takes its name: a vast, hot, dry, sparsely forested plain that was largely unsettled during the Spanish Conquest. Only at the end of the 19th century did the modern Argentine State launch military campaigns to subdue the indigenous people in the Chaco and impose its authority there.

Once the Chaco was conquered, many indigenous families were forced to settle in camps called “reducciones”, where they had to carry out agricultural work.

“The ‘reducciones’ operated in the Chaco between 1911 and 1956 and were concentration camps for indigenous people, who were disciplined through work,” said sociologist Marcelo Musante, a member of the Network of Researchers on Genocide and Indigenous Policies in Argentina, which brings together academics from different disciplines, at the hearing.

“When indigenous people entered the ‘reducción’, they were given clothes and farming tools, and this generated a debt that put them under great pressure. And they were not allowed to make purchases outside the stores of the ‘reducción’,” he explained.

David García, a member of the Napalpí Foundation, created in 2006 to gather information about and bring visibility to the 1924 massacre, took part in the trial in Buenos Aires. His organization was one of the driving forces behind the historic trial in Argentina. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

David García, a member of the Napalpí Foundation, created in 2006 to gather information about and bring visibility to the 1924 massacre, took part in the trial in Buenos Aires. His organization was one of the driving forces behind the historic trial in Argentina. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Invaded by cotton

Historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera said it was common for indigenous people in the Chaco to go to work temporarily in sugar mills in the neighboring provinces of Salta and Jujuy, but the scenario changed in the 1920s, when the Argentine government introduced cotton in the Chaco, to tap into the textile industry’s growing global demand.

“Then the criollo (white) settlers, who often had no laborers, demanded the guaranteed availability of indigenous labor to harvest the cotton crop, and in 1924 the government prohibited indigenous people, who refused to work on the cotton plantations, from leaving the Chaco, declaring any who left subversives,” Carrera said.

Anthropologist Lena Dávila Da Rosa said the Jul. 19, 1924 protest involved between 800 and 1000 indigenous people from Napalpí, and some 130 police officers who opened fired on them, with the support of an airplane that dropped candy so the children would go out to look for it and thus reveal the location of the protesters they were tracking down.

“It’s impossible to know exactly how many indigenous people were killed, but there were several hundred victims,” Alejandro Jasinski, a researcher with the Truth and Justice Program of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, told IPS.

“The official report mentioned four people killed in confrontations among themselves, and there was a judicial investigation that was quickly closed. All that was left were the buried memories of the communities,” he added.

The memories were revived and made public in recent years thanks in large part to the efforts of Juan Chico, an indigenous writer and researcher from the Chaco who died of COVID-19 in 2021.

“Juan started collecting oral accounts almost 20 years ago,” David García, a translator and interpreter of the language of the Qom, one of the main indigenous nations of the Chaco, told IPS. “I worked alongside him to bring the indigenous genocide to light, and in 2006 we founded an NGO that today is the Napalpí Foundation. It was a long struggle to reach this trial.”

Vera Vigevani de Jarach, a member of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, attended the hearing in Buenos Aires for the Napalpí indigenous massacre, held in the most notorious clandestine detention and torture center used by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. CREDIT: National Secretariat of Human Rights

Vera Vigevani de Jarach, a member of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, attended the hearing in Buenos Aires for the Napalpí indigenous massacre, held in the most notorious clandestine detention and torture center used by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. CREDIT: National Secretariat of Human Rights

Indigenous people in the Chaco today

Of the population of Chaco province, 3.9 percent, or 41,304 people, identified as indigenous in the last national census conducted in Argentina in 2010, which is higher than the national average of 2.4 percent.

Census data reflects the harsh living conditions of indigenous people in the Chaco and the disadvantages they face in relation to the rest of the population. More than 80 percent live in deficient housing while more than 25 percent live in critically overcrowded conditions, with more than three people per room. In addition, more than half of the households cook with firewood or charcoal.

Today, the site of the Napalpí massacre is called Colonia Aborigen Chaco and is a 20,000-hectare plot of land owned by the indigenous community where, according to official data, some 1,300 indigenous people live, from the Qom and Moqoit communities, the most numerous native groups in the Chaco along with the Wichi.

In 2019, mass graves were found there by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, a prestigious organization that emerged in 1984 to identify remains of victims of the military dictatorship and that has worked all over the world.

“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina,” Duilio Ramírez, a lawyer with the Chaco government’s Human Rights Secretariat, which is acting as plaintiff, told IPS. “People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.”

“We hope that with the ruling, the Argentine State will take responsibility for what happened and that this will translate into public policies of reparations for the indigenous communities,” he said.

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Indigenous Women in Mexico Take United Stance Against Inequality

Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy

Women & Economy

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko'ox Tani Foundation

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation

UAYMA, Mexico , Apr 26 2022 (IPS) – Every other Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. sharp, a group of 26 Mexican women meet for an hour to discuss the progress of their work and immediate tasks. Anyone who arrives late must pay a fine of about 25 cents on the dollar.


The collective has organized in the municipality of Uayma (which means “Not here” in the Mayan language) to learn agroecological practices, as well as how to save money and produce food for family consumption and the sale of surpluses.

“We have to be responsible. With savings we can do a little more,” María Petul, a married Mayan indigenous mother of two and a member of the group “Lool beh” (“Flower of the road” in Mayan), told IPS in this municipality of just over 4,000 inhabitants, 1,470 kilometers southeast of Mexico City in the state of Yucatán, on the Yucatán peninsula.

The home garden “gives me enough to eat and sell, it helps me out,” said Petul as she walked through her small garden where she grows habanero peppers (Capsicum chinense, traditional in the area), radishes and tomatoes, surrounded by a few trees, including a banana tree whose fruit will ripen in a few weeks and some chickens that roam around the earthen courtyard.

The face of Norma Tzuc, who is also married with two daughters, lights up with enthusiasm when she talks about the project. “I am very happy. We now have an income. It’s exciting to be able to help my family. Other groups already have experience and tell us about what they’ve been doing,” Tzuc told IPS.

The two women and the rest of their companions, whose mother tongue is Mayan, participate in the project “Women saving to address climate change”, run by the non-governmental Ko’ox Tani Foundation (“Let’s Go Ahead”, in Mayan), dedicated to community development and social inclusion, based in Merida, the state capital.

This phase of the project is endowed with some 100,000 dollars from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the non-binding environmental arm of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), formed in 1994 by Canada, the United States and Mexico and replaced in 2020 by another trilateral agreement.

The initiative got off the ground in February and will last two years, with the aim of training some 250 people living in extreme poverty, mostly women, in six locations in the state of Yucatán.

The maximum savings for each woman in the group is about 12 dollars every two weeks and the minimum is 2.50 dollars, and they can withdraw the accumulated savings to invest in inputs or animals, or for emergencies, with the agreement of the group. Through the project, the women will receive seeds, agricultural inputs and poultry, so that they can install vegetable gardens and chicken coops on their land.

The women write down the quotas in a white notebook and deposit the savings in a gray box, kept in the house of the group’s president.

José Torre, project director of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation, explained that the main areas of entrepreneurship are: community development, food security, livelihoods and human development.

“What we have seen over time is that the savings meetings become a space for human development, in which they find support and solidarity from their peers, make friends and build trust,” he told IPS during a tour of the homes of some of the savings group participants in Uayma.

The basis for the new initiative in this locality is a similar program implemented between 2018 and 2021 in other Yucatecan municipalities, in which the organization worked with 1400 families.

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Unequal oasis

Yucatan, a region home to 2.28 million people, suffers from a high degree of social backwardness, with 34 percent of the population living in moderate poverty, 33 percent suffering unmet needs, 5.5 percent experiencing income vulnerability and almost seven percent living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit this Latin American country in February 2020 exacerbated these conditions in a state that depends on agriculture, tourism and services, similar to the other two states that make up the Yucatán Peninsula: Campeche and Quintana Roo.

Inequality is also a huge problem in the state, although the Gini Index dropped from 0.51 in 2014 to 0.45, according to a 2018 government report, based on data from 2016 (the latest year available). The Gini coefficient, where 1 indicates the maximum inequality and 0 the greatest equality, is used to calculate income inequality.

The situation of indigenous women is worse, as they face marginalization, discrimination, violence, land dispossession and lack of access to public services.

More than one million indigenous people live in the state.

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate crisis, yet another vulnerability

Itza Castañeda, director of equity at the non-governmental World Resources Institute (WRI), highlights the persistence of structural inequalities in the peninsula that exacerbate the effects of the climate crisis.

“In the three states there is greater inequality between men and women. This stands in the way of women’s participation and decision-making. Furthermore, the existing evidence shows that there are groups in conditions of greater vulnerability to climate impacts,” she told IPS from the city of Tepoztlán, near Mexico City.

She added that “climate change accentuates existing inequalities, but a differentiated impact assessment is lacking.”

Official data indicate that there are almost 17 million indigenous people in Mexico, representing 13 percent of the total population, of which six million are women.

Of indigenous households, almost a quarter are headed by women, while 65 percent of indigenous girls and women aged 12 and over perform unpaid work compared to 35 percent of indigenous men – a sign of the inequality in the system of domestic and care work.

To add to their hardships, the Yucatan region is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, such as droughts, devastating storms and rising sea levels. In June 2021, tropical storm Cristobal caused the flooding of Uayma, where three women’s groups are operating under the savings system.

For that reason, the project includes a risk management and hurricane early warning system.

The Mexican government is building a National Care System, but the involvement of indigenous women and the benefits for them are still unclear.

Petul looks excitedly at the crops planted on her land and dreams of a larger garden, with more plants and more chickens roaming around, and perhaps a pig to be fattened. She also thinks about the possibility of emulating women from previous groups who have set up small stores with their savings.

“They will lay eggs and we can eat them or sell them. With the savings we can also buy roosters, in the market chicks are expensive,” said Petul, brimming with hope, who in addition to taking care of her home and family sells vegetables.

Her neighbor Tzuc, who until now has been a homemaker, said that the women in her group have to take into account the effects of climate change. “It has been very hot, hotter than before, and there is drought. Fortunately, we have water, but we have to take care of it,” she said.

For his part, Torre underscored the results of the savings groups. The women “left extreme poverty behind. The pandemic hit hard, because there were families who had businesses and stopped selling. The organization gave them resilience,” he said.

In addition, a major achievement is that the households that have already completed the project continue to save, regularly attend meetings and have kept producing food.

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New Constitution Would Declare Chile a Plurinational State

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

SANTIAGO, Mar 9 2022 (IPS) – Chile could change the course of its history and become a diverse and multicolored country this year with a “plurinational and intercultural state” that recognizes and promotes the development of the native peoples that inhabited this territory before the Spanish conquest.


By 112 votes in favor and 32 against, the constitutional convention approved this proposal which now forms part of the draft constitution that Chilean voters will approve or reject in an August or September referendum.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily.” — Domingo Namuncura

The constitutional convention is debating and drafting a new constitution which is the result of the work of 155 constituents – half men and half women, with 17 indigenous members – elected by popular vote in October 2020 who began the task on Jul. 4, 2021. They have until Jul. 4 to finish their work.

In the country’s last census, in 2017, 2.18 million Chileans self-identified as indigenous people.

In other words, 12.8 percent of the 17.07 million inhabitants of Chile at that time (today the population stands at 19.4 million) were recognized as belonging to one of the indigenous peoples distributed throughout this long narrow South American country: the Mapuche (the largest native group), followed by the Aymara, Rapa Nui, Diaguita, Atacameño, Quechua, Colla, Kawesqar and Yagan.

Domingo Namuncura, a Mapuche social worker and professor at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, told IPS that “we are facing a very important historic event. The declaration of a plurinational State has always been a dream of the indigenous peoples of Chile.”

The creation of the constitutional convention was the response to months of protests and social unrest in 2019, the repression of which tainted the second term of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera, a businessman who had already governed the country between 2010 and 2014, and who will be succeeded as of Mar. 11 by the leftist Gabriel Boric, winner of the December elections.

Chile has been governed since 1980 by the constitution imposed by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who used legislation to put in place a neoliberal and authoritarian economic and political regime, which democratic governments have only been able to partially dismantle since 1990.

The result is a country with a dynamic economy based on exports of mining and agricultural products, but with one of the most unequal societies in the world, which was at the basis of the 2019 demonstrations, as was the failure to fulfill promises of change, such as a new constitution, the reform of the educational system or improvements in social rights.

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Arguments of the constituents

No previous Chilean constitution has mentioned indigenous people and their rights, by contrast with other Latin American constitutions that have emerged since 1980. And the only precedent of declaring a “plurinational state” is that of neighboring Bolivia, which did so in its 2009 constitution.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily,” said Namuncura.

Adolfo Millabur, Chile’s first Mapuche mayor, elected in 1996 in the southern town of Tirúa, resigned from his post to become a member of the constitutional convention, to occupy one of the seats reserved for Mapuche representatives. He maintained that “if Chile is transformed and defines itself as a plurinational state, what changes is its democratic vocation.”

“By acknowledging the peoples that lived here prior to the creation of the Chilean State, a collective actor is given value. Different forms of relations should begin to be established, especially in the area of political definition and participation,” he told IPS.

Lawyer Tiare Aguilera, a member of the constitutional convention from the Rapa Nui people, believes that “the most important thing is to reach the referendum with a citizenry that is informed about plurinationality and its implications.”

In her view, “through plurinationality, our country will finally be able to advance towards reparations for the native peoples of Chile.

“There is a great deal of ignorance among the public. If we correctly inform and educate the public about their meanings and implications, we believe that the changes in the definition of the State will be understood,” she told IPS.

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Jaime Bassa, a member of the constitutional convention who was its vice-president until January, said “the normative proposals approved in commissions and in the plenary on plurinationality speak to us of a sense of reality, of accepting ourselves in legitimate diversity and coexistence, of recognizing our historical roots, of valuing ourselves based on our cultural identity.

“In comparative experiences, plurinationalism and multilingualism have brought about interesting cultural changes that have led to innovative and sustainable development alternatives,” he told IPS.

In his opinion, “the growth and development model we are moving towards within the framework of the constituent process that is underway should promote ethics and inter-territorial solidarity, care for the environment and sustainability, as foundations for political equality, and to ensure collaborative, resilient contexts of respect for rights that allow us to broaden and deepen our democracy.”

Bassa said the constitutional convention “is working on a proposal for a plurinational and decentralized legislative power in which there is equality, which would give rise to representation for the different territories, that would participate in the process of law-making, effectively representing the peoples and nations that coexist within the State.”

The regulation approved on Feb. 17 states that “Chile is a regional, plurinational and intercultural State made up of autonomous territorial entities, within a framework of equity and solidarity among all of them, preserving the unity and integrity of the State.”

According to Namuncura, who was the first Mapuche to serve as a Chilean ambassador, to Guatemala, “Chile has always been plurinational because it is constituted on the basis of different native populations that were already in this territory and that joined as native peoples or nations, by force or otherwise, in the construction of the national State.

“From the Aztec, Mayan, Inca and Mapuche cultures, before the arrival of the Spaniards, America was already a plurinational continent populated by more than 1,200 indigenous nationalities that were formed many centuries ago,” he pointed out.

The convention is also discussing other norms for indigenous peoples, such as their own courts of justice in coordination with the national justice system, a parliament with indigenous representation and a regime governing natural resources located in their territories.

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Business leaders unhappy

This process is of great concern to the business leaders grouped in the Confederation of Production and Commerce (CPC), whose board, headed by Juan Sutil, met several times with Mapuche representative Elisa Loncón, who was president of the convention until January, and her successor, María Elisa Quinteros.

The CPC was behind numerous Popular Standards Initiatives seeking to include its positions in the debate. It invited everyone to support these initiatives “that defend the values of freedom of thought and free enterprise,” among others, in order to achieve “a robust democracy” with public-private collaboration.

The CPC gathered 507,852 signatures and was able to submit 16 initiatives with its views on the constituent process. Three of them have already been rejected: “Free enterprise”, “Economic model, freedom of entrepreneurship and promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises”, and “Water for all”. One more is still being processed: “Towards sustainable mining for Chile”.

Business leaders have raised the tone of their opposition to the convention, which they accuse of distancing itself from the real Chile and from the work for a constitution for all.

“I am concerned that the constitution that is being drafted is not generating the proper balances and will not be a constitution that takes into account the sensibilities of all Chileans,” said Sutil.

Those sensitivities, he said, are especially from “a minority sector, which could be the center right, the right and even people from the center within the convention itself who are not being taken into consideration at all,” he told a local radio station.

“Chile is much more than what the constitutional convention reflects. The correlation of forces is very different in the real Chile than what is happening in the convention,” he argued.

According to Sutil, criticism of the convention is widespread and “this is bad not only because it jeopardizes the process, but also because it jeopardizes the future of the country from an institutional point of view, and from the point of view of its development and growth.”

Forestry companies own approximately 1.9 million hectares in an enormous area in the south, across three of the country’s regions. A significant part of these hectares are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Precedents of a truth commission

The Historical Truth and New Deal with Indigenous Peoples Commission, created by then president Ricardo Lagos in 2001 and composed of 24 members with cross-cutting representation, found that 500,000 hectares were awarded to indigenous peoples between 1884 and 1929. This was verified after reviewing 413 titles issued in that time span.

The purpose of the Commission was to “correct the historical invisibility of native peoples, recognize their identity, repair the damage done to them and contribute to the preservation of their culture.”

In its final report, in 2003, the Commission proposed a hundred measures. In the area of land, it called for protecting lands belonging to indigenous peoples, demarcating and titling ancestral lands of native communities, and establishing a land reclamation mechanism.

Regarding natural resources, it proposed recognizing the indigenous peoples’ right of ownership, use, administration and benefit, the preferential right in State concessions, and the right of use, management and conservation.

So far, the greatest gesture by the State for the mistreatment of indigenous peoples was made by the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who as president of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) apologized in June 2017 to the Mapuche in a solemn official act for “the errors and horrors” committed against them.

Namuncura believes that a pending task is “to reach a political agreement with the large forestry companies so that a part of these lands, which today are their property, are returned to the indigenous peoples through a long-term political and financial commitment, with the possibility of considering the value of this restitution.”

The wording already approved for the first draft will now be analyzed by the Harmonization Commission, which will ensure “the concordance and coherence of the constitutional norms approved by the plenary.”

The version that emerges from that process will be voted by the plenary which, by two thirds, will define the text to be voted on by all Chileans in the referendum.

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