INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, IRREPLACEABLE ACTORS (Abstract)
September - october 2000
Emperatriz Cahuache Casado
President of the Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazonia (OPIAC)
The OPIAC encompasses 58 indigenous communities from the Colombian Amazonia and Orinoquia Regions. "Our obligation to our ancestors is to guard and protect the Earth, passed on to us for future generations."
Our Elders are our true environmental authorities and we are irreplaceable social actors in the future of the Amazon Region. It is therefore necessary today that we be taken into consideration in the discussions and the decision-making instances regarding the issue of the so-called "illicit" Coca crops.
For indigenous peoples the Coca is a sacred plant used traditionally. We believe that the problem is not the plant, jungles, nor the current inhabitants themselves, many of them settlers who have been violently displaced from the Andean zones and valleys of Colombia.
Supposedly to combat the narcotics traffic, the state is implementing a chemical fumigation policy in Colombia to eradicate Coca, marihuana and poppy crops. Everyone is well aware that this policy has failed to reduce crops. What's more, this policy does not address the true narcotics traffickers who have at their disposal international financial networks to launder their dollars. It also does not focus US and European enterprises, producers and distributors of chemical substances, indispensable to the processing of raw material for making cocaine.
According to the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombusdman), "the Colombian government is extremely interested in using the Fusarium Oxysporum, Erythroxylum variety, if it were native to Colombia; or any other biological control agent to eradicate Coca crops in Colombia." (page 159).
This is obvious in the so-called "Plan Colombia", which mentions, as part of the support goals to the UN Counternarcotics Program, the experimentation and use of biological control agents, or microherbicides.
National protests and international resistance to these proposals forced the Colombian government to submit its own proposal, the Project called "Integral and Productive Alternative Means of Protecting Biodiversity in the Zomes affected by Coca Crops and thier Eradication."
This project is geared towards identifying and employing "biological control agents" from the Coca, native to the Amazon Region and to the design of alternative production systems for crop substitution. The project is to be launched as of August 2001 for a three-year period and it is to cost US$7 million dollars. The agency charged with implementing the project is the Instituto Amazónico de Investigaciones Científicas SINCHI with the participation of the Instituto Humboldt.
According to our Elders, the Coca is not a "weed" nor is it a "plague" and does not therefore justify the use of "biological control agents". Along the same rationale, the Defensoría del Pueblo in a book published in August 2000 called Illicit Crops, states: "we cannot talk of biological control to eradicate illicit crops since the coca cannot be considered a weed, inasmuch as it is a shrub; nor can it be considered a plague since it causes no ecological damage to any other plant or animal."
The OPIAC has categorically stated that this Project is not acceptable. The OPIAC coincides with some scientists and other sectors of Colombian society who reject the Project. Like these groups, the OPIAC considers that the problem is not only the use or not of the Fusarium oxysporum, as a "biological control agent", but the use of any "biological control agent" whatsoever to eradicate crops used for illicit purposes, considering the fact that native control agents are also liable to cause severe negative impact on the environment and human health.
The OPIAC is against any policy of forced eradication, by any means whatsoever. The OPIAC considers that manual or mechanical eradication should be endeavored in agreement with the local communities and should be accompanied by real solutions —that guarantee secure food sources— to peasant and indigenous communities.
Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries also holds that governments are obliged, even through international conventions, "to respect the special importance of the cultures and spiritual values of the peoples concerned of their relationship with the lands or territories, or both as applicable, which they occupy or otherwise use, and in particular the collective aspects of this relationship."
The above cited Project of the Colombian Ministry of the Environment pretends the usurpation of Indigenous Peoples ancestral knowledge, through patents and "rights", including over biological collections.
The Project states that: "Intellectual property, such as information, data, methodology, protocols, biological collections, patents and any other scientific or technical information that is generated within the project belongs exclusively to the Ministry of Environment and the Instituto Amazónico de Investigaciones Científicas SINCHI as the agencies in charge of implementing the Project, should this information be used for scientific publications, the corresponding credits go to those researchers and private or public entities that take part in the implementation of said project."
Consequently, the abovementioned Project not only violates the rights of indigenous peoples, it also disregards fundamental ethical principles, which should serve to guide what is known as the "Colombian scientific community."
The OPIAC demands the respect of Indigenous People's common law. The 1996 Leticia Declaration on which participation in the concerted process —Agenda 21st Century Colombian Amazonia— calls for the "Establishment of new sui generis legislative frameworks and systems which fully recognize and protect the cultural legacy and traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples; this declaration also holds that these sui generis, or special, systems "should be based on the Indigenous Peoples' common law and governmental structures."
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