Native Indian Tribes Facing "Extinction"?
As demand for natural resources impacts Latin America's indigenous groups we ask if their interests will ever be on top
March 2, 2012 | Source: Al Jazeera
Indigenous groups call it an existential threat.
The push to exploit natural resources is having a huge impact on native Indian communities across Latin America.
All too often, they say, their interests and preserving their way of life end up coming second to energy companies and the pursuit of profits.
Serving as the most notorious example for indigenous groups is that of the oil giant, Chevron, which last year was fined an unprecedented $18bn.
The company was found guilty of heavily polluting large parts of Ecuador's rainforest. But it is fighting the ruling in the international courts, and so far has not paid a single cent of the fine.
And it is not just oil. Mining is also a source of tension for Indian tribes around the region in countries like Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
In Ecuador, the Kichwa people in the town of Sarayaku are fighting the government whom they accuse of granting drilling rights to an Argentine oil company without their consent.
Responding to the Kichwa's protests the Ecuadorian government told Al Jazeera in a statement from the office of Washington Pesantez, the attorney-general of Ecuador:
"Ecuador's defence believes that one must observe a balance between the good of society and the good of one particular group. An indigenous community, while it should be respected and protected, should not impose its will on the entire region."
Sarayaku is situated deep in Ecuador's Amazon jungle. In 1996, the Ecuadorian government gave oil-rich land in Sarayaku to the Argentine company CGC. So far, the Sarayaku protests and the legal action have prevented drilling. In 2003 they took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It has still yet to rule on the dispute.
Among their complaints, they say Ecuadorian troops illegally detained and tortured community leaders at a CGC facility. During the nine-year case, the court ordered CGC to remove a large number of explosives used for seismic testing. But for the most part, the injunction, along with many others, has been ignored.
So, are indigenous groups losing out to government and energy interests in Latin America?
Joining the discussion on Inside Story Americas with presenter Anand Naidoo, who travelled to Sarayaku to find out how the indigenous community is being impacted, are guests: Peter Hakim, the former president of the Inter-American Dialogue; Kevin Koenig, the Ecuador programme coordinator for Amazon Watch; and Greg Palast, an investigative reporter and author of Vultures' Picnic, a book about the petroleum industry.