Tags Posts tagged with "indigenous"


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River Tabasara, Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, Panama

The following is a press release from Carbon Market Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)and M10, a grassroots resistance movement, on the current situation regarding the Barro Blanco dam and the affected indigenous communities living alongside the River Tabasará in western Panama.  

Washington DC, Kaid, Bonn, 24 May – Today the floodgates were opened on the contentious UN backed Barro Blanco hydro dam in Panama, sparking forced removal by authorities of indigenous Ngäbe communities that are living in protest camps near the dam site. With construction finished, GENISA, the company that owns and operates the dam, has begun to flood the reservoir today, which will inundate six hectares of indigenous territories.

According to the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M10)—a group representing indigenous peoples directly affected by the project—35 community members including women and children, were arrested and are currently being held in police custody in the Missionary Center of Tolé. Following the arrests, backhoes moved into the area to tear down their encampments.

Local Ngäbe organizations are now on high alert and are planning on taking further actions to oppose the dam, which is financed by the German and Dutch national development banks (DEG and FMO) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Already fearing that the situation will escalate, international NGOs launched a petition in April 2016, calling on President Juan Carlos Varela to ensure that the affected Ngäbe people are free from intimidation and repression. The petition has been signed by 84,000 people to date.

“We, the affected communities, have never given our consent to Barro Blanco. This project violates the Panamanian Constitution and our indigenous rights. ASEP has not warned us about the imminent flooding that will destroy our crops, some of our houses and kill our livestock.” Declared Manolo Miranda, spokesperson of the M10.

National and international organizations are deeply concerned for the personal safety and security of the Ngäbe people and call on Panama to protect their rights including the rights to security and peaceful assembly.

Panamanian authorities must protect the rights of the Ngäbe people who have not consented to this project,” says Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.  “We urge the Panamanian government to ensure the personal safety and security of the Ngäbe people and otherwise fulfill their human rights obligations. The world is watching.”

In 2015, Panama recognized that the Barro Blanco project had been approved in violation of the Ngäbe’s social and cultural rights, and the government temporarily suspended the construction of the project. A few months later, the government fined the project developer $775,000 for failing to adequately consult, relocate and compensate those adversely affected by the dam.  To this day, the government has not reached an agreement with the communities.

Barro Blanco is an UN-sponsored project that is designed to support sustainable development in poorer countries while enabling wealthier countries to achieve emissions reductions cost-efficiently. However, Barro Blanco demonstrates how climate mitigation projects can have adverse impacts on peoples and communities and the environments on which they depend.

The Paris Agreement recognized the need for human rights protections in climate action and created a new Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) under which all countries will be able to generate and/or use credits to offset emissions. Parties of the UNFCCC are currently meeting in Bonn to discuss the modalities and procedure of the new SDM.

“Barro Blanco is a clear example of why human rights protections must be included in the newly established SDM. The SDM must learn from the CDM’s mistakes. As the Paris Agreement committed to protect human rights, Parties must ensure that another Barro Blanco never happens again” says Pierre-Jean Brasier, Network Coordinator at Carbon Market WatchA report to be published this week by Carbon Market Watch and Misereor also highlights the need to incorporate human rights into climate action, including the case of Barro Blanco.

A report to be published this week by Carbon Market Watch and Misereor also highlights the need to incorporate human rights into climate action, including the case of Barro Blanco.


Manolo Miranda
+507 6563-2790

Carbon Market Watch
Pierre-Jean Brasier
+32 484 61 29 76

Alyssa Johl

The award-winning 'Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’ screened in London last night to a full house.

Two indigenous Huichol shamans from western Mexico met a packed lecture theatre at the University of London’s School of Asian and Oriental Studies (SOAS) last Tuesday night, where the audience enjoyed a screening of the intimate and urgent ‘Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’.

Playing rustic violins and guitarritas – sacred instruments that are ever-present in Huichol ritual life – Enrique Ramírez Ramírez and Juan José Ramírez García entered the stage attired in traditional Huichol costumes, including white trousers and tunics embroidered with emblems of their culture: peyote, maize and deer. The audience was invited to participate in a ritual blessing that called on the five Huichol cardinal points before the film’s director, Hernán Vilchez, opened the screening.

Shot between the rugged sierras of the Huichol homeland and their five places of spiritual pilgrimage, the Last Peyote Guardians proved to be a fascinating and ambitious odyssey into the complex cultural landscape of Mexico’s ‘purest’ indigenous people. Known as the Wixárika in their own language, the Huichol claim pre-Toltec ancestry and an unbroken living tradition said to be more than two millennia old. Unlike many other Mexican cultures whose cosmovisions were diluted or destroyed by overzealous Catholic missions, the Huichol guard a form of untainted pre-Columbian mysticism rooted in the worship of land and nature. Pantheistic and animistic, their spiritual life orbits around the collection, cultivation, consumption, and reverence of Lophophora williamsii – the hallucinogenic peyote cactus native to Mexico, whose visions teach, bond and connect the Huichol with their ancestors and guardian spirits.

During its two hour running time, The Last Peyote Guardians supplies an astonishingly personal document of Huichol cultural life, including scores of startling scenes never before captured by outsiders. Punctuated with otherworldly songs, chants and ritual dances, footage of an all-night peyote vigil dedicated to the light of dawn marks the stunning visual climax of Vilchez’s highly aesthetic work.

Such images are entirely thanks to a collective decision by the greater Huichol community to open their doors to the media in an effort to raise awareness and solidarity. Starting in 2011, the Mexican government has granted some 78 mining concessions in and around the ore-filled deserts of Wirikuta, an ecologically diverse stretch of arid wilderness sprawled at the foot of the sierras near the crumbling colonial town of Real de Catorce. Here, the desert’s the fragile cacti garden is the land where the beloved peyote blooms – the holiest of holy sites in the annual Huichol pilgrimage.

Thus the Last Peyote Guardians is not simply a treasure of anthropological inquiry, but a vital record of social and political struggle. Bolstered by an army of experts and interviewees on all sides, Vilchez explores a thorough and almost sprawling range of themes as he narrates the Huichol’s efforts to protect their ancestral heritage: the economic benefits of mining versus its environmental impacts; the sacred and profane in the pursuit of profit; the destructive nature of neoliberal economics; sustainable development; modernity and cultural tourism; to name a few. At the end of two hours, viewers are confronted with their own contribution (or lack of) to the state of the planet – what are you doing for nature, asks Vilchez.

The screening in London last Tuesday was not without problems: the start was delayed by 30 minutes due to a technical hitch, and later, less than half-way through, a tripped fire alarm caused the entire building to be evacuated until the fire brigade arrived (‘there are strong energies in this city’, joked Vilchez, adding that the previous night’s screening had had to be cancelled due to a technical problem). Nonetheless, the audience remained patient to the end, when they were rewarded by a Q and A with Vilchez and José Ramírez.

Questions ranged from ‘do you let foreigners take the pilgrimage’ to ‘what are the best ways to support you in your struggle?’ One of the most intriguing responses came from Ramírez as he explained why, according to Huichol thought, nature had bestowed humanity with powerful plants such as peyote.

“It is like food and water.” Said Ramírez, translated into English by Vilchez. “Five days without that and you don’t have energy. Spiritually, it gives you the essence… these are the tools the earth gives us to connect to the essence… to realise that we are all temples, each one of us, we are temples…

“This is the seed of the essence of what is contained in the earth. The plants come from this essence, all the plants of certain use. The bees are carrying pollen and fertilising the flowers and bringing all this mixture of herbal knowledge that is contained in the earth. The peyote and the other sacred medicines are like the essence contained and concentrated. They are very old plants.

We are connectors, antennas between the sky and the earth… for humanity there are no frontiers, we are all one. There are no borders and we all have to check that from our own temple… each one of us is important in this big network.”

Huicholes in London. Source: www.facebook.com/HuicholesTheLastPeyoteGuardians
Huicholes in London. Source: www.facebook.com/HuicholesTheLastPeyoteGuardians

Vilchez and his companions have a few more stops on their UK tour, including a Stonehenge ceremony on Thursday 14 May and a screening in Leeds on Friday 15. For the latest news, see their website, http://huicholesfilm.com/en/ or their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HuicholesTheLastPeyoteGuardians. If you can’t make it to a live event, the documentary is also available to watch online: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/huicholesfilm

Community members affected by the Barro Blanco dam attending a meeting in May 2011. Photo: Richard Arghiris

A dialogue table to discuss the future of the controversial Barro Blanco commenced yesterday (February 20) in Tolé, Panama.

The meeting is being attended by High Level Government Commission, the UN, and representatives from the indigenous Ngäbe communities impacted by dam in the hope that an agreement over the future of project, which is already 90 percent complete, can be reached.

On February 9, the chancellor and vice-president of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, announced that the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) was suspending the construction of the 28 megawatt dam because it had violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
This followed plans announced by the affected communities that they would be blocking the Inter-American Highway during Carnival — the action was abandoned after the government’s announcement.

In a press release, the vice-president stated: “The government will guarantee the respect and rights of the communities as well as legal certainty.”

Absent from the dialogue table was GENISA, the Honduran-owned company responsible for the megaproject. In a press release, the company stated that it had not received an invitation from the government but would like to be part of the discussions.

In 2007, the Panamanian government granted GENISA a concession to construct the dam on the River Tabasará in western Panama. The project will  create a reservoir, inundating 258 hectares of land which will displace six households, a school, and farmland as well as destroying hectares of forest. The communities, who have been struggling to get the project cancelled for years, will also lose the use of the river for fishing.

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Located in Nicaragua’s most remote and disconnected province – the North Atlantic Autonomous Region – the diminutive settlement of Waspam is the centre of the Miskito universe. Perched on the edge of the mighty Rio Coco, the town receives itinerant traders and travellers from villages scattered up and down the river banks. This short video clip, featuring music from Miskito musician Li Lamni, was shot on take-off from Waspam.

Believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec, and Otomi peoples of central Mexico, the Danza de los Voladores is a very ancient ritual dating to the Pre-Classic era of Mesoamerican civilization; a formative phase of development commencing more than 4000 years ago.

It consists of one musician time-keeper and four dancers or ‘flyers’ who ascend a thirty metre pole, tie ropes around their waists, and then spiral back down to earth. In ancient times, participants wore elaborate feathered costumes to resemble eagles or other birds. One myth suggests the ritual originated during times of drought when five men sacrificed themselves to earn the favour of the gods of rain. The present-day version of the danza does not involve sacrifice, has been significantly simplified, and is maintained chiefly by the Totonacs of Veracruz.

Today, metal poles have replaced tree trunks, but the dance remains laden with symbols, including multi-coloured streamers representing rainbows and mirrored hats symbolizing the sun. The rotations of the flyers correspond to ancient calendars (13 rotations x 4 = 52, the number of years in a Mesoamerican century). The dance group featured in this video comes from the Totonac town of Papantla. They perform for tips every day on the plaza in Playa del Carmen.

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Kusapin, Comarca Ngabe Bugle

Large tracks of pristine coastal land in the remote Kusapín district of the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé in western Panama have be sold to foreign developers. An area of biological diversity with verdant forests, white sand beaches, and mangroves, Kusapín is located on the Caribbean coast – in 2004, its wetlands, an important nesting site for turtles, became a national reserve. Ngäbe families have lived on the land for generations, growing crops and fishing out at sea. But now 2100 hectares of land have been sold to developers, including Costa Rican businessman and politician, Antonio Álvarez Desanti. In 1997, after a long struggle, a comarca was awarded to the Ngäbe and the Buglé (a cultural similar but linguistically separate group numbering about 3000). Some 150’000 of the country’s 200’000 Ngäbe live in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé which encompasses 6968 squares kilometres of land, with three regions and seven districts. Land within the Comarca is collective and protected by a law that deems it “unalienable,” but this law has not stopped comarcal land from being sold.

According to an investigative article in one of Panama’s national newspaper, La Prensa, the land was originally acquired through a process of “prescripción adquisitiva de dominio.” This process allows occupants to apply for titles for privately held land if it has been occupied for certain amount of time and the original owner agrees to the titling or their whereabouts is unknown. In Kusapín, the land was bought for just three cents per meter by three lawyers, Evisilda Martinez, her husband Francisco Antonio Castillo and Nisla Janeth Ortega. The land, which consists of eleven fincas, was then titled and sold for millions to eight different companies. According to La Prensa, there were anomalies in the land sales– one issue being that the “prescripción adquisitiva de dominio” process normally takes years but in this case it was unusually fast, taking just a few months. Four of the eleven fincas were sold to Desanti, president of Desarrollo Ecoturístico Cañaveral, for millions although the exact amount is undisclosed. Desarrollo Ecoturístico Cañaveral is investing some 40 million dollars into the 685 acres of beachfront land for a tourism project that will include hotels, condos, and houses and is currently seeking hotel chains and investors.

According to its website “Cañaveral seeks to create a unique natural and cultural destination with a complete awareness of the fragility of our planet’s ecosystems and with the solemn purpose to preserve the cultural diversity of its surrounding communities.” Desanti claims “the whole community consultation process is properly documented by the district authorities.” But local Ngäbe resident Samuel Tugri told La Prensa that the community were outraged and felt deceived. “They said they would make a program to help people, but they really wanted our signatures to sell [the land]. They lied to us and now we have realized this,” he said. Community members also reported that unlike those who had so quickly acquired land titles, they had been attempting to obtain titles for years without success. La Prensa journalist Prieto-Barreiro Ereida claimed that Desanti could be taken to court. Speaking to Costa Rican paper Diario Extra, Desanti said that he bought the land in “good faith” and was unaware of any lawsuit against him. On 27 July, a regional meeting will held in the Kusapín district Comarca to discuss the development project and by the 23 August the community will decide whether to accept or reject it.