"SOS Amazon": 1st action of Amazon tribes, sending message "Wake Up, World!" at 2009 World Social Forum in Brazil
BELÉM, Brazil, Jan 27 (IPS) - A human banner made up of more than 1,000 people, seen and photographed from the air, sent the message "SOS Amazon" to the world, in the first action taken by indigenous people hours before the opening in northern Brazil on Tuesday of the 2009 World Social Forum (WSF).
The mass message reflects "our concern about global warming, whose impact we will be the first to feel, although we, the peoples of the Amazon, have protected and cared for the forests," Francisco Avelino Batista, an Apurinán Indian from the Purus river valley in the Brazilian Amazon, told IPS.
"We are raising our voices as a wake-up call to the world, especially the rich countries that are hastening its destruction," said Edmundo Omoré, a member of the Xavante indigenous community from the west-central state of Mato Grosso on the border between the Amazon region and the Cerrado, a vast savannah region in the center of the country.
Both men belong to the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), which joined the Quito-based Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) to create their "message from the heart of the Amazon."
Nearly 1,300 indigenous people from about 50 countries, although mainly from Brazil, plan to raise the issues of their rights as original peoples and environmental preservation at this year’s edition of the WSF, which runs through Sunday in Belém, a city of 1.4 million people and the northeastern gateway to the Amazon.
Indigenous people have participated in the WSF in previous years, but this time a much larger presence was sought. The aim was for 2,000 to take part, but transport costs and financial difficulties prevented many participants from coming from other countries and from remote areas within Brazil itself. In addition to indigenous groups, original peoples at the WSF include Quilombolas (members of communities of Afro-Brazilian descendants of escaped slaves) and other native peoples.
The key location chosen for the WSF, and the various global crises that are occurring, have created "a special moment" for original peoples to take a leading role, according to Roberto Espinoza, an adviser to the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI).
"A crisis of civilization" is under way, said Espinoza, who described the serious economic, energy and food problems, as well as climate change, as part of the same phenomenon. In this situation, indigenous people should have political participation as of right, not "as folklore or as a merely cultural contribution," Espinoza, one of the coordinators of the indigenous peoples' presence at the WSF, told IPS.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the United Nations General Assembly, is of paramount importance here, he said. It should not be seen as a "utopian" document; rather, its provisions should be binding, like those of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.
Espinoza said he hoped this WSF would produce an agreement for global demonstrations similar to those held in 2003 against the United States' invasion of Iraq.
This time around, the goal would be to mobilize "in defense of Mother Earth and against the commercialization of life," added to specific causes championed by each nation, such as the fight against hydroelectric power stations in Brazil that flood vast areas of Amazon rainforest and displace riverbank dwellers, he said.
Photos courtesy of AFP/Getty, Reuters, Stephen Ferry / Liaison / Getty Images, and Corbis
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