Mexico: Indigenous people file complaint with Special Rapporteur alleging TransCanada pipeline project violated their rights
The Council of Indigenous Peoples in Defense of the Territory of Puebla and Hidalgo filed a complaint with the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations Organization in which they explain how the pipeline construction project may be violating their rights to land and territory, to free, prior and informed consultation and to the environment. In their complaint they have exposed possible acts of corruption and violence against the communities. The complete allegations are only available in Spanish here
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited TransCanada to respond. The company did not respond.
Published on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre on June 27, 2018
By Amanda Coletta
For more than two decades, Canada’s crime rate has been steadily declining. And since hitting an all-time high in 2012, Canada’s incarceration rate is slowly trending downward, too.
But a report released June 19 from Statistics Canada, the country’s national statistics agency, paints a grim picture of a trend that has for decades bedeviled politicians and that was earlier this month described as “unacceptable” by the chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court: the increasing overrepresentation of indigenous people behind bars.
The report shows that while indigenous people account for roughly 5 percent of Canada’s total population, they represented 27 percent of its prison population in 2016-2017 — an increase of 8 percentage points over the previous decade.
By Laura Notess
Ten years ago, the Cambodian government granted 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of land to a Thai company to plant sugarcane. But this land was not empty.
Six hundred families were already living on it, growing rice and vegetables and foraging food and other goods from the nearby community forest. Over the next few years, the company cut down more than half the forest. While conducting evictions, staff and security forces looted rice fields and demolished or burned more than 300 homes. Many people lost their land and all their belongings. Parents sent their children to work in Thailand, unable to farm and afford school fees.
Villagers are trying to recover some of their losses through a class action lawsuit. But even if they are successful, it will provide little remedy for the felled forests, destroyed homes and disruption of community life.
By Ashifa Kassam
As a child, Sharon McIvor spent her days roaming her grandmother’s First Nations community deep in British Columbia, learning to fish, harvest sap and pick berries, as the Nlaka’pamux Nation had done for millennia.
When the time came to teach those skills to her grandchildren, however, more than a century of gender discrimination stood in her way.
For nearly 150 years, legislation stipulating who the Canadian government officially recognises as First Nations has discriminated against women, making it more difficult for them to hold status and pass it to their descendants.
“We’re the only group in Canada that has got legislated discrimination still active, alive and well,” said McIvor.
Early versions of the Indian Act – the 1876 colonial-era legislation that attempts to wrangle Canada’s more than 600 First Nations bands into a bureaucratic category – defined First Nations as “a male Indian, the wife of a male Indian or the child of a male Indian”.
Campaigners have long challenged this definition, managing to chip away at some of the inequality.
But today – in a country with a prime minister who proclaims himself a feminist and whose government has sought to usher in feminist foreign policy around the world – the law still continues to discriminate.
Campaigners say the repercussions of that discrimination range from the denial of services and rights to a crisis in which as many as 4,000 indigenous women in Canada have gone missing or been murdered.
McIvor was not entitled to indigenous status because she had married a non-indigenous man. A 1985 change to the act eventually allowed her and her children to gain status – but prevented her from passing it to her grandchildren.
Without status, McIvor wasn’t able to live on reserve land and was excluded from hunting, gathering and fishing as well as traditional marriage, funeral and healing ceremonies.
In contrast, her brother – twice married to non-indigenous women – was able to pass his status to his children and grandchildren.
“What I lost was my community, and what I lost was my ability to feel like I belonged,” said McIvor.
She and her descendants also had no claims to the tax breaks, healthcare and education benefits accessed by some First Nations.
She began what a decades-long fight for equality, using her training as a lawyer to pursue the issue in court. Her case joined a string of others that in recent years have sought to tackle the sex discrimination in the legislation.
Last year, it finally seemed that equality was imminent, after Canada’s senate unanimously passed a legislative amendment. After initially balking at the idea, the federal government – led by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau – eventually approved the provisions.
But no timeline has been set for thee changes, and the government now says that it must first consult with First Nations and other indigenous groups.
“There’s no way that anybody in the world should be consulting with somebody on whether or not they should continue to discriminate,” said McIvor.
Campaigners acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns over issues such as access to resources for the country’s 1.6 million indigenous peoples, but they express concerns that the consultations are being used to further delay equality.
“What we’re getting is words – nice words – but no action,” said Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. “How could this still be happening with a government that is committed to women’s equality and that has said it’s interested in a new nation-to-nation relationship?”
Previous comments from the government hint at concerns over the costs involved. A recent report from the country’s parliamentary budget officer estimated that around 260,000 people would actually register if equality was granted – which could cost the government more than C$400m a year in health and education benefits.
Several United Nations bodies have drawn a direct line between sexual discrimination in the Indian Act and Canada’s crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
In a 2015 report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights cited the Indian Act as “an important factor in understanding the persistence of unequal treatment and stereotyping of indigenous women, which in turn continue to place indigenous women at an increased risk for multiple forms of violence”.
The push for change comes amid a wider conversation on replacing the Indian Act with the indigenous self-government and self-determination. But as long as the act endures, it must treat men and women equally, said Day.
“When the federal government is talking about forging a new nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, it seems critical that the pool of people with whom the new relationship is being forged not be distorted by colonial-era sex discrimination.”
In an email to the Guardian, the federal ministry responsible for the Indian Act said officials are working with First Nations communities and other partners to design consultations on eliminating the remaining sex-based discrimination in the act. The ministry declined to detail their timeline.
After more than two decades of litigation, McIvor’s grandchildren are now entitled to status but – unlike her brother’s grandchildren – will not be able to pass this to successive generations.
So her battle for equality continues.
“What I lost was a big piece of me, of who I am and how I was recognised. My people saw me as not one of them,” she said.
“People say it’s about getting your medical and your dental and your education. It has very little to do with that,” she said. “It’s the recognition that I belong to this group of people. That they recognise me as belonging – and I recognise them. That was lost.”
Published on The Guardian on April 19, 2018
In her opening remarks to the Forum in New York, the chairperson, Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, a medical doctor from Timbuktu, Mali, called the land husbandry of Aboriginal peoples “part of our history and heritage.”
But few countries have acted to defend these peoples’ collective rights, she added.
“Law enforcement is inadequate or non-existent, and other elements of Legislation goes against these rights,” she said. Measures necessary to give meaning to land rights, such as tenure delimitation and allocating title deeds, are often not implemented.
Moreover, she continued, those who defend indigenous rights continue to be targeted when they raise their voices – particularly when States or private actors seek their resources for aggressive development such as logging.
“As long as our rights over our lands, territories and resources are not recognized,” she added, indigenous people risk falling far short of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“In the same way,” she said, “the world risks losing the fight against climate change and the destruction of the environment.”
UN for all peoples
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák reminded everyone “The United Nations is here for people. And that includes indigenous people.”
“But we cannot yet say that this Organization has opened its doors wide enough,” he said. “And so, we need to be more ambitious.”
Mr. Lajčák, of Slovakia painted a grim picture of the situation facing indigenous people today, pointing out that while they make up only five per cent of the world’s population, they comprise 15 per cent of the world’s poorest people.
“That is shocking,” he said, adding that their human rights are being violated, they are being excluded and marginalized and face violence for asserting their basic rights.
Focusing on the theme of indigenous land, territories and resources, he said: “Indigenous people are being dispossessed. They are losing the lands their ancestors called home.”
But with global attention to indigenous rights on the rise, Mr. Lajčák saw reasons for hope, as well.
“The signs do look positive,” he said, noting that the UN teams on the ground are developing stronger partnerships, determined to make these communities stronger.
“We should be hopeful. But we cannot ignore the very real, and very serious, challenges. They cast a shadow over the future of many indigenous communities. And they demand our urgent attention,” he said.
When Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, spoke, he explained how for 500 years the indigenous people of America have waged a resistance campaign to defend their dignity and identity.
“We are all descendants of Mother Earth, so we are all brothers and sisters,” he underscored.
The annual Forum, the seventeenth, opened to a ceremonial cultural performance and a traditional welcome by Todadaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, located in New York.
Established in 2000, the forum provides expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the UN’s Economic and Social Council as well as to specialized agencies that work on issues like development, agriculture, environmental protection and human rights.
Published on UN News on April 16, 2018
Over 30 years after their displacement, the Batwa people is still largely landless and many Twas find themselves having to re-create settlements in the forests. The article below highlights the harsh conditions of living and the consequences of climate change on the indigenous peoples of Uganda, who are for instance severely hit by malaria outbreaks since they were expelled from the areas where they used to live. In order to counter these negative effects, global strategy Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) could represent hope for the country’s indigenous. In the framework of REDD the Batwa, among others, could see their conditions of living improve thanks to the development by Uganda of a national strategy to fight deforestation and forest degradation.
This article was originally published by New Vision:
Three decades after being displaced, the Batwa and Benets also known as indigenous people are still landless. Today, climate change has created benefits to keepers of forests. Will the indigenous people benefit from this initiative?
“I had never suffered from malaria until we were evicted from Mt. Elgon,” said Batya Moya, an elder among the Benets at Suam in Bukwo district near the Uganda-Kenya border. “We have been hit below the belt by malaria outbreaks.”
Moya said they have become landless and that repeated promises by the Government to resettle Batya and thousands of his colleagues have not been fulfilled.
This is repeated at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south western Uganda where Batwa, a group of endangered pygmies gave up their ancestral homeland-the forest for the sake of conservation. The Batwa have been wallowing in misery in attempt to live outside the forest.
Although displaced 30 years ago, Batwa and Benets are the latest victims of conservation Africa. More than half a Century ago, swathes of rangelands such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, Katonga Wildlife reserve, Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park were grazing lands for pastoralist communities such as the Basongora, Bahima in western Uganda and Karimojongs in north eastern Uganda.
The pastoralists’ grounds were gazetted as protected areas where Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is in charge and the pastoralists are seen as encroachers when they stray into the national parks or wildlife reserves.
Apart from Batwa, Benets, the pastoralists are also referred to as indigenous people as they have a culture that is distinct from the rest of the tribes in Uganda.
In addition to conservation, the indigenous communities are also facing impacts such as malaria which is related to the changing temperature broadly known as climate change.
The climate change phenomenon refers to seasonal changes over a long period with respect to growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is blamed for the receding glaciers on Mountain Rwenzori, Uganda’s changing seasons, droughts and floods are some of the effects of climate change.
According to reports, providing a solution to climate change is part of the global agenda since it important for the formation of natural ecological systems as well as human economies and civilizations.
Recent studies have shown that human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution – manifested in fossil fuel consumption for power generation, land deforestation for agriculture, and urban expansion – have contributed to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by as much as 40%, leading to global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described climate change as “inevitable” in view of the numerous changes observed in the temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, and sea ice, in addition to some extensive changes in the climate cycle over the course of the 20th century.
The IPCC report also points out that the most vulnerable people will be hit hardest by climate change. The Batwa and Benets who were forest dwelling people became displaced more than three decades to pave way for creation of protected areas, according to Nathan Makuregye, the deputy executive director at Pro-Biodiversity.
According to Samuel Cheptoris, the Minister of Water and Environment, a fresh initiative that could help to enhance conservation and also increase forest cover also referred as Carbon sinks has come through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
This is a global climate change effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, encouraging creation of policy approaches and positive incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands.
Uganda is developing a national strategy for addressing deforestation and forest degradation thus enabling the country to benefit from the REDD+ strategy.
As part of the preparations to implement the strategy, a study was conducted to build the capacity of indigenous people to actively participate in both preparation and implementation phases of the REDD+ process.
The researchers led by Gertrude Kenyange, a private consultant discovered that the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is not yet domesticated by Uganda. In addition, the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989 is yet to be ratified by Uganda.
When it comes to the National Tree Planting, the Forestry Committees have never been established since the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act came into force.
Also the study realizes that the Tree Fund has never been established more than 10 years after the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act came into force.
The National Forestry and Tree Planting Act does not assign any specific responsibility to local governments in the management of central forest reserves and does not provide for effective participation of Indigenous people, according to the report of the researchers.
It only calls for Collaborative Forest Management between Government and Associations of people residing near the forest, but these communities are not ideally indigenous persons. Because of education levels, neglect and non-inclusion it is always very hard for indigenous people to organize themselves in to formal associations legally binding enough to be able to enter into agreement with government for Collaborative Management of forest resources. If these gaps are not addressed, they will affect the implementation of the REDD+ strategy and participation of Indigenous people, according to the report.
The study conducted by Kenyange also noted that potential conflict over management of climate finance (including REDD+ funds) by different government agencies with conflicting institutional mandates. This is likely to frustrate the participation of indigenous people including Batya in the implementation of the national REDD+ strategy.
Published on UNPO on April 17, 2018
By Karla Mendes
Brazil’s highest court has averted a “massacre” by blocking the eviction of 5,000 indigenous people from disputed land, one of their leaders said, in a ruling that boosted ancestral claims.
Guarani-Kaiowa Indians occupied the land in the southwestern Mato Grosso do Sul state in 2016, amid rising violence and tensions following Indian affairs agency FUNAI’s pledge to return ancestral land - owned by farmers - to indigenous people.
“We were expecting a new Caarapo massacre,” indigenous leader Kunumi Apyka’i Rory said, referring to a 2016 attack on indigenous activists by farmers in the same region.
“It would be a bloodshed but because of Nhanderu and our prayers we managed,” he said in a statement by Conselho Indigenista Missionario (Cimi), a monitoring group linked to the Catholic Church.
South America’s largest country is grappling with scores of deadly unresolved indigenous land issues, in one of the world’s clearest examples of the conflict between preserving indigenous culture and promoting economic development.
Cimi says hundreds of indigenous people are killed each year in territorial conflicts with ranchers in Brazil, rich in land to be exploited and low on deeds and property records.
Brazil’s highest court on Monday overturned a removal order issued in 2016 by a lower court, following a request from FUNAI, the government agency responsible for restoring indigenous people to land that they were evicted from decades ago.
The use of police force to comply with the earlier legal order could have “serious and unacceptable consequences” and “risk to order and public safety”, Carmen Lucia, head of the supreme court, wrote in her decision.
“This scenario seems to show a risk of exacerbation between the parties in conflict and a consequent worsening situation of violence in the region,” she said.
Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people - who are disproportionately impacted by poverty and other social problems - control about 13 percent of its territory, mostly in the remote Amazon rainforest.
Numerous court battles pit native people, who say they have been denied access to their ancestral land, against powerful business interests, often soy, beef and sugar farmers holding title deeds.
The process of demarcating land to indigenous people is controversial, despite safeguards in the constitution and United Nations guidelines that are supposed to enshrine rights for indigenous people.
FUNAI is in charge of allocating land to the country’s some 300 indigenous tribes but progress has stalled amid budget cuts and proposals from powerful rural lawmakers to change the process, including opening up indigenous reserves to mining.
The Supreme Court decision paves the way for secure land demarcation for indigenous peoples throughout the country, said Rafael Modesto dos Santos, a lawyer with Cimi.
“It guarantees the indigenous people’s lives and physical integrity,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“(Otherwise) there would be a massacre, that is no doubt ... because 5,000 indigenous people with no possibility of defense (would) confront the government apparatus of war.”
Dos Santos said most land conflicts in Mato Grosso do Sul state derive from the illegal sale of indigenous land by the local government to ranchers, and the subsequent issuance of illegal titles over the last century.
A spokeswoman for the government of Mato Grosso do Sul, Beatricce Bruno, denied the accusations in emailed comments and said that it has always respected the law and court decisions.
Conflict over indigenous land in the state “is an old problem ... due to the lack of a secure legal framework”, she said.
The supreme court’s emergency decision to prevent the evictions will allow the Guarani-Kaiowa to remain on the land until the court issues a final decision on its ownership, which could take up to 10 years, dos Santos said.
Published on Reuters on April 11, 2018
by Lalini Pedris
Dwarfed both in size and fame by the Amazon rainforest, the Gran Chaco, South America’s second largest vegetation complex, is a diverse mix of thorny dry forest and palm savannahs stretching across the far reaches of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. It is home to over 150 mammalian species, including the giant armadillo and giant anteater (both currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species).
The Gran Chaco is also home to roughly 250,000 indigenous people, stemming from around twenty different ethnic groups, who are embroiled in a bitter battle to lay claim to their ancestral forested lands – before they disappear.
Mapping deforestation and the Gran Chaco Americano
The forests and savannahs of the geographically diverse Gran Chaco Americano have been suffering a largely silent extinction – until recently.
Advanced mapping technology is bringing the Chaco into the spotlight. Indigenous groups are digitally mapping their territories in an effort to protect their forests from the encroachment of cattle ranching and soy farming, which threaten both wildlife and indigenous livelihoods.
In Paraguay, a game-changer for indigenous communities has been Tierras Indígenas(TI), an interactive map and online platform launched by Paraguay’s Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas/Federation for the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples (FAPI) on November 28, 2017.
The TI platform combines Global Forest Watch’s digital Map Builder software and data and expertise from both Global Forest Watch (GFW) and thirteen different indigenous groups, the platform enables interested groups to map the extent and legal status of their lands and resources.
The Map Builder tool allows users to use the GFW data and tools to create their own interactive digital map using specified data layers and personalized styling, which can be shared over social media and submitted to the map gallery.
The software builds on GFW’s extensive data and tools to document land use change and deforestation, using interactive layers to display tree cover, land use types by industry, and other aspects of forest change on a global scale. By accessing these tools, TI users can view forest change (deforestation, forest growth, and reforestation) in particular areas within the Gran Chaco region, as well as land claims made to those areas.
Linking indigenous land rights and environmental welfare
Research shows how “tenure-secure” indigenous lands demonstrate lower rates of deforestation and can forestall conflict by demonstrating established land claims.
“Where indigenous people have rights to their land, they’re really good stewards of that land,” said Ryan Sarsfield, Latin America Commodities Manager with Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute. “Our research in the Amazon Basin shows that average annual deforestation rates are two to three times lower within documented indigenous forests than on similar lands that are not formally recognized by the state.”
Sarsfield described in an email the “really dynamic” changes in land use in Paraguay over the last couple of decades. “There’s been an expansion of soybeans in the east, and then movement towards expansion of cattle in the west, in the Chaco region,” he said. “And that has resulted in an explosion of deforestation, explosion of the cattle industry, a lot of which is going for export. And in the process, there’s been a lot of expansion of cleared areas within existing ranches and a lot of buying and selling of ranches, and indigenous people have been pushing back for their land rights in many of these places.”
According to Don Hipólito Acevei, President of FAPI, the groups collected tribal lands data through a series of internal coordination meetings.
“We contracted, thanks to the support of USAID and WRI, experts in GIS, who received copies of the titles and plans of the communities’ insured lands,” Acevei told Mongabay. “In the case of indigenous communities with claims procedures, their members brought copies of their efforts where the data on the property claimed were stipulated. The work was carried out through coordination of the platform…by FAPI, but with the participation of several indigenous organizations, also civil society organizations and international NGOs…” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Sarsfield and Acevei described how collaboration and standardization using clear protocols, precise data, and participatory management were key to making the smartphone-accessible map.
“The platform cannot guarantee the validity of regional territorial rights,” Acevei explained, “but I think it can serve as an inspiration so that the information is used to connect us with other [indigenous] peoples, since the borders of the countries are dividing the peoples. The people know where their ancestral territories are located, and through the platform they can see the location of the lands they have [already] legalized and they lands they claim. This information is also of vital importance for the State and for regional and local governments.” (Quote translated from Spanish.)
While several of Paraguay’s indigenous groups have taken to the courts to challenge forced displacement from their homes by cattle ranching and agricultural development, there is hope that the process of mapping territorial claims using the Tierras Indígenas platform would prevent transgressions from happening in the first place.
The interactive platform informs not only indigenous community members about their territorial rights, but also members of the government and the private sector. It is publicly accessible, which means that companies and government institutions can review land claims prior to launching prospective activities in the region.
“If land is accurately represented,” Sarsfield noted, “or at least the confusion around titling is represented, and indigenous people are better able to defend their claims and be transparent about their claims, there’s going to be better outcomes for indigenous people and for stewardship of the environment that they carry out.”
It’s still too early to analyze the effects of the Tierras Indígenas platform on forest conservation. But the project has already helped to establish transparency and legitimacy for indigenous land claims and has helped to increase visibility and community development for indigenous groups.
According to Acevei, “[The project] has impacted [indigenous communities] very positively because there was no map of indigenous communities that could show secured and claimed indigenous lands. The communities are [now] visible, and so are their rights. Also, companies and other actors will be able to show and talk about possible projects that can impact the lives of communities.” (This quote has been translated from Spanish by the author.)
“We had groups in the private sector who developed risk models for Paraguay, and they wanted to be able to fit the data into their risk models as part of their sourcing criteria,” Sarsfield said. “There was a pre-existing demand for data that could be used for those in the private sector who really are making an effort to avoid conflict involved in indigenous lands. That data’s already in their hands, and we filled that need by having the data available in the first place.”
One of the challenges of implementing the platform, according to Sarsfield, was being able to accurately and precisely display disputed land claims so that users – from government officials to corporations and members of civil society – could accurately interpret its status. The platform, launched in November 2017, is being continuously updated with new data.
Conserving the Chaco
When asked about how the platform can contribute to the conservation of the Gran Chaco ecoregion, Acevei replied, “The biggest challenge is how to protect the territories and their resources in a space where land use change for economic activity is being planned. For this reason, the real importance of indigenous lands to maintain forests and their resources is demonstrated through the platform. And you can also see where they are claiming lands to be legalized by the State as soon as possible, because it is a human right of indigenous communities.” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Published on Mongabay on March 26, 2018
By Peter Prengaman
Women cook over a dozen little open fires, while men lie on hammocks inside an adjoining building and naked children with distended bellies and dirty faces run around the shelter for indigenous Warao who have fled Venezuela's troubles.
Opened late last year with a capacity for housing about 250 people, the former warehouse in this Brazilian town now has upward of 500, and more are arriving daily. With no more space for hammocks, people are sleeping on the concrete floor.
Health workers scramble to identify children with measles — one in the shelter died this month — and address severe malnutrition and myriad other medical issues.
"All Venezuelans arriving here are in a precarious situation," said Luis Fernando Peres, one of the lead volunteers with Fraternity International Humanitarian Federation, one of the groups working at the shelter. "The Warao are arriving in even worse shape."
As Brazilian authorities scramble to accommodate tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelans crossing the country's northern border to escape their homeland's economic collapse and political unrest, the indigenous Warao are emerging as their biggest challenge.
Traditionally poor and marginalized in Venezuela, the Warao are arriving with even more health problems than other Venezuelans. Those health needs, combined with cultural and linguistic differences, mean authorities have no choice but to set up shelters just for them — and hope they can return to their home lands in Venezuela as integrating them into Brazilian society doesn't appear realistic.
Many Warao have little education and at best a shaky grasp on Spanish, which at least is related to the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. They will stay only with other Warao because they have so much distrust of "criollos," a term they use to refer to non-indigenous Venezuelans.
"We could never be with criollos because you don't know what could happen," said Teolinda Moralera, a 40-year-old Warao woman cooking chicken over a fire.
"The life of Warao is all about Warao," added Moralera, who came to the shelter two weeks ago with her husband and children, ages 15, 18, 20 and 23.
Authorities in Pacaraima, a hardscrabble dusty border town in the middle of the Amazon region, say the Warao began crossing into the region in 2016, a full year before tens of thousands of non-indigenous Venezuelans began arriving.
The "boat people," as their name denotes in the Warao language, have lived for centuries in the Orinoco Delta in northeastern Venezuela, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Pacaraima.
Over the last several decades, fish supplies declined in their home territory as major rivers have been diverted and deepened for shipping, pushing many to migrate to Venezuelan cities to sell crafts and beg. When Venezuela fell into crisis, an already precarious situation was exacerbated.
Many of those interviewed said the Venezuela's socialist government led by President Nicolas Maduro abandoned them to the point that there were no services or food in areas where they lived.
"The Warao were always poor. With Maduro, we got even poorer," said Sumilde Gonzalez, 40, who came to the shelter with her husband and two young children.
The first arrivals in Pacaraima lived on the streets and begged, refusing to go to shelters with non-indigenous people. They had few work prospects. Many who could, traveled south to Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, or east to the city of Belem. There, as in Pacaraima, many live on the street, beg and sell handicrafts in the other cities.
Marcio Coelho, coordinator of the Pacaraima shelter, said a Warao-only shelter was the only way to get them off the streets.
"The city had no way to accommodate them," he said.
One possibility being floated is to designate a piece of land for Warao. The federal government has just announced plans to build a "base of support." The head of the government's National Indian Foundation has begun meeting with Warao leaders and with several groups indigenous to Brazil's Roraima state.
But it's unclear whether any of the Brazilian indigenous peoples would be willing to cede some of their land. In a statement, the foundation said the base would be temporary and the army would oversee it. No other details were given, and follow-up emails and calls seeking details were not answered.
While shelters are an improvement, they will work only as long as the government and volunteers continue to provide everything.
The local residents' frustration with the Warao, and the onslaught of Venezuelans in general, is palpable.
Pacaraima, which only has 11,000 people and is surrounded by indigenous lands, has many dirt roads and essentially exists to cater to travelers crossing the border both ways.
Around the corner from the shelter, Evaldo de Souza Rocha runs a fish market. He said Warao are always asking for water and dig through the trash at night, to the point that he now has locks on the cans. Some wood he had outside his house, which he planned to use for a project, disappeared one morning.
"It's a small thing, but it matters," he said, adding that he suspects the wood was burned in the open fires at the shelter.
Lizardi Reinosa, 23-year-old Warao who arrived with his younger brother a few months ago, said his attempts to find work are always met with a firm "no." In Pacaraima, many young locals earn a few dollars a day unloading cargo trucks.
"They tell me they will only give jobs to Brazilians, not Warao," said Reinosa, who on a recent day walked the town with dozens of other young men hoping to find a place for a pickup soccer game.
"Get to work, Warao!" a passing driver yelled at them.
Despite the difficulties and an uncertain future, many Warao say they are happy to be in Brazil, even going so far as to call the shelter a "paradise" compared to what they left behind.
One of those is Beodilio Zapata, a 23-year-old who recently arrived with his wife and severely malnourished sons, ages 1 and 2.
"Venezuela is misery," he said, as the boys, naked and with large bellies and blotchy spots on their heads from malnutrition, climbed on him. "Everybody who is there wants to come here."
Published on Tampa Bay Times on March 27, 2018
By Daniela Muñoz and Tim Gaynor
A joint registration campaign by Costa Rica and Panama is helping thousands of Ngäbe-Buglé at risk of statelessness to gain access to health care and education.
“I was two months pregnant when I started feeling bad, I couldn’t walk or anything,” recalls the 23-year-old, who, it emerged, had undiagnosed leukaemia that put her life in grave danger.
“From one day to the next … I couldn’t eat, I was fainting and I couldn’t even walk … I was stick-thin.”
Teresa is a member of the Ngäbe-Buglé community, a traditional indigenous people whose lands are in present-day Costa Rica and Panama in Central America.
Born in Panama, where her birth was unregistered, she had been living in neighbouring Costa Rica without documents since her family crossed the border to pick coffee when she was just 14. Weaker by the day, she did not have access to the medical care she urgently needed, but fortunately help was at hand.
An outreach team working to ensure indigenous families who span the border do not slip through the welfare net had contacted Teresa. They established she needed her Panamanian nationality to be verified and a case worker helped her obtain the documentation.
“They came to the house and helped me with the paperwork,” she says. Granted permanent resident status in Costa Rica, she was swiftly enrolled in the national health care system and treated at a hospital in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.
After a bone-marrow transplant and course of chemotherapy, Teresa is back at home with her son, now aged two, and her extended family.
About a quarter of a million Ngäbe-Buglé members live in northwest Panama, of whom an estimated 15,000 cross the border informally to work during the coffee harvest in southern Costa Rica.
Teresa is one of thousands of indigenous people helped by the drive by the Costa Rican Civil Registry Office and its Panamanian counterpart, supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Outreach workers for the drive – known locally as the ‘Chiriticos Project’ – set out on motorcycles, in cars and sometimes on foot to remote areas on either side of the border where Ngäbe-Buglé families work as migrant coffee pickers in the rich agricultural uplands.
Since its beginnings in 2014, project workers have contacted more than 19,370 people. While most were found to have Panamanian or Costa Rican citizenship, they identified and assisted more than 3,600 individuals at risk of statelessness because they were not registered in either country.
“There were so many children without the right to health care, education or an identity,” says Eduardo Salazar, a Costa Rican official who heads the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s civil registry in San Vito, which held its seventh outreach push in late 2017.
The project was intended to give them legal status by registering them in Costa Rica or Panama, so that they had access to services on one side of the border or the other, he adds.
Indigenous people have suffered generational poverty, and high rates of infant mortality and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, health officials say.
To make them part of national life, the two governments are issuing birth certificates after the fact, sometimes using documentation such as vaccination certificates, to establish an individual’s identity.
“In Teresa’s case, registration saved her life,” says Dr. Pablo Ortiz, the former director of health in the region, who has worked with indigenous groups for more than three decades.
The programme is also vitally important to allow children to register in schools, progress through the education system, enjoy labour rights once they start to work and exercise their right to vote, Salazar and Ortiz say.
“If they don’t get these papers, they can’t get school documentation and, later, grants to continue their education. They also miss out on a programme to help those of limited resources get a deposit for a house. They get left at the margins.”
The registration drive, in its fourth year, is also helping to build trust with indigenous people, many of whom, like agricultural worker Norberto Andrade, have spent their lives on the margins. Before he received his Costa Rican identity documents, the 27-year-old says he felt “like a stray dog”.
“You had to hide yourself, in case the police asked you questions,” he says, chatting in a tin-roofed shack at a coffee farm where we he works, a few miles from the Panamanian border. “But now I have the documents, I feel free. I’ve got papers to show for work.”
He has hopes for his two daughters, aged one and three, who have birth certificates. “They were born here and they now have a future here. They can go to school, get an education and progress in life, become important people.”
His father, Don Martin Andrade, is also pleased at the opportunities that have opened up for him, his children and grandchildren, since they received their ID papers.
“They have given us a vote … we are in the electoral register,” he says, adding that he plans to vote in the next election.
There are at least 10 million people around the world who have no nationality and consequently face a lifetime of obstacles and disappointments. Salazar believes the cooperative approach adopted in the Costa Rican-Panamanian borderlands could be applied in other countries.
“All it costs is a motorbike and some fuel,” he says. “The spirit of the project could be applied anywhere. We are talking about a problem of identification, of the risk of statelessness. There are ways of tackling this problem in a systematic way.”
Published on UNHCR on January 29, 2018