Denouncing Colombus: Indigenous People March in Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua

October 15th, 2021 - by Yahoo News & TRT World & Maxwell Radwin / Mongabay

Bolivia’s Indigenous People March and Call for Human Rights

Yahoo News & TRT World & Maxwell Radwin / Mongabay

 (October 13, 2021) — Demonstrators took to the streets in cities from Bolivia to Argentina on Tuesday to mark the Day of the Race.

It’s a day also called Columbus Day and indigenous protesters were out to rally against what they describe as oppression towards their communities.

People of all ages waved the multicolored Wiphala flag a symbol representing native peoples of the Andes.

Since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, many indigenous communities have decried the discrimination, poverty and displacement of their people.

Protest March (November 13, 2019)

In Argentina, it was about recognising the proud indigenous identity of the country and defending indigenous rights:

“How do we fight the governments to make them understand? By fighting, by generating conscience, by not forgetting our languages, by being in unity and not allowing any community to say: ‘I’m from Bolivia, I’m from Chile, I’m Mapuche, I’m Cochala’. No, we are indigenous people who have our identities in the land where we live and we defend the Pachamama (Mother Earth).”

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro gave a speech demanding that Spain should apologise for killing indigenous people during their conquest and colonial rule in the Americas.

On ‘Colombus Day,’ Venezuelan President Seeks
Spanish Apology over Genocide of Native Peoples

A supporter of President Maduro holds portrait of Simon Bolivar,
during Indigenous Resistance march on October 12, 2021

 Nicolas Maduro Accuses Spanish Empire of
“Murdering, Banishing and Enslaving Millions”

TRT World

(October 12, 2021) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has demanded that Spain’s King Felipe VI apologise for the genocide of the native peoples in America.

“We join the voices that are raised in America to demand that the King of Spain rectify, reflect and apologise to Latin America and the Caribbean for the 300-year genocide against indigenous peoples,” Maduro said.

The Venezuelan leader criticised Spain’s celebration on October 12 of Dia de la Hispanidad, or Hispanic Day, a national holiday in Spain that commemorates the date when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas in 1492.

According to Maduro, it represents an “immense offense to the memory of the men and women they murdered.”

“More than 500 years ago, the Spanish empire killed, banished and enslaved millions of indigenous people. They came here to invade, colonise and massacre our grandfathers and grandmothers. Spain must rectify and apologise to all of America,” the head of state said on Twitter.

Maduro said he will send a letter to the King of Spain to “reflect” on the events that marked colonialism and genocide in Latin America and stressed that “Spain also has a good, glorious, heroic history of struggle against colonialism, against vassalage,” so it should understand.

People in various Latin American countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador took to the streets on Tuesday to demand the vindication of the rights of indigenous peoples who suffered at the hands of European settlers.

Maduro welcomed the mobilisations to commemorate the Day of Indigenous Resistance in Venezuela.

“In the streets of Caracas, a clear message was given: these lands will never again be anyone’s colony,” he said.

It is not the first time that a Latin American leader has demanded an apology from Spain.

In 2019, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent a letter to Spain’s King Felipe VI and Pope Francis asking them to apologise for human rights abuses committed during the conquest of the region 500 years ago.

The Spanish government at the time released a statement saying it “firmly rejected” the assertion.

Environmental Defenders in Nicaragua Denounce
Government Crackdown as Elections Loom

Maxwell Radwin / Mongabay

(October 13, 2021) — There is a sacred hill in Nicaragua known as Kiwakumbaih, where the ancestors of the Indigenous Mayangna people would go to hold important annual events. To this day, it continues to be a popular site for weddings, funerals, debates and festivals.

But this year, Kiwakumbaih became the site of a massacre.

More than a dozen Mayangna and Miskito had gathered on the hill one afternoon when a group of armed men approached with guns and machetes. They raped several of the women, according to community members who asked to remain anonymous. The armed men put their gun barrels in people’s mouths and fired, execution-style, and hanged others from trees.

Between nine and 13 people were killed in what the government has called an “inter-ethnic” conflict between Indigenous communities, but which residents say was actually carried out by colonos, or colonists, who have been forcing their way onto protected territory for years. The country’s media noted this was not the first time that colonos had killed locals at Kiwakumbaih, although it had never been on this scale.

Family members of the victims have called for a more thorough investigation into the Aug. 23 massacre. They say they want to locate the remains of loved ones and carry out a proper burial.

But investigating land-grabbing disputes has become even more complicated in 2021. The government is arresting critics of President Daniel Ortega and escalating police force ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for November.

“We are in a state of censorship,” María*, an environmental defender, told Mongabay. “The rights of freedom of expression are not guaranteed, so there is a lot of fear in the communities to file complaints.”

Ortega, who has held office since 2007, after previously ruling from 1979 to 1990, has passed several laws this year to further empower his office. His government has carried out arrests of activistsjournalists and candidates running against him. The charges, which include treason, inciting hatred, and conspiracy to overthrow the government, have sparked an international outcry against Ortega.

Equally concerning to the international community, more than 50 NGOs have been shuttered, 45 of them in August. One group in northeastern Nicaragua, which asked to remain anonymous, hasn’t been shut down yet but did receive a strongly worded letter condemning its activities. It was also sent to the NGO’s international partners.

Nicaragua’s Ministry of Government did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comment about accusations of repression.

Nicaraguan President daniel Ortega.

Earlier this month, local activist Osmin* told Mongabay in an interview that authorities arbitrarily detained and questioned him, then confiscated his passport. Other environmental defenders have left their organizations or stopped showing up to their offices, Osmin said, out of concern that they will be persecuted. Some offices have been closed, but only temporarily.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we stop documenting cases.”

Osmin said that every election cycle brings on a new wave of colonos to protected areas, especially the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. The 2-million-hectare (4.9-million-acre) area sits on the border of Honduras’s Patuka National Park, Tawahka Biological Reserve and Río Plátano Biological Reserve, which together make up the largest protected forest in Central America.

The reserve also sits next to Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Zone, which the 1987 Constitution established to facilitate self-government, land ownership and protection of language and culture for the area’s Indigenous communities. Despite these concessions, the government has steadily undermined the area’s autonomy by granting large-scale mining contracts to international companies.

The area’s economic potential has attracted people from other parts of Nicaragua who are looking to take advantage of artisanal mining and illegal cattle ranching. Over the years, Mongabay has reported on large sections of cleared forest appearing in the reserve, as well as polluted rivers. Mercury used in mineral extraction has contaminated the fish that many residents still rely on for food, María told Mongabay.

Now that the government is shifting some of its law enforcement presence from rural areas to the cities, even more colonos are entering the area uncontested.

“There is a concentration of security focused on the electoral process,” said Amaru Ruiz, head of Fundación Del Río, an organization that monitors land invasions and environmental issues in Nicaragua’s reserves and autonomous zones. “There aren’t as many people to carry out patrols, and that has obviously escalated the conflict.”

A month after the massacre at Kiwakumbaih hill, two colonos allegedly shot an Indigenous resident of the Sangnilaya community in Twi Yahbra because he refused to sell them cigarettes on credit, according to María.

“We are not going to continue tolerating the criminalization, assassinations and territorial dispossession that has occurred in our territory,” the Mayagna Sauni As territorial government said in a statement this month. “We will not allow them to drive our extinction.”

*The names and genders of environmental defenders have been changed to protect their identities.

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