San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ministry to Consider Indigenous Proposals

THE Ministry of Environment andEnergy (MINAE) plans to analyze recommendationsfrom a recent internationalconference on the role of indigenousgroups in forest conservation “during thefirst days of January,” according tospokesman Gilberto Lewis.Lewis, the ministry’s liaison during theplanning of the conference, held Dec. 6-10in San José, told The Tico Times last weekthat indigenous groups have the ministry’s“total support.”“Our government is very well disposedto adopting the recommendations ofindigenous groups,” he said.Regarding the Declaration of Ochomogo,a document denouncing the CostaRican government for allowing abuses ofindigenous rights that indigenous leadershere said they submitted to the ministry onthe final day of the conference, Lewis saidhe had not heard of it being received andthere is no official response yet.LEADERS at the conference, whichbrought together indigenous leaders andconservation experts from all over theworld to discuss the role of indigenousgroups in forest conservation efforts (TT,Dec. 10), agreed the five days of meetingsproduced a new sense of internationalunity for participants.“We’re a single package. We won’t besold piece by piece,” said RobertoEspinoza, a technical advisor to indigenousgroups in Peru, at the conference.“We have one common agenda, one commonposition.”Esperanza Colop, of Guatemala’sMaya Quiché people, agreed.“We’ve realized our problems, such asdeforestation, aren’t just national, but universal,”she said.Costa Rican representative Pablo Sivarsaid the international presence in San Josébrought a welcome increase in local attentionand press coverage for indigenousconcerns.“May Costa Rica know there areindigenous peoples, that we’re here, andthat we’re in the struggle,” he said.THE leaders assembled for the conferenceproduced the Corobicí Declaration, astatement that will form part of the agendaat the Fifth Forum of the United NationsPermanent Forum on Forests, May 2005 inGeneva, Switzerland.“By strengthening indigenous peoples’roles through effective participation inareas such as forest management and sustainabledevelopment, indigenous peoplescan contribute significantly to a sustainablefuture for all of humanity,” the statementreads.The declaration condemns the destructionof indigenous lands, the “lack of politicalwill of nation states” to protect indigenousfreedoms and the negative impact offree-trade agreements on the environment.Ricardo Carrere, director of the WorldForest Movement, said he has seen casesof companies patenting a natural resourceindigenous people have used for centuries.In India, for example, a company patenteda tree used as a natural insecticide byindigenous people, who then had to pay tocontinue a practice they themselves invented,he said.Espinoza said in addition to theCorobicí Declaration, the conference producedat least 70 proposals, including callsfor governments to stop the removal ofindigenous peoples from their lands andthe destruction of forests by mining andhydroelectric projects.According to Colop, another proposaldeals with the creation of indigenous studiesprograms at universities. In Guatemala,the founding of a Maya-run university wasannounced last week (TT, Dec. 17).THE conference’s recommendationswill be considered at the Fourth Forum ofthe U.N. Permanent Forum on IndigenousIssues, scheduled for May in New YorkCity. The primary focus of the meeting willbe the application of the U.N.’s MilleniumDevelopment Goals, which include plansfor dramatic reductions in poverty andimprovements to education, among otherissues, to indigenous groups.The slowness of U.N. member states torespond to the recommendations of theforum is another sore spot for participantsin the San José conference.The forum began drafting a declarationon the rights of indigenous peoples in1985. A draft was presented to the UnitedNations in 1994, and in 1995, the U.N.Human Rights Commission formed an“open-ended inter-sessional workinggroup,” composed of representatives frommember states and indigenous organizations.Deliberations are still under way. ForEspinoza, this is a major failure.“THE declaration has been finishedfor 10 years. Ten years!” he said, as Sivarnodded beside him. “The United States,China, France and Brazil have opposed thedeclaration’s approval. For the indigenouspopulation, the conversation finished 10years ago.”According to a statement on the U.N.Web site (, the declarationwould be “the most comprehensive statementof the rights of indigenous peoplesever developed.” The declaration wouldnot be legally binding on states but would“carry considerable moral force.”COSTA Rican indigenous groups usedthe conference as an opportunity to presenttheir concerns to the government here.The Declaration of Ochomogo, producedduring a preparatory meeting ofCosta Rican indigenous leaders inNovember, denounces indigenous rightsabuses including the proposal by the CostaRican Electricity Institute (ICE) to useindigenous lands for a massive hydroelectricdam in Boruca, in the country’sSouthern Zone. The controversial projectwould displace members of the Borucaindigenous group (TT, Feb. 30).While the government’s officialresponse to the declaration remainsunknown, one thing is certain: CostaRica’s moment as the international headquartersfor indigenous conservationefforts is far from over.Next year, the international secretariatof the International Alliance of Indigenousand Tribal Peoples of the Tropical RainForest, one of the organizing bodies of thismonth’s conference, will move fromThailand to Costa Rica and remain hereuntil 2007.

Comments are closed.