The Multinational Monitor


I N D I G E N O U S   P E O P L E S

What Is "Progress?"

The native delegates attending the Washington conference issued a press statement on October 15, summarizing many of their concerns. What follows are excerpts from their closing statement.

We are here today to talk about progress and to attempt to provide an answer, a response to a question that our peoples often ask: What does progress mean to the indigenous people of the world?

We ask you to consider for instance, the case of 22 native nations of Guatemala. An event of great significance is occurring to the Mayan people of Guatemala, an event that has yet to be properly recognized by the western press.

Not since the holocaust committed against the Jewish people by the Nazi militarists has the world been subjected to the kind of war of extermination - of genocide - that is taking place in that Central American country.

We heard about the murders and disappearances, the total war of repression by the Guatemalan government National Security Forces against their own civilian population.

Along with our Mayan brothers and sisters we ask the media people here gathered: Why are the Indian people of Guatemala increasingly the most targeted for military aggression?

Why do the military-industrial families of Guatemala want the highland Indian lands?

Why does the American government, the so-called watchdog of the "free" world support a government that is committing genocide?

Is this the meaning of "progress" for the native peoples?

We heard this week from the native peoples of Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, the Philippines, Aborigines of the continent currently called Australia, North American Indians, and Natives from the Pacific.

The major tension relating to the indigenous question of Brazil is the non-definition of land ownership. We urge the Brazilian authorities to take the necessary steps to immediately demarcate Indian lands which are the bases for survival of these populations. We urge them yet to give full protection to Indian lands that are continuously being threatened by invasions often with the complicity of politicians, and big land owners.

Other indigenous groups are suffering, like those on the Island of Timor, where an estimated 20 - 50% of the population have been exterminated, as reported by their closest relatives in attendance, since the situation there is more inaccessible to the press than even in Central America and Brazil.

What did the testimony reflect?

Throughout it all, it can be safely said, there was reflected the meaning of "progress" to native peoples.

Progress in the form of: huge hydro-electric projects including the damming of whole river systems, many cases of traditional territories, especially hunting, fishing, and agricultural lands targeted for flooding:

Progress in the form of: again, huge mining and logging operations encroaching on native lands without regard to land titles, rights of occupancy, much less local cultural or economic or social needs.

Progress in the form of: large single-crop agribusiness concerns that use up huge tracts of native lands for the growing of export crops, such as bananas, pineapples, to sell to the population of industrialized societies, while the lands of the native peoples are continually reduced, their populations are crowded into ever-diminishing parcels of land, and they are then blamed for causing their own misery through over- population.

We state that the aboriginal nations of the world are enduring conditions which must properly be termed genocide.

Genocide. A key word, one that should cause the world to pause. On the international level, on the species level, the equivalent of murder.

This week, too, much of the testimony we heard was focused on the role played in this process by the modern institution known as the multinational corporation.

In Guatemala, specifically, we would point out a variety of multinational corporations, including 190 U.S. based ones, representing a total current investment of over $300 million, control a large percentage of the Guatemala countryside.

These corporations, among them United Brands Corporation, an offspring of the United Fruit Company which during the 1950's came to own two thirds of all arable land in Guatemala, work in close partnership with the Guatemalan military government, as almost everywhere else in the world. When the U.S. State Department speaks about protecting American interests in Central America, it means protecting the interests of these companies.

A careful study of these multinationals will reveal that they are to be found operating on the lands of almost all indigenous nations and that, in contemporary times, they are the very definition of "progress" to native communities.

To conclude:

We, the indigenous people, are concerned with upholding the humanity of mankind. We are offended by the fact that basic rights of peoples are ignored by nation states of the world, and that the victims of these abuses are most often the indigenous peoples.

All peoples should be guaranteed basic rights to a continued existence. The governments of the world do not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to continue to exist as peoples, and this fact leads to the most horrible crimes which when committed with the complicity of governments are called violations of human rights. These crimes include tortures, disappearances, assassinations, imprisonment for political purposes, arson, planned starvation, and the theft of land.

Must it be this way? We ask. Must the Aboriginal peoples of the world be annihilated?

Is the meaning of "progress" for native peoples inevitably genocide?

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