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Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples 

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Arrival in Dallas, and it is a beautiful sunny day outside. I have a six-hour layover, and I dream of going to a park to relax and enjoy life. But I am trapped in a modern industrial wasteland. There are no green spaces, and no public transit to take me some place where I might find some refugee. In this car dependent culture, I cannot even walk outside from one terminal to another. The only option the information desk manages to offer is to go through security into the airport where there are stores, restaurants, and the like. Nothing for those of us just looking for fresh air during a break in a trip.

Somehow I’ve gotten way behind on events of the last couple days, so here is a quick recap:

Thursday, March 29

I travel back to Tecpan with the Hemispheric Council meeting of the Americas Social Forum (ASF). My first days had beautiful clear blue skies, but now it is cloudy. We try to point out the volcanos to Luciano, but everything is clouded in. Víctor tells us that one in ten buses is robbed in Guatemala. That seems to be an impossibly high statistic. Víctor says that he has been robbed three times. On average, 26 people are killed every day. At this rate, Víctor says, Guatemala is quickly surpassing the 200,000 people killed in the 1980s genocide. The level of violence is such that I never feel as if I can relax.

We arrive in Tecpan and I thought we would meet at Iximché, the site of the Indigenous summit. Instead, we stop at a hotel by the Panamerican Highway for our morning meeting. We begin to discuss details of the next ASF. Magdalena lays out the current status of the organizational plan. The forum is planned for next June, but exact dates and location have still not been determined. There is concern that meeting too near other events would diminish attendance. We decide to continue discussions informally and virtually, and to try to reach an agreement in the next month.

After lunch, we travel up to Iximché for the presentation of the final conclusions of the Indigenous summit. One representative from each of the 24 countries present is given three minutes to make specific and concrete proposals. Instead, most take advantage of the time to make long rhetoric declarations. The moderator is caught in a thankless and increasingly hostile position of trying to reign people in. Only two women speak for their countries. An Aymara woman keeps getting skipped over in the line because a Quechua man from Bolivia has already spoken. Finally, at the end, she insists on having her say.

Several specific proposals are laid out, including to establish regional coordinating committees in Central and North America, and to set up a Continental Coordinating Body to continue the work of coordinating Indigenous struggles. Delegates then decide to hold the next Indigenous summit on the border of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in 2009. The coordinating committee is planned to be based in Chile to help organize the event. Blanca Chancoso then reads the Declaration of Iximché. It is a strong statement that condemns Bush’s militaristic and imperialistic policies, and calls for respect for human rights, territory, and self-determination. Several delegates make proposals for additional points, such as the decriminalization of coca leaves, and the declaration is approved.

I had originally planned to spend the night in Tecpan and return to Guatemala City the next morning with the rest of the delegates from the Cumbre. The ASF meetings, however, will continue the next morning at Hotel San Carlos in the city and I am convinced to return with the group. On the way, the group decides to take a detour to Antigua for supper. I am exhausted and fall asleep in the van, and can hardly keep myself up through dinner. It later becomes a joke that I got drunk on a 7-Up.

Friday, March 30

In the morning, we continue our discussions of the ASF, and specifically support for the United States Social Forum (USSF) that will be held in Atlanta at the end of June. The Hemispheric Council is dedicated to supporting the Atlanta forum. We then continue with discussions of a plan of action for the next ASF.

In the afternoon we join the Indigenous march to Guatemala City’s main plaza. I don’t think I’ve been here since 1985 when I accompanied a GAM march. At that time, sharp shooters were positioned on top of the national palace. This time, I don’t notice any.

Delegates present the final revised version of the Declaration of Iximché. Organizers had hoped that Evo Morales, Bolivia’s Indigenous president, would be present, but pressing issues kept him close to home. Instead, he sent a letter declaring his support for the process underway at the summit. Representatives from various organizations made statements, closing with Ma Los Angeles and Francisca greeting the summit in the name of the ASF.

In the dimming light, organizers launch three hot air balloons. As people disperse, people dance in a circle as the summit’s theme song blasts on the sound system. An almost full moon hangs over the national palace. The week-long summit ends on a high note. The meeting seems to have built a lot of positive energy.

Saturday, March 31

On these extra days, I am always torn. Do I take advantage of the free time to write up reports so that my life is not so crazy on my return home? Or do I take advantage of time in country to do things that I could not otherwise have done? My original plan was to go to Antigua, but we had already gone there Thursday nite and I feared that I would just get bored hanging out there all day with not much to do. Susan and I had talked about climbing the Agua volcano, but in the end she had other commitments and when it appeared that it would be cloudy on Saturday I didn’t that option. Saturday, however, dawned bright and beautiful, and I kicked myself for not being on the volcano. I could still go to Antigua, but the hassle and danger didn’t seem to make it worth it. Instead, I stayed in the hotel’s garden to catch up on email. I went to Guatemala City’s central market for a bit, but it was anti-climatic. Having traveled so much, the handcrafts hardly seem novel any more and all the venders were clearly businesses not operating in a fair trade model. I then had lunch with Diego, and then spent the rest of the day in the hotel catching up on more email. And so the day was over, and I seemed to have little to show for it...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ASF Hemispheric Council

I left Tecpan early this morning to come to Guatemala City for the Hemispheric Council meeting of the Americas Social Forum (ASF). I came with the mother in the family where I am staying who makes the 2-hr trip every day to work in the city. I don’t know how she does it. Because of highway robberies, the trip has a reputation for being dangerous. She was constantly crossing herself all the way. The stress of the travel and all that gave me a nice big migraine. But I got here without a problem.

We spent the day in the San Carlos Hotel in the council meeting. We began with an analysis of our current political realities (coyuntura), and then discussed our participation in the WSF in Nairobi in January. In the afternoon, we reviewed the WSF proposals for the next two years and how we fit into those plans. One issue is where to have the 2009 forum, and how that fits into plans to hold the ASF in Guatemala next June.

Tomorrow we’re traveling back out to Tecpan to spend the day at the Indigenous Summit. I plan to spend tomorrow nite back there, and then come back in to Guatemala City with the summit group for a march and rally on Friday. My plan right now is to stay here at this hotel Friday and Saturday nites, and to spend Saturday during the day in Antigua. We’re close to the airport here (and right next to the U.S. embassy!), which makes it convenient to leave early Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Territory, Natural Resources, and Indigenous Peoples

This morning we continued our discussions with a second plenary panel Territory, Natural Resources, and Indigenous Peoples. Moderator Rodolfo Pocop began the discussion with the observation that we need a new word for term "resources" because it reflects a mercantilist concept. He suggested using instead "mother earth" because if we don't live in harmony with the earth we will not have life.

The panelists followed up on this concept. We should not talk about land but territory because it is a much broader term that includes everything--land, air, water, petroleum, gas, etc. The mother earth cannot stand the exploitation any more. Following along with these symbolism, we must take care of the earth as our mother so that it can continue to provide a future for its children. This led to calls to drink water and boycott Coca-Cola. Pocop summarized the panel as a call to defend life, and pointed to ideas such as a Coke boycott as a very practical rather than theoretical idea.

This afternoon we're gathered in a series of work groups on a series of themes (land, autonomy, cosmology, women, etc.). Tomorrow morning there is a third panel on "Democracy: Nation-State and Indigenous Governments," but I will miss this because I am going to Guatemala City for a Hemispheric Council meeting of the Americas Social Forum.

Indigenous peoples in America and Nation States

Yesterday afternoon we started with a panel "Indigenous peoples in America and Nation States." Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj from Guatemala pointed to a gap between an Indigenous political understanding and technical skills, especially those in economics and international law, necessary to achieve those visions.

Bolivia's foreign relations minister David Choquehuanca argued that we should not rebuild current states, but dream and create new ones. Our minds are colonized, he stated, but not our hearts. It is time to listen to our hearts, because this is what builds resistance. Development plans look for a better life, but this results in inequality. Indigenous peoples, instead, look to how to live well (vivir bien). We have thought about two lines of those, capitalism with a profit margin vs. socialism with a material focus on man. For Indigenous peoples, man is not the most important, but life. We look for a culture of life.

In the discussion period, of the first 10 speakers only one was a woman who called for parity, noting that men always dominate these conversations. We need equalibrium, the woman from Peru stated, both individually and collectively. Irma added there are no recipes for success; we need to make up our own alternatives.

Spiritual Ceremony

Every morning we start with a spiritual ceremony that rotates among different groups. This morning it was the turn for those from the north.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Photos from Indigneous Summit

Lighting of the Sacred Fire


The Indigenous Summit started with an inaugural panel, starting with the local mayor welcoming is to Iximché. Blanca Chancoso from the Continental Council made a call for Indigenous peoples to be treated as citizens and members of a democracy. She rejected war making, militarization, and free trade pacts. Our world is not for sale, she declared. Bush is not welcome here. We want, instead, people who support life. Yes to life. Imperialism and capitalism has left us with a historic debt, and they owe us for this debt. People are creating alternatives.

The Bolivian foreign minister, speaking in the name of president Evo Morales, declared that we have to protect sacred places, and move according to natural laws. Today Bolivia is in charge or recuperating its natural resources. We want to get rid of the rotten system and construct alternative powers.

Joel Suárez from the Americas Social Forum then announced that the Third Americas Social Forum will be held in Guatemala in 2008, and that to be successful it needs an Indigenous and female face. He called on the Indigenous Summit to support the ASF. The ASF hemispheric council is meeting in Guatemala this week as well.


Arrived last nite in Guatemala. Before leaving I never did find out whether there would be transporation to th Cumbre, so instead I arranged to be taken to the San Carlos Hotel where the Americas Social Forum Hemispheric Council is meeting later this week. As it turned out, people were waiting to take me to the Cumbre but the Hotel San Carlos people were no where to be found. They say it is dangerous to travel at nite, so they have us a police escort. The ironies. My registration was all screwed up, but they put me in a home stay anyway. Now I'm registered as press, which gives access to Internet on site.

We woke up early this morning to come to Iximche where apparently the event will be held. The event started with a Maya religious ceremony, and then breakfast. Meetings are starting soon. The sun is shining brightly, and the weather is eternally springlike.

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