The month of August 2023 had auspicious events for the Amazonian Indigenous Peoples. In the first days of the month, the long-awaited Summit of presidents of Amazonian countries that make up the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) was held, that is, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
At the end of this meeting, the Belém Declaration was signed, which has 113 decisive points, in addition to a statement of principles and other general considerations.
The Declaration addresses multiple issues including a large number of them with express references to Indigenous Peoples, their collective rights, the commitment to give them effective participation in decision-making, as well as respect for their ways of life and cultural identities.
By way of example, it is worth remembering that among the principles that the States agreed to, they set:
- a) The active participation and respect and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and of local and traditional communities, with special attention to populations in vulnerable situations; b) The protection and promotion of human rights, of the equality of all persons, without distinction of race or of any other nature and of the combat against all forms of discrimination; c) Gender equality, with the active participation and promotion of the rights of all women, for their empowerment; d) An intercultural and intergenerational approach that promotes recognition, respect for identity and cultural diversity in the Amazon
Among the commitments assumed by the Amazonian States there are several related to Indigenous Peoples, including guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples to territories and lands, their full and effective possession, considering the knowledge and practices of ancestral conservation; also take measures to guarantee the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, in accordance with their national legislation, ILO Convention 169, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in particular protocols of free, prior and informed consultation for indigenous peoples.
There are also specific commitments to guarantee the rights of peoples in isolation or initial contact, as well as to adopt measures to prevent and avoid the negative impacts of infrastructure projects on indigenous and traditional lands and territories and to rescue and value the diversity of practices, traditional, ancestral knowledge, knowledge and practices and worldviews of indigenous peoples and local and traditional communities.
It is important to emphasize that the commitment is also assumed to establish the Amazonian Indigenous Peoples Mechanism, to strengthen and promote dialogue between Governments and Amazonian indigenous peoples for management and coordination on issues that concern indigenous peoples and contribute to the objectives of the ACTO.
Of course, the declaration did not reach agreements on key issues such as the issue of hydrocarbon exploitation and, more than once, what was signed in these types of documents does not have real application. But at the same time, it should be noted that it is difficult to find a similar document signed between several countries that has so many references and commitments in favor of Indigenous Peoples.
A few days later, on August 20, an electoral day took place in Ecuador where the candidates who passed to the second round to achieve the presidency of the country were chosen, but, in addition, two popular consultations were held; one on oil exploitation in the Yasuní National Park and another related to mining in the Andean Chocó. In both cases, the public voted in favor of stopping these activities.
The national consultation on the Yasuní was: “Do you agree that the Ecuadorian government should keep the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini crude, known as Block 43, indefinitely underground?”. The Yes received almost 60% of support, with around 5,300,000 votes. In the case of Chocó, the consultation was local and also here the victory of the si was overwhelming with almost 70% for the four questions that were considered.
The results of the consultations are excellent news for nature and for the Indigenous Peoples of the affected areas, especially for the peoples in voluntary isolation of Yasuni. At the same time, it is a mandatory mandate for the Ecuadorian authorities that they must leave the territories and dismantle the resource exploitation structures already installed.
Taken together, both news (the Belem Declaration and the consultations in Ecuador) are undoubtedly positive developments in favor of the struggles of Indigenous Peoples for their rights, their territories, and the protection of the environment.
As always, the main challenge now is that the agreements and commitments resulting from the opinion of the citizenry are properly fulfilled.