domingo, junio 21, 2015

Pollinating the other side of the San Miguel River

Since Polinizaciones stopped being a mobile process it has focused its work in three regions. One of these regions has been visited by only one bee as the other bees have had few opportunities to visit, the Amazonian department of Putumayo, which like all other parts of that river basin, is full of forests, water and life.

Unfortunately the region has long been plagued by illicit coca mono crops (for the non-spiritual, narcotic use), oil, settlers and war; just as the communities in La Guajira and Sierra de Perija where we also develop our activities of Polinizacioness.  Just how like La Guajira is in both Colombia and Venezuela, the Putumayo and Sucumbios Province in the Republic of Ecuador are the same land. In these areas, indigenous peoples, forest, rivers and animals do not recognize borders, but then again, neither does the oil spills, the aerial spraying of glyphosate (which has not stopped), the logging and the military harassment.

Previously, when we have visited Putumayo, we have gone to Puerto Asis and visited our friends of the indigenous Siona community of Nuevo Amanecer (New Sunrise). On this visit we accompanied our friend Subcomandante Chimoltrufia who came with the books that had been collected in Bogota as part of a joint initiative to create a community library for Nuevo Amanecer. There were six boxes of books for children, youth and adults including a set of encyclopedias on animals and Colombian history.

Similarly we saw how the community’s children had advanced in coloring the Plan Colombia poster. We continued to practice the names of the animals in the Siona language while we colored a poster of "Mesoamerica Resists" and then we made turtles from plastic soda bottles. For the next visit we are thinking what other methods can be used in learning Siona Language vocabulary.

After visiting Nuevo Amanecer, we crossed the Putumayo River, passing through the Port of Hong Kong, and we saw communities who live surrounded by oil rigs, open flames (flares); we arrived at the Teteyé crossing on the San Miguel River, arriving at Puerto Nuevo in Sucumbíos, Ecuador. We stayed one night in the capital, Lago Agrio, and from there we proceeded through a deforested area that has been strangled by oil pipelines, just like in Putumayo.

Finally, we reached the mouth of the Bermejo River in the San Miguel River, on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, where the Cofan Community of Avie Kankhe is located. We spent a little over a week in the community, enjoying the relaxing pace of life of our host families in a house built on columns that looks out on these rivers that flow together jointly not mixing their waters of different colors, the dark and crystalline San Miguel river and the Bermejo River as murky and red as the clay soils of the Amazon plain. 

One of our reasons to visit to the Avie Kankhe is an education problem they have due to policies of the Ecuadorian government using standardized education to erase communities’ histories, identities, languages and culture by the imposition of a unified state curriculum, which does not recognize the cultural diversity of indigenous peoples and nationalities, much less understand their value. This violation of the right of autonomy, and, in this case, the right to an education that agrees with their own interests and perspectives, is a setback for indigenous peoples or nationalities that won these rights through decades of struggle, which the Ecuadorian government now ignores and despises.

In the days that we shared with the families in the Avie Kankhe community, we swam in the San Miguel River, we helped to weave the leaves into roofs, clean around the House of Healing built by the community; we fished and walked in the forest. The days and nights passed calmly, with the songs of birds, insects and river water and, only occasionally, was this peace interrupted by the sound of helicopters of the Colombian army flying over Ecuadorian territory and the "Piranha" boats that belong to the Ecuadorian army and patrol the San Miguel River. Only once did we hear an explosion.

The day we met with the community they told us about the educational situation they face. Among the different perspectives present, the concerns were expressed about topics such as their own history, their own language, handicrafts, medicinal plants and music. Based on these concerns we considered how to create a process that meets the communities’ expectations from their own knowledge of their own community.

In this gathering, we made a brief presentation of the Beehive’s banners of Plan Colombia and Mesoamérica Resiste. Because of the brief time we had to share the banners, after speaking for a little bit everyone shared thoughts around how the themes touched upon in the graphics are of great importance for them since it is what is being lived in this territory.

During the sharing of the banners an elder asked us “why we only show animals and no people?” We explained our reasons for not showing people, and gave the local example that many people, specifically elders in different communities would not like seeing a drawing of a Curaca (spiritual leader) with a crown of feathers on display for everyone to see; therefore, by only drawing animals of importance to a particular peoples / nationality with a discrete symbol on their body, we can refer to that nationality / peoples without appropriating their image.

When we return to the community of Avie Kankhe with calm, we can re visit the banners and the themes that impact this territory and the history of this community, as well a project films, being that the community suggested it as an effective method to give more clarity about what happens in the territories of other indigenous peoples and nations.

At the time we did not have the necessary time to adequately share the banners; however, we were able to understand several issues that are visible in the “Plan Colombia” and “Mesoamerica Resists” graphics present in this territory such as oil extraction, militarization, road construction, electricity interconnection and the REDD+ project. Although Ecuador is not part of the Mesoamerica Project, like Colombia, it is a part of the South American version of a similar model of industrial and mining development known as the Initiative for Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA); this shared reality means that the “Mesoamerica Resists” banner is didactic and relevant to the Ecuadorian reality, even if the actual graphic was not created with stories of that particular territory. This is of particular importance considering that Ecuador is among the most advanced countries in the development and implementation of IIRSA.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is a project promoted by the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, as well as various governments, companies and organizations as a strategy to combat pollution sources that contribute to climate crisis; the REDD+ Ecuador is linked to a State project called Socio bosques, or Socio forests.

For many Native people and environmental movements, REDD + is criticized as “CO2olonialization of the Forests” as it promotes the carbon market and the continuation of pollution, the commodification of forests and territories and uses “environmental conservation” as a pretext to impose on indigenous communities and farmers how they can live in their own territory, controlling their daily subsistence related activities, while freely allowing the extraction of oil, metals, timber, oil palm and life itself as is the case with medicinal plants and pharmaceutical corporations, if that is what the State desires.

This monetary view of life promoted by so-called green capitalism is in direct contradiction of the life, culture and world-view of indigenous peoples who inhabit these territories. According to a study by the Ecuadorian environmentalist organization Acción Ecológico (Ecological Action), Socio Bosque is not formally a part of REDD+, but rather it is a precursor that seeks to prepare the territories to enter REDD+ projects.

The Socio Bosque project contract is for 20 years, which is automatically renewed for another 20 years and the community can only exit the project if the Ministry of Environment allows it. The Socio Bosque program has been implemented by the Ecuadorian government and other environmental organization such as Conservation International (CI) and the international aid agency of the US government, USAid are parties thereto. We have already denounced CI in the past as a tool of green capitalism that hides behind a false image of protecting the environment and working hand in hand with local communities.

In Ecuador, CI has a strategic focus on working with environmental services and it collaborates with oil companies that have damaged tropical forests and communities, such as British Petroleum, Shell Oil, Texaco and Chevron. USAID is involved in the region is through its Initiative for Conservation of the Amazon Basin that is also dedicated to the development of markets for environmental services.

USAID has a legacy of supporting processes related to destabilization of governments that are not aligned to the requirements of the US government; for this reason it has been expelled from countries like Bolivia and Venezuela. It is presently working with various indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazonia, specifically the Huaorani, and with another institutional environmental organization, The Nature Conservancy, created the Management Plan for the Cofan Bermejo Ecological Reserve.

In addition to REDD+ and militarization there are also the road projects. The Cascales Canton administration is pushing to build a road in the middle of the Cofán Bermejo Reserve even though the communities there disagree with it and demand a prior environmental impact study that has not yet been carried out.  

Communities know that if a road is constructed in their territory, there will be no way to stop mining or oil extraction or the presence of settlers taking territories and logging trees indiscriminately. The roads bring “progress” and that means the extermination of the forest and the destruction of the territory and the culture for communities, as is evidenced by a number of indigenous communities that have lost their land and culture due to the very deception of “progress” itself.

The history of the Cofán nation / peopleis long and complex; we are just beginning to know it. As bees in a process of pollinating experiences, we hope to continue visiting and sharing with the Avie Kankhe community to contribute our grain of sand in the defense and strengthening of the Aí / Cofán people and territory.

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