CUSCO, Peru – In a historic effort to unite the Andean peoples, representatives from indigenous organizations in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Guatemala met in Cusco July 15 – 17 in the first Congress of the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations.
The meeting brought together 500 delegates from the Quechua, Kichwa, Aymara, Mapuche and other nations. It was organized by five different indigenous organizations: CONACAMI of Peru, CONAMAQ of Bolivia, ECUARUNARI of Ecuador, ONIC of Colombia and CITEM of the Mapuche Nation of Chile.
The event began with a steep climb through the streets of Cusco to the Incan site of Saqsayhuaman, where spiritual authorities from several nations conducted a despacho, or offering to the Earth.
“We have returned to the house of our grandfathers,” said one authority. “This house belongs to all of you.”
Following the ceremony, delegates gathered in the Paraninfo auditorium in Cusco to listen to a variety of speakers, develop strategy on issues affecting indigenous peoples and choose 10 representatives to the coordinating committee, who will hold office for two years.
The harmful effects of multinational companies and free-trade agreements with the United States on Latin American indigenous peoples were emphasized by speakers at the conference.
“The governments are opening up more and more space to the transnationals, giving them a free ticket,” said elder Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado of the Guambiano people of Colombia. He encouraged the delegates at the conference not to forget “the vulnerable peoples, the nomads and hunter-gatherers” who could not be present at the conference.
He specifically mentioned the U’wa people of Colombia, whose philosophy teaches that oil is the blood of the Earth and without its blood the Earth will die. The U’wa have threatened collective suicide if the Colombian government and multinational oil companies, who have a long history of polluting land in indigenous communities, don’t start acting more responsibly.
Ecuadorian activist Blanca Chancoso called the free trade agreements with the United States a “new colonization.” These agreements open up Latin American markets to North American products and have been criticized as harmful to indigenous communities, which frequently depend on subsistence farming. Other speakers emphasized that indigenous nations are not consulted in free-trade agreements with the United States or in agreements with multinational corporations.
Demonstrations by Ecuador-ian indigenous movements had been instrumental in putting the free trade agreement there “into a coma,” Chancoso said.
“We don’t want the state to give us a hand,” she said. “We want the state to take their hands off us.”
The U.S. Congress began the voting process on a free trade agreement with Peru in late July.
Latin American “unicultural” states had failed and excluded indigenous peoples, several speakers said, and were not exercising real democracy. Drawing inspiration from Evo Morales’ restructuring of Bolivia, representatives spoke of the construction of “plurinational” states and the reconstruction of Tawantinsuyo, or the Incan confederation of four nations which included Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of what are now Argentina and Colombia. The conference was punctuated by shouts in Quechua of causachu tawantinsuyo! (“May Tawantinsuyo live!”)
The desire to reconstruct Tawantinsuyo should not be a return to the past but a way to draw inspiration from the “empire without hunger” that the Incans had, said Peruvian anthropologist Rodrigo Montoya Rojas.
Rodolfo Pocop of the Guatemalan Mayans suggested reviving an economy based on trade. He emphasized the need to “guarantee our own food” by strengthening indigenous systems of agricultural management and resisting gene patenting and manipulation by large corporations.
Mapuche Pablo Mariman decried the criminalization of Indian protests in Latin America. Mapuche prisoners recently ended a hunger strike in Chile, and Mapuche activists at the conference told Indian Country Today that they felt Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was still not following through on her promise to create real dialogue with the Mapuche.
Mariman also urged the Quechuans and Aymarans to respect the reconstruction of Mapuche territory, which was not originally a part of Tawantinsuyo. “We need our differences in order to construct a union,” he said. Several speakers also spoke of the reconstruction of Abayala, a union of Native nations that would extend from Mexico to Chile.
The congress, which also included an evening of dance from different nations, culminated in presentations by working committees and the selection by consensus of two delegates from the five organizations present to a permanent coordinating committee.
A tense and chaotic moment erupted at the end of the conference, when several different organizations presented their own suggestions for political leader and technical leader of the coordinating committee.
But a consensus was eventually reached: Miguel Palacin Quispe, president of CONAMI, was chosen as political president and Vicente Choqueticlla of CONAMAQ as technical president.
At midnight on the final day of the conference, a small group of attendees offered a bouquet of flowers to the memorial of the resistance fighter Tupac Amaru, who was drawn and quartered by the Spanish conquistadores.
The congress closed the following day with another ceremonial offering to the Earth at the Incan site of Ollantaytambo.
Four years of hard work by indigenous leaders had gone into the formation of this new organization, the first transnational Andean movement since the 1980s, according to Quispe. He predicted the organization would create political clout for South American indigenous peoples, representing them at events like the World Social Forums and organizations like the United Nations.
“This event was not only historic for indigenous peoples, but important on a global level,” said Temple University political science professor Jose Antonio Lucero. “The issues discussed here … the power of multinationals, pollution of the Earth … these are not just indigenous issues, but issues that affect all of us.”