Indigenous Peoples and Globalisation
According to two researchers at Cepal, and contrary to the assertions of the radical left, globalisation and the opening of markets in Latin America do not necessarily lead to the disappearance of indigenous communities and culture.
Globalisation opens opportunities to ethnic communities that are denied by the strict borders of Nation States and creates a greater possibility for communication and alliance, according to the experts Eduardo Bascuña and John W. Durston.
Commercial treaties in the context of globalisation and the new conditions that these treaties create for the self-development of indigenous peoples are the topics of a study completed by Bascuñan and Durston and published by Cepal (The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean).
This study addresses the trend, which began in Chiapas Mexico in the 1990's, of indigenous movements in situations of conflict utilising the worldwide information resources of the Internet to establish networks of information and alliances.
The "net of nets" allows the Mapuche organisations in Chile and Argentina to analyse first hand, via information shared by the protagonists themselves, the indigenous mobilisations that in January overthrew President Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador.
In turn, it allows other indigenous groups in the region to sympathise with the Mapuches of southern Chile in their protests against logging companies or the Ralco hydroelectric plant, and it incites actions of solidarity on the part of a vast network of non-governmental organisations in America and Europe.
Globalisation implies the redistribution of wealth via forms of investment that are often seen as aggressive by aboriginal communities, who see not only their lands but also their cultural and environmental inheritance threatened by mining, fishing, logging or energy projects.
For indigenous rights activists in Spain, "Columbus' three ships" in the new age of business conquest are the electric company Endesa in Chile, the oil company Repsol in Argentina and the telecommunications company Telefónica, which has investments in various countries throughout the region.
According to Bacuñan and Durston, the economy is generally the most visible and controversial face of globalisation - one which suggests specific requirements for commercial treaties in order to regulate their impact on the environment, employment, culture, and other areas.
But in Chile, the Mapuche Center for Human Rights, which has its base in Tirúa, some 700 kilometers to the south of Santiago, maintains that universalisation should be more than an economic process and that an international resistance, capable of controlling and evaluating the cultural effects of this process, should also exist.
The organisation, which is directed by Evangalina Faundez, Iván Carilao, Luis Llanquilef and José Ñanco, states that in Chile "the banks and the transnational companies govern" and that the diversity needed for an "effective universalisation of cultures that share the same territory" does not exist.
The center suggests fighting for indigenous rights through a strategy of "civil society in movement" and revives the "tradition of prudence, good sense, and wisdom" inherited from the Mapuche ancestors as a way to inspire communities.
Examples like that of this Mapuche center are increasing throughout the American continent, thanks to indigenous resistance to the negative impacts of globalisation, as much in the economic arena as in the realms of the environment, culture and the preservation of identity.
These responses vary, but one interesting development detected by Bascuñan and Durston is that in some cases, such as that of the Mayas in Guatemala, the defense of identity is no longer based on external traits, but on the system of values that has been inherited from one's ancestors.
Globalisation, as a cultural phenomenon, causes changes in the external expressions of a society, such as clothing or language, but ethnic minorities often use these external expressions as a way to reinforce their separate identity, "in contrast to the diverse indigenous identities encouraged by the foreigners."
According to this study by Cepal, the fact that internationalisation of the economy overpowers the old structure of the Nation State, which has been an agent of oppression for ethnic minorities, is one of the crucial factors for indigenous communities.
The presence and distribution of the Mayan population in Mexico and Central America, of the Quechua communities in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, of the Aymaras in Bolivia and Chile, of the Mapuches in Argentina and Chile, have nothing to do with the national borders which arose during colonisation or during the independence movements.
One of the most notable aspects of the new state of ethnic affairs in Latin America, is the ability of indigenous communities to access and use the communication resources that globalisation has provided as a means to defend themselves against the effects of this same phenomenon.
The construction of international alliances allows groups in Latin America to learn from the experiences of ethnic groups in the United States and Canada who have been able to exercise environmental pressures against the logging and fishing companies, say the authors.
In Mexico, Mazahua women have developed their own organisational practices and "an apprenticeship in speech and dialogue" in order to negotiate with authorities, while the Cunas in Panama create their own "ethno-cultural" tourism businesses and the Shuar in Ecuador defend the environment in their fight against the petroleum companies.