Diplomats and representatives of Indian nations from 34 countries are meeting in Washington, DC, to discuss a proposal for the establishment of the American Declaration of Indian Rights, drafted ten years ago by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS).
The proposal has been under discussion for two years. The biggest difficulty is to discover a consensus to resolve the differences among different countries’ laws.
“Everybody has to give a little, and what will emerge in the end is a text that represents the result of negotiation and consensus,” according to the first secretary of the Brazilian OAS delegation, Silvio Albuquerque Silva.
In his view, “Brazil defends progressive positions and, most of the time, avoids conflict with national communities”
One of the most controversial items has to do with land ownership. The Indian communities want to stake claim to resources in both the soil and underground.
But, according to Brazil’s Constitution, Indian lands belong to the federal government.
Indian communities have “permanent occupation rights,” which don’t include underground resources. Brazil is insisting that this expression (“underground rights”) be eliminated from the Declaration.
“We don’t give a hang about a declaration in accordance with the law. We want the law to change,” says Azelene Kaigang, vice-president of the Caucus of Indian Peoples, a council representing Indians from 34 countries that belong to the OAS. For Azelene, “Brazil must change its Constitution.”
From her point of view, the current situation faced by Indians is more or less the same in all Latin American countries. “Historical violation and forced integration is common to all of us,” she states.
The encounter that began on Monday, February 7, ends today. The next stage of negotiations is set for June, in Florida, but the Declaration won’t be ready until 2006.
Translation: David Silberstein