11
Feb
2005

U.S. snubbed over Indian rights issue

FYI.

Carrie Dann


Posted on Wed, Feb. 09, 2005

ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES

U.S. snubbed over Indian rights issue

Indian leaders from Latin America boycotted a U.S. reception to protest a U.S. stand on the rights of indigenous peoples.

BY PABLO BACHELET

pbachelet@herald.com

WASHINGTON - John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, raised his glass to propose a toast. He wanted to ''welcome and honor'' the participants of an OAS conference on indigenous rights in the Americas.

The United States was hosting a reception for about 150 indigenous representatives from the Western Hemisphere who are in Washington this week for a fifth round of negotiations on an Inter-American Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But most of the indigenous leaders had purposefully skipped the event Monday night to protest Washington's position on the declaration, giving the cavernous foyer of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian an especially empty feel.

`WE ARE NOT HAPPY'

''A boycott at the U.S. reception was our way of saying that we are not happy with the position taken by the United States,'' said Azelene Kaingaing, a Brazilian indigenous leader and vice president of the Americas Indian caucus.

U.S. officials insisted that the boycott had little impact and that the reception was still a success. They said that about 300 people were invited and that more than 250 attended.

''We didn't notice anything, of a large group of people not being there,'' said Olwyn Staples, the spokeswoman for the U.S. OAS delegation.

The OAS declaration, if it comes to pass, would be a historic document.

For the first time, it would enshrine the rights of the 40 million indigenous people in the hemisphere and perhaps set a legal precedent for Indians elsewhere.

Unconcerned with the boycott, Maisto said in his welcome speech that the U.S. government was ''proud of its long-standing commitment to tribal sovereignty.'' He also quoted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during her confirmation hearing that the Bush administration was ``concerned about the indigenous peoples . . . trying to find their rightful place in a political and economic system.''

WORDING OPPOSED

Earlier Monday, as the delegates from 34 countries discussed draft language for the declaration, U.S. officials had objected to proposed language that Indians have a ''right to live in harmony with the environment.'' Kaingaing said that is a ``defining characteristic that makes our people different.''

But the United States, considering the wording vague, put forward language on harmful contaminants and procedures to correct them. As no agreement was reached, the delegations decided to move on to other sections of the declaration.

But the boycott of the U.S. reception also reflected just how the talks, which started in 2003, have become a grinding affair for one of the OAS's most ambitious initiatives.

''Sometimes in a negotiation, you go slow and then you have a breakthrough,'' Maisto told journalists at the reception. ``We're working very hard.''

The U.S. government isn't the only one being difficult, said Juan Le?n, a Guatemalan diplomat of Indian origin. Many Latin American nations worry that giving indigenous groups too much, such as the right to rule their lands, could open the doors to autonomy or even independence movements.

TOUGH ISSUES REMAIN

Even what appears to be mundane semantics can stall talks at times. For months, negotiators discussed whether it was a declaration for indigenous ''peoples'' or for ``populations.''

And the two sides haven't even begun to tackle some of the stickiest issues, like the territorial rights of Indians. ''There are indigenous peoples who want absolute control over that territory, where the Indian authorities would be in charge,'' Le?n said.

//www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/10851098.htm?1c
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