QUEBEC CITY - Indigenous leaders from across the Americas will voice concerns at a regional summit here this weekend over how the planned Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) could affect their traditional communities.
Leaders of the more than 30 million indigenous people from Canada down to Chile worry that the proposed FTAA to be discussed by leaders from 34 countries at the Summit of the Americas here will benefit large corporations, harm the environment, and provide few benefits for them.
Their concerns are summarized in a document issued in late March when some 300 indigenous leaders from the Americas met in Ottawa to underscore their demands for self-determination and control over their own lands, natural resources and cultures.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien -- a firm advocate of the proposed FTAA -- promised to submit the eight-page declaration to the summit.
Indigenous leaders present in Quebec City this weekend were to include representatives from communities in Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Canada and the United States.
A representative of Ecuador's influential Ecuadoran National Indigenous Communities (CONAIE) will be on hand to speak about the impact of the dollarization process in that Andean nation, said Francesca Waltzing, a spokeswoman for the Peoples' Summit of the Americas, an event running parallel to the presidential summit.
One of the highest profile indigenous leaders at the event will be Matthew Coon Come, National Chief of Canada's Assembly of First Nations.
Aboriginal organizations in Latin America have gained strength over the past few years after a long, relative lack of national-level social and political weight.
In Ecuador, a massive protest movement led by the CONAIE -- an umbrella organization of indigenous groups claiming to represent about one third of the country's population -- helped topple the unpopular government of president Jamil Mahuad in January 2000.
And in Mexico, the heavily ethnic Maya Zapatista National Liberation Army rebel group emerged as a vocal opponent to globalization when it rose up in arms in January 1994 to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and press demands on indigenous rights.
NAFTA is aimed at eliminating trade barriers between Canada, Mexico and the United States, and is a precursor to the proposed FTAA.
The Zapatistas now want national legislation approved that would help protect the languages and culture of Mexico's 56 different indigenous ethnic groups, numbering some 10 million people.
The much-maligned globalization process however does have positive aspects, many indigenous leaders acknowledge.
Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, a Maya, acknowledges that increased communication, including on the Internet, has raised increased awareness of indigenous struggles in other countries.
"What we have is indigenous globalization, the globalization of the indigenous people," Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, said at an event in early March.
In the late March Ottawa meeting the indigenous leaders said in their final document that they were "deeply concerned that states continue to dispossess indigenous peoples by privatizing or otherwise transferring our lands and resources, or the rights therein, to government entities, transnational corporations and other third parties without consent."
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