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Indigenous People Across Latin America Protest Spanish 'Genocide'

GUATEMALA CITY - Tens of thousands of indigenous people took to the streets across Latin America on Monday to protest the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's 1492 discovery of the Americas.

A Guatemalan native cries over the death of a demontrator in Guatemala City protesting against the celebration of Columbus Day, in Guatemala City, October 12 Columbus Day is celebrated as the Day of Hispanic Heritage in Latin America, but protesters marked the holiday as a reminder of the atrocities Spanish conquistadors wrought on indigenous people throughout the region.

In Guatemala City, 19-year-old demonstrator Imer Boror was killed and two were wounded as Maya Indians blocked entry points into the capital to protest their government's mining policies.

Protesters were marching on what they called the Day of Dignity and Resistance of the Indian People, protest leader Juana Mulul told AFP, saying the movement "is purely in defense of Mother Earth and our territory."

In a gesture toward reconciliation with indigenous groups, a special roundtable appointed by President Alvaro Colom after the incident was to meet with 14 poor farmers late Monday to discuss their demands.

Aparicio Perez of the Farmers Union Committee (CUC) said representatives would ask the government to annul mining, hydroelectric and cement concessions because "multinational companies are taking over natural resources, which have long been the source of life for rural families."

According to government statistics, 42 percent of Guatemala's 12 million inhabitants are Indians, although some groups put the figure at over 60 percent.

In southwestern Colombia, some 25,000 people set out from several towns and cities in Valle del Cauca department to protest President Alvaro Uribe's environmental policies and his alleged broken promises to their communities.

They planned to join up Friday in a larger demonstration of some 40,000 in the department's capital of Cali.

"We're demonstrating against the degradation of the planet... against President Alvaro Uribe's neglect" of indigenous communities, National Indigenous Organization of Colombia member Feliciano Valencia told reporters.

Indigenous people, who represent three percent of Colombia's 45 million inhabitants, accuse the conservative Uribe administration of failing to enact social programs and release state funds it promised indigenous communities when it came to power in 2002.

They also protested being regular targets of guerrilla, paramilitary and drug trafficking violence, despite their professed neutrality in the country's ongoing internal conflicts.

During an extraordinary session held at the National Pantheon, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a bill proposing a "Day of Indigenous Resistance" to be held throughout South America.

National Assembly Speaker Cilia Flores hailed the event as proof lawmakers were "working with all the people and with a revolutionary government to build a new nation."

At the National Pantheon, where the remains of Venezuelan heroes are buried, dozens of indigenous representatives gathered in a demonstration organized by the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to protest the "genocide of the (Spanish) empire" 500 years ago.

A group of indigenous people kept the Panama-Costa Rica border closed for several hours in the morning at the Sixaola border crossing and later protested in front of the Spanish embassy.

Several thousand native activists were joined by environmentalists, farmers and students for protests across Panama demanding respect for their land rights and rejecting energy projects that "do not respect the autonomy of indigenous people" and cause "forced evictions."

"The arrival of the Spaniards in the Americas in 1492 brought about the destruction of the Indian way of life and broke a series of political and economic institutions that has since driven us into poverty," said Cecilio Guerra before burning a Spanish flag close to the presidential palace.

According to Guerra, over 21 hydroelectric concessions and nine mining projects are affecting indigenous communities.

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