Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

Amazonian Indigenous Views on the State: A Place for Corporate Social Responsibility?

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

Amazonian Indigenous Views on the State: A Place for Corporate Social Responsibility?

Article excerpt


Shortly after dinner on November 16, 1532, Father Vicente de Valverde, chaplain to Francisco de Pizzaro, explained to their Inca host Atahualpa that he must pay tribute in gold and silver to God, through King Charles IV of Spain. (2) The Inca responded to this circuitous logic with a series of well-reasoned questions. (3) Instead of answering, the Spanish assemblage leapt from their seats, attacked their hosts, and stole the Incas' wealth. From that point on, argues Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, the possibility of a genuine multi-ethnic dialogue with indigenous peoples of Latin America has remained permanently quagmired in asymmetry. (4) The sovereign state and the interests it represents, he argues, now dominate the debate. (5)

While genuine multi-ethnic dialogue remains quagmired, it may not permanently be so. Some recent Amazonian indigenous responses to the impact of oil development and the distribution of its spoils from the Amazon--far more complex, illogical, and circuitous than Spanish tribute--illustrate a resurgence of dialogue, which is a requisite for the foundational human right to self-determination in modern democracies. (6) In turn, the states' responses invite new approaches for corporate social responsibility by international oil companies, now the states' latter day conquistadors, handsomely paid to explore and fill the sovereign's treasuries. (7)

When this five-century leap from initial contact lands on the platforms of oil development in the Upper Amazon, it illustrates many of the human rights aspirations and dilemmas of indigenous peoples. From the late 1980s to the present, indigenous leaders of the Andean/Amazonian region sound like students of Jurgen Habermas when he argues that "political participation and communication ... do not guarantee freedom from external compulsion, but guarantee the possibility of participating in a common practice, through which citizens can make themselves into what they want to be--politically responsible subjects of a community of free and equal citizens." (8)

While environmental degradation, crime, and economic abuse continue to plague native peoples of the Upper Amazon, their responses and their respondents have changed considerably. (9) External advocates, from Fray Bartolome de Las Casas to Amnesty International to OXFAM, would be and still are welcomed. (10) Indigenous people, however, now often speak for themselves. Their messages, though sometimes coded in complex local metaphors, are generally clear and their messengers often pass along to new formalized national human rights avenues or into international arenas, examples of which include the Organization of American States (OAS) and the World Bank, both of which are currently drafting specific indigenous rights declarations or policy papers. The United Nations, which passed its historic Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007, and the International Labor Organization's 1989 Convention number 169, concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries offer other avenues for protections. (11)

In these new times and settings, indigenous peoples and their organizations no longer voice pleas solely to stop killings, desist from seizing land and natural resources, end forced relocation, or cease cultural denigration. (12) While such violations and prescriptive denunciations persist, there are also new demands calling for states to fulfill their obligations to give power and voice so that indigenous peoples can realize their prescriptive rights and positive freedoms. (13) High on the list are demands for inclusive and effective political and economic participation without loss of identity. (14) Indigenous peoples now seek to engage democratic states as members of civil society, not simply to repel violations by states or agent's of the state. (15) Meanwhile, international treaties and formal commissions now support and emphasize state obligations to advance the realization of the participatory rights. …

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