Indians, Environmentalists Meet PERU: RAIN FOREST CONSERVATION

By Mark R. Day, | The Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 1990 | Go to article overview

Indians, Environmentalists Meet PERU: RAIN FOREST CONSERVATION


Mark R. Day,, The Christian Science Monitor


NEAR the outskirts of this sweltering city on the banks of the Amazon River, buzz saws scream as they cut through fresh cedar trees. But only a short distance away, monkeys frolic in the lush rain forest and tribesmen hunt their prey with spears.

Environmentalists worry about the future of this jungle, but a historic encounter here between ecologists and indigenous leaders may help slow down the pace of destruction by loggers, oil companies, and other developers.

At a recent conference, 17 environmental organizations including the World Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network met with Indian representatives from the Council of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) Nations.

At the May 9-11 meeting, the two groups - whose aims to preserve the forest have at times seemed at odds - formed a coalition to issue the "Iquitos Declaration," which recognizes the claims of indigenous peoples to own and manage their own territories.

"This alliance is without precedent and encourages us," says COICA president Evaristo Nugkuag, an Aguaruna Indian from Peru. COICA represents 1.1 million indigenous people. "We simply have to come together to defend the Amazon or we will lose it."

The groups formed a coordinating committee to plan political action campaigns. The next meeting will be in Washington in September to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Bank.

Scientists estimate that a patch of jungle the size of a football field is bulldozed and burned every second. They also maintain that deforestation contributes to global warming by pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The indigenous leaders insist, however, that in the rush to conserve the forests, their rights - as people just as much a part of nature as trees and butterflies - have regularly been overlooked.

At the Iquitos meeting, however, the territorial rights of indigenous people took center stage, along with recognition that Indian leaders should figure prominently in any plans to conserve and manage the rain forest.

In Iquitos, and in Washington last October, Indian leaders expressed their doubts about the viability of debt-for-nature swaps, a strategy developed by ecologists to save rain forests.

Environmental groups have recently purchased portions of South American nations' national debts from foreign banks in exchange for projects to protect the environment or to conserve parks.

In 1987, Conservation International retired $650,000 of Bolivia's debt in exchange for creating a national park on the land of the Chimani Indians. …

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