/* Written 4:07 PM Aug 17, 1996 by igc:newsdesk in ax:ips.english */
/* ---------- "LATIN AMERICA: Native Peoples Wary" ---------- */
Copyright 1996 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 14-Aug-96 ***
QUITO, Aug 14 (IPS) - More than 100 representatives of Latin American indigenous groups, meeting this week in this Ecuadorean capital, underlined their desire to play a greater political role.
The first continental gathering of Native leaders also denounced paternalism and demagoguery. Their most famous spokersperson, the Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, declared the gathering as ''the first step to bringing a different message, one without the old complaints and that proposes concrete solutions.''
The meeting was held as part of the United Nations-sponsored International Day of Indigenous People which has been held on Aug. 4 every year since 1994.
Its conclusions were summarized in an Indigenous Declaration of El Yavirac, named after a small mountain in the southern part of Quito. Distributed here Monday, the declaration describes the need to ''construct our democratic project which does away with authoritarianism, corruption and racism''.
Participants analyzed the role of different ethnic groups in democratic processes on a regional level, their experience in getting access to local authorities and relations between indigenous peoples and the State.
Menchu said paternalism can be found in every political action directed at indigenous people. She observed that the historic relationship between the State and indigenous peoples ''is a paternalistic relationship that is encouraged by both parties.''
To actively take part in politics was a significant step forward, Menchu said. ''We have elected the politicians and now we want our turn to be elected.''
''The participation of indigenous peoples in the democratic process is growing,'' said Luis Macas, deputy of the indigenous movement 'New Country Pachakutik,' and leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador (CONAIE), a sponsor of the meeting.
''For the first time in our country, an indigenous coalition independently took part in general elections,'' held in May, said Macas. In the balloting, the coalition garnered eight seats in the chamber of deputies and 71 in municipal polls.
In Ecuador, according to CONAIE, 40 percent of the country's 11.5 million inhabitants belong to one of 10 ethnic groups. The Quechua leader said that meant indigenous people had opened a legitimate space in the political process.
''We have passed from silent struggle and an attitude of dependency to direct political action,'' said Macas, which indicates ''progress in democracy and in the way of thinking of our peoples.''
In a ceremony without precedent in Ecuador, the new deputies, advisers and council members elected by the Pachakutic movement, were inaugurated in Yavirac, in the presence of delegations from the regional gathering.
Their bodies were smeared with liquors and sacred herbs.
Shamans recited prayers seeking the blessing of the spirits for the newly elected deputies.
''We will follow the three laws of Atahualpa,'' said Miguel Lluco, a deputy from Pachakutik, referring to the teachings that the Inca leader from the pre-Hispanic days left to his people. ''We will not lie, we will not steal and we will not be lazy.''
For Jose Cabascango, president of CONAIE, ''our participation in politics will lead to new political models where respect for our rights will be the main objective.''
''We are entering parliament to learn, to get to know the game of democracy,'' said Clara Flores, an Aymara and Bolivian legislator. ''We have forced open the door and we have to dialogue and negotiate in order to advance our own projects.''
According to Cabascango, indigenous people must maintain a regional outlook since each country practices a different form of democracy, but ''we must assume that the struggle is for all.''
Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go, said Menchu. ''We must struggle for more openings in the democratic process as we also want to be ministers and presidents.'' (ENDS/IPS/MG/lv/96)
Origin: Amsterdam/LATIN AMERICA/
[Reposted with permission. Check out the IPS Web site at http://www.ips.org.]