Mapping indigenous lands

World Resources Institute and a dozen other groups have launched a collaborative mapping project to document indigenous lands all over the globe. Incredibly exciting!

…up to 65 percent of the world’s land is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities, yet only 10 percent is legally recognized as belonging to them. The rest, held under customary tenure arrangements, is largely unmapped, not formally demarcated, and therefore invisible to the world. Starting today, anyone can view the detailed coordinates and borders of indigenous and community lands around the world using LandMark (, the first online, interactive global platform to map collectively held lands.


Colombia indigenous groups seek to help manage forest resources

(Continuing today’s theme of indigenous forest protection efforts…)

Colombian tribal leaders based in the Amazon Rainforest are making the case that traditional low-impact forestry management techniques from their indigenous communities native to those forest areas should play a key role in a proposed “corridor” aiming to preserve vital forest resources and biodiversity from logging and other development.

“Indigenous groups want changes to plan for Amazon biodiversity corridor” – Al Jazeera America

Indigenous leaders representing some 250 Amazon Basin tribes said Tuesday that an ambitious plan proposed earlier this year to create a protected corridor roughly the size of France in parts of Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela is a great idea to safeguard biodiversity and combat climate change, but it leaves out a key aspect of forest management — the people who have been successfully protecting the rainforest through sustainable practices for centuries.
The group supports the plan, proposed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, in concept. It would create a contiguous area of 135 million hectares, or more than 300 million acres, that would become off-limits to deforestation and other destructive resource extraction practices in order to protect the area’s biodiversity.

“The corridor will not only protect indigenous people but also the Amazon Basin that is giving pure air to the world,” Furagaro said.
But indigenous leaders say that simply banning certain activities in the forest isn’t enough. So last month, 25 indigenous leaders from Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela trekked into the middle of the Amazon by foot, boat and bus to come up with something better. They discussed how to improve on Santos’ idea while keeping their territorial, cultural, social and economic rights.
The tribes represented at the meeting called for the final corridor proposal to allow free travel in the protected area for indigenous people so that they can continue to manage the forest using traditional methods, which are often thwarted by political borders.

“The corridor could also protect 245 different indigenous peoples’ communities, 245 different traditional languages and 245 different traditional uses of the land,” Furagaro said.


In Brazil, native militias form to protect forests


Here’s another story along the lines of the First Nations resistance in British Columbia, Canada, to oil pipeline construction on traditional lands… “Amazon residents resort to militias to keep out illegal loggers” – Washington Post:

A beat-up sign on the edge of this Amazon reserve warns strangers not to enter. For years, loggers ignored it and barreled straight into the protected indigenous territory, cutting tracks ever deeper into the diminishing forest.

But on a recent day, visitors approaching Juçaral village, just inside the reserve, encountered an improvised checkpoint operated by a militia called the Guardians. Wearing disheveled uniforms and face paint, members of the 48-man militia sauntered out, shotguns in hand, to check every arriving vehicle.

The Guardians are one of two indigenous groups on this eastern fringe of the Amazon that have taken radical action to reduce illegal logging. They have tied up loggers, torched their trucks and tractors, and kicked them off the reserves.

As a result, such logging has sharply declined in these territories. But the indigenous groups have faced reprisal attacks and death threats for their actions, raising fears of more violence in an area known for its lawlessness.

The clashes highlight the continuing grave threat to the Amazon, the world’s biggest remaining rain forest, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the world’s climate and biodiversity. From 2005 to 2012, deforestation plunged in Brazil, as the government increased its conservation efforts and cracked down on illegal loggers. But since then, the numbers have begun to creep up again. In 2014 alone, almost 2,000 square miles of Amazon rain forest were cleared by farmers, loggers and others.

Indigenous groups play an important role in preserving Brazil’s Amazon rain forest; their reserves make up roughly one-fifth of its area. Silvio da Silva, a village chief from Arariboia and an employee of the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, said that a year ago as many as 130 logging trucks left the southern end of this reserve a day. Thanks to the Guardians, that has fallen to around 10 to 15 trucks a day.

In a rare visit to the reserves permitted by the indigenous tribes, Washington Post journalists found that many residents support the militias. But others are uneasy about relying on informal armed groups to resolve a problem that should fall to the Brazilian government.

Continue reading this feature…

In many cases, they have used mild force to restrain loggers and block their activities. This has, of course, been met with violent reprisals and assassinations of indigenous leaders and activists.

18% of the pre-1970 Brazilian Amazon had been cut down as of 2013. Massive clear-cutting began in 1970 and has played a crucial role in Brazil becoming the world’s seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The Amazon rainforest is being cleared for timber, mining, soybean farming, sugar plantations and cattle grazing, as well as to assert legal claims to property by showing “development” on the land.

Brazil’s government has taken steps to make significant reductions in yearly deforestation, but these efforts will need to be sustained consistently and more deeply — and thus far they have not been. Brazil’s climate action plan released in September 2015 is a continuation of its recent strong emissions cuts, but its deforestation pledge only tackles illegal logging, not vast legal timber harvests. And even the illegal logging clearly isn’t close to under control as the Washington Post feature quoted above proves.

AFD Micron #9

We like to think of historical people as trapped in the morals of their times, but history is filled with well-researched, articulate debates on the moral harms of slavery or Indian genocidein societies that decided in favor of them anyway. The fact that we talk a lot about racism or sexism today can’t be taken as evidence that we’re effectively dealing with them.


Weep not for the fallen statues of tyrants

People have been destroying physical public symbols of their oppressors since at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians. It often helps societies clarify their direction at the end of an era or in a period of transition.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of attention of the symbols of historic oppression omnipresent in many public places in the United States. While the bulk of that has been about the Confederate Flag and monuments/statues related to the Confederate cause, this week public tributes to Christopher Columbus came in for a round of well-deserved criticism. Far less deserved was the perennial but diehard defenses, which usually show up in October (around our mystifying national holiday dedicated to him), but which made a special mid-year appearance.

People around the U.S. who are now distraught over a (once-again) vandalized statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston need to find better things to cry over and build idols to. We need a better statue and the elimination of Christopher Columbus from public spaces here. Nothing even vaguely useful or positive that he did in his life offsets the scale of the horrors he personally unleashed directly, let alone set in motion for others. If, in 2015, your hero is an incompetent 15th century genocidal “explorer” who almost single-handedly began mass chattel enslavement in the Americas, you need to admit that and own it or find someone else to cheer. There have been billions of people in history who were not total monsters. It’s not that hard to find someone halfway decent to get behind instead.

I’m also confident that, with 15 minutes of solid research, the Italian-American community — where many (but not all) of the diehards come from — could find someone way cooler and less awful (and more Italian!) to get excited about and feel pride in. This is truly not the hill to die on.

Social inclusion, anti-poverty policy are great for the economy!

Most US eyes on Latin America right now are turned to Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff was just re-elected, ushering in a fourth consecutive term for the Silva/Rouseff anti-extreme-poverty agenda launched in 2002 under her predecessor.

Meanwhile, however, Bolivia — under more avowedly socialist leadership — is also continuing to (more or less) balance its budget, increase its social spending, and grow its macroeconomy substantially. Martin Hutchinson explains why in an article in The Globalist:

Part of it is the effect of commodity prices described above [in the article] and of Morales’ savvy and determined renegotiation of mining and energy contracts. Obviously, if commodity and energy prices are low during the next five years, Bolivia will have considerable difficulties.
What truly sets Morales apart is this: As Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Morales has made great efforts to include the indigenous community – currently about 40% of Bolivia’s population – in the formal economy. He has provided them with both welfare payments and job preferences in order to increase their participation in the economy.
in situations where a large proportion of the population is so poor that it does not participate properly in the economy it is possible to achieve a “growth dividend” by bringing them into full participation.

As they transition into full economic activity, their output allows the national economy to grow significantly, producing extra output and extra tax revenues, while enriching the economy as a whole – and not just the elites.

Hutchinson also points to the Bolivian and Brazilian models that — contrary to US and UK trends for a century and a half — don’t make the very poor jump through hurdles to qualify for government assistance, which seems to get better and less corruptible results on poverty:

In uplifting the very poorest, direct cash transfers with only simple conditionality are highly effective. A program […] costs only a couple of percent of GDP – far less than massive infrastructure schemes.

Yet, it reaches the poorest in society effectively – and, unlike infrastructure projects it cannot be gamed by economic elites – via shady corruption deals that are often part and parcel of large-sized public investment projects.