Sweeping development throughout the Amazon rainforest is an abiding concern for indigenous groups. The Amazon’s extraordinary biodiversity is being destroyed for profits and political gain. In response, an alliance of some five hundred indigenous groups from nine countries, known as COICA—the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin—is planning to safeguard a “sacred corridor of life and culture” covering more than 700,000 square miles, an area about the size of Mexico. The alliance presented its Bogota Declaration, outlining “the principles and joint vision of the indigenous confederations to protect the Amazon rainforest by using a traditional and holistic perspective,” at the 14th UN Biodiversity Conference, held in Egypt in November 2018.
A report for Common Dreams quoted Tuntiak Katan, the alliance’s vice president, who called the Amazon rainforest “the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity” and said, “It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed.”
The alliance aims to protect biodiversity in the “triple-A” corridor that spans the Andes mountains, the Amazon, and the Atlantic Ocean. This region faces challenges from agribusiness, mining, and the global climate crisis. But members of the alliance also aim to address territorial rights. As Common Dreams reported, they “don’t recognize modern national borders created by colonial settlers.” Katan, COICA’s vice president, observed, “We know the governments will try to go over our heads.” He said, “This is nothing new for us. We have faced challenges for hundreds of years.”
New right-wing leaders in Brazil and Colombia threaten to undermine COICA’s plans. In October 2018, Jair Bolsonaro, who is now Brazil’s president, indicated that he would only stay in the Paris climate agreement if Brazil was guaranteed sovereignty over indigenous land and the “triple-A” region. Juan Carlos Jintiach of COICA told Common Dreams that Bolsonaro’s comments about environmental and indigenous issues are especially concerning because three-fourths of the environmental defenders assassinated in 2017 were indigenous leaders, and opposition to agroindustry is “the main cause for assassination of our leaders.” Observing that indigenous peoples and communities “face costly and difficult processes to legalize their lands,” while corporations “obtain licenses with ease,” Jintiach called for Bolsonaro to obey all laws and ensure the rights and safety of the people of Brazil.
Although the corporate and independent press have covered right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro’s intent to undermine indigenous rights in order to open Amazonian land for development, the coverage has almost entirely ignored COICA’s proposal to create the world’s largest protected area. For example, in January 2019 the New York Times covered Bolsonaro’s order to transfer responsibility for certifying indigenous territories as protected lands to the business-friendly Ministry of Agriculture. This otherwise detailed article made no mention of COICA’s proposal for a sanctuary. In March 2019, the Times ran an article on efforts by indigenous groups to resist Bolsonaro’s policies, but the Times positioned the article as an opinion piece rather than a news report. The penultimate paragraph of that article included one sentence on the coalition of indigenous groups proposing an Amazon sanctuary, noting simply that Bolsonaro’s election “calls into question the fate” of their proposal; this sentence linked to the Guardian’s November 2018 report.
Jessica Corbett, “Calling for ‘Corridor of Life and Culture,’ Indigenous Groups from Amazon Propose Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth,” Common Dreams, November 21, 2018, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/11/21/calling-corridor-life-and-culture-indigenous-groups-amazon-propose-creation-largest.
Jonathan Watts, “Amazon Indigenous Groups Propose Mexico-Sized ‘Corridor of Life,’” The Guardian, November 21, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/21/amazon-indigenous-groups-propose-mexico-sized-corridor-of-life.
Student Researcher: Robert Andreacchi (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)