13 April, 2017

Don’t Mess with My Census

Extreme right group says that recognition of indigenous people in national census will promote social conflicts.


Evangelical and christian groups promoters of the “Don’t Mess with My Children” campaign (#ConMisHijosNoTeMetas in spanish) use fear as a political weapon. Fear that your children “choose” their sex, fear that they might believe there are more options than being male or female, fear that they might think that being a boy or a girl is the same thing. They point their accusations to a dangerous current of thought called “gender ideology” that would unbalance what for them is the natural order of society.

But this is not the only group that is using terror and misinformation to block the recognition of the rights of a part of society that – clearly – lives in great disadvantage. In March, the Lampadia association, chaired by the journalist Jaime De Althaus and founded by the economist Pablo Bustamante Pardo, has denounced the existence of an “anti-mining ideology” promoted by “radical indigenist”. According to their article, the inclusion of ethnic self-identification in the next census would fragment Peruvian society and favor social unrest.

Both, De Althaus and Bustamante, are known for their close defense of mining and large infrastructure projects as the fundamental axis of the country’s development, as well as its disdain against free, prior and informed consent. Bustamante through his NGO Wiñaypaq was even been paid by this groups, during the construction of the Inambari hydroelectric plant – under the government of Alan García in order to ensure a favorable climate of opinion for the project, according to an investigation carried out by NoticiasSER .

And what would be the nefarious end pursued by these “radical indigenist”? That Andean and Amazonian people become a majority that recognizes themselves as indigenous with enough power to stop mining and other projects. That is heart of the matter.

Not the veto of mining and the brake on development that De Althaus and his circle of friends argue, but in the ability of indigenous peoples to exercise power. In their mindset the natural order of things would be altered, because it is natural that indigenous peoples do not have power and for anyone to do what they want in their territory.

 – Questions that foster conflicts. Indigenous trap in the national census – @LampadiaOficial

Having an indigenous majority supported by legal instruments is the worst nightmare for those who claim to look out for the “national interests.” And yes indeed, as they point out, indigenous organizations and particularly  CHIRAPAQ, have been advocating for the inclusion of the ethnic variable in censuses in order for indigenous peoples to exercise their rights.

For us, getting the State to know how many indigenous people are, where we are and what our situation is the first step towards more efficient and effective public policies and programs so that we too can get out of poverty and achieve development, but according to our own vision and with respect for our cultures and rights as indigenous peoples.

What conceals the article’s assertion is that many of these projects – in mining, engineering and infrastructure – have a very high return because socio-environmental cost are not part of their budgets and this are not carried out according to environmental standards that first world countries demand. The article points out the Saramaka people in Guyana case as an example on how indigenous peoples manage to stop a major investment project and warns that a similar cases would occur in Peru. But what they fail to mention is that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemn the social impacts and non-compliance with international standards of the project. It was not stopped on a whim, or for indigenous peoples to make some money.

Misinformation and incitement to fear are two powerful strategies for the exercise of power and are necessary to uphold it. The religious groups that promote the “Don’t Mess with My Children” campaign know this and the extreme right knows it as well. Today, as more and more people advocate for dialogue and question the establish order, this groups will react with greater force and virulence. As the American writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.