I am excited to announce a digital photo/video camera drive for AIDESEP, the umbrella organization for indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon.
This camera drive was first envisioned while conversing with Daysi Zapata, who has recently re-assumed the role of Vice-President of AIDESEP after the return of President Alberto Pizango from exile. Daysi had been invited to speak at a public event hosted by NYU's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, which is how we met. During her presentation, Daysi expressed the need to be able to counter the negativity toward indigenous peoples which she says is currently dominating the Peruvian media. She knows that AIDESEP and the indigenous peoples of Peru have many supporters around the world, and is eager to find ways to engage them in the present struggle over land rights.
If you have a digital camera that you are no longer using--photo or video--please consider donating it to AIDESEP. You can also donate cords, batteries / chargers, and memory cards. You can either arrange to meet with one of the coordinators of this camera drive located in Brooklyn, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, or ship it directly to Brooklyn, NY. If interested, write to donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. The goal is to collect 20 functioning cameras by January 15, 2011.
AIDESEP will use the cameras for a variety of purposes and projects. They will be useful in documenting the current changes occurring in the Amazon. Cameras will help the organization show the rest of the world not only the challenges indigenous peoples are facing, but also aspects of their livelihood they would like to protect. AIDESEP leaders are planning to use photography and video to educate Peruvians as well as the international community about their ways of life and cultural practices, which will help foster understanding and respect. Cameras will also enable local peoples to produce coverage of events which will diversify the media and represent different perspectives on issues.
As explained on its website, AIDESEP represents about 350,000 indigenous peoples who live in 1,350 communities, among whom 16 languages are spoken. AIDESEP writes that "somos una organización moderna que defendemos nuestra propia identidad, reconociendo sus fortalezas y combatiendo sus debilidades. De esta manera buscamos consolidarnos democráticamente como sujetos activos del cambio y así ser un testimonio del cambio que queremos ver en el mundo." Translation: "we are a modern organization defending our own identities, recognizing our strengths and combating our weaknesses. In this manner we look to democratically consolidate ourselves as active subjects of change and be testimony of the change we want to see in the world."
Daysi explained how in the past, AIDESEP has nurtured diplomatic relationships with the Peruvian government, resolving political friction through conversation and compromise. Unfortunately, the Peruvian government has not pursued this course of action in the recent past. Peruvian President Alan García's vision of development for Peru includes opening up large amounts of the Peruvian Amazon to transnational mining, logging and drilling companies, but indigenous peoples living on the land disagree with this kind of development, arguing that not only will it endanger their ways of life but will irrevocably damage the Amazon. In her presentation, Daysi said that García did not consult indigenous peoples about recent laws that he has passed which allow him to sign away land in the Amazon. García claimed that these reforms were necessary in order to comply with the recently signed Free Trade Agreement between Peru and the US. In an effort to make their opinions known, the communities of the Peruvian Amazon decided to stage a series of rallies and peaceful protests in mid-2009. For about two months, thousands of people of all ages stood in the road, blocking traffic through the Amazon to make clear their opposition to García's decrees and the FTA. García ordered the road cleared by force, sending in the national police to disband all participants. The resulting clash near the town of Bagua produced multiple fatalities on both sides.
Daysi firmly expressed AIDESEP's disagreement with the use of violence to resolve this conflict over land rights. She also conveyed a strong sense of determination to defend the land and livelihood of the peoples of the Amazon. Photo and video cameras will help AIDESEP better fulfill their media and communications plans. Cameras will help the organization connect to the international community, create valuable material to educate lawmakers and the public, and monitor any threats to human rights.
There is a wide variety of information that has been written in English about the current situation in Peru, a lot of which is in response to the clash at Bagua. For those who speak/read Spanish, AIDESEP's website is a valuable resource.
--info about the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Peru by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Office of the United States Trade Representative, Public Citizen, and The Sierra Club
--a letter to the Attorney General of Perú from Human Rights Watch
--Amnesty International's call for investigations into the Bagua incident, which includes a link to a report (in Spanish)
--BBC's article about the clash
--BBC's article about the return of Alberto Pizango, President of AIDESEP
--Global Voices' article commenting on a year since the incident
Also, Witness.org, an organization that promotes the use of video to raise awareness of human rights violations, published an article about AIDESEP and the use of digital media to help document what happened in Bagua and the struggles over land rights involving indigenous communities and the government. This informative article is a strong argument for increasing AIDESEP's access to digital media, showing how valuable more cameras could be for the organization. You can read it here, and learn more on the Witness website.
Here is a recording of Daysi Zapata speaking before the US Congress in April 2010, a couple of days before presenting at NYU.
Again, if you have a digital camera that you are no longer using--photo or video--please consider donating it to AIDESEP. You can also donate cords, batteries / chargers, and memory cards. You can either arrange to meet with one of the coordinators of this camera drive located in Brooklyn, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Philadelphia, or ship it directly to Brooklyn, NY. If interested, write to donate.cameras[at]gmail.com. The goal is to collect 20 functioning cameras by January 15, 2011.
Please forward this article to others who may be interested. Thanks.