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At COP27 Indigenous Land Defenders from Mexico, Guatemala Warn “Green Capitalism” Creates Violence

StoryNovember 17, 2022
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We continue our coverage of the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, by asking what Indigenous leaders at the frontlines of the climate crisis are calling for from world leaders. We speak to Andrea Ixchíu, a land defender from Guatemala, and Rosa Marina Flores Cruz, an Afro-Indigenous activist from Mexico, who are both part of the Futuros Indígenas collective. They discuss how their countries’ megaprojects and big business are devastating Indigenous communities. “Green capitalism is affecting our communities. It’s displacing people. It’s creating violence,” says Ixchíu. Amid the murder and persecution of climate activists across Latin America, “defend[ing] the land is one of the most difficult and dangerous activities that we can do,” says Cruz.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today with two Indigenous land defenders from Latin America. Andrea Ixchíu is a Maya K’iche’ leader, journalist, human rights and environmental defender from Guatemala. Also with us, Rosa Marina Flores Cruz, an Indigenous activist and organizer from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. They both traveled to COP27 with the collective Futuros Indígenas, Indigenous Futures.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Andrea, let’s begin with you. The significance of what’s taking place today? We just heard from a representative of the Amazon talking about Venezuela, Brazil, the lungs of the planet. We don’t as often hear from Indigenous defenders in Central America. Talk about why you’re here.

ANDREA IXCHÍU: Well, we are here because we are also wanting to talk about what means the energy transition to our territories. In the name of a green transition and the creation of renewable energies, Guatemala and the territories of Central America are suffering a lot of exploitation of our lands and our territories. A lot of this green capitalism, it’s affecting our communities, is displacing people, is creating violence, corruption, and also is perpetuating the genocide and the ecocide in Guatemala and in our territories.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s your experience been like here at COP27 in Egypt?

ANDREA IXCHÍU: Well, we do know that the expectations about the rich and the powerful, you know, giving solutions to the climate crisis is not our horizon. We are here to create connections between the grassroots movements, because the real climate solutions are going to be built by the ones that are very close to earth, right down below, not from the people on the top.

We are here also to make clear to the decision-makers that we are not going to allow that all this green pollution is coming to our territories. We are saying to them that we will not allow it, that we will resist.

And we are here looking a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of the negotiators of the Big Oil companies coming here and been listening and participating in the negotiations, while the Indigenous and young activists are being booted out from these places for protesting and for demanding, you know, fair trade and just transition from the fossil fuel industry. So, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy inside of this space.

We are very disappointed in the way that they are trying to create a very, you know, illusion of multicultural space for dialogue, but it’s not true. There’s a lot of rules for us. We cannot do protests. We cannot do mobilizations. And there’s a lot of repression in this society. So, we are coming here and looking at these conferences, and we already knew that the solutions for the climate crisis are not coming from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrea, I was wondering if you can link the U.S. relationship with Guatemala to the issue of climate devastation in your country. 1953, the U.S. supports a coup against Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran. 1954, one year later, John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state — he was a corporate attorney for United Fruit — is involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz. How does that relate to what we’re seeing today?

ANDREA IXCHÍU: The United States had financed a very long history of genocide and ecocide in Guatemala, and also the protection of the monocultive industry and the extractive industry. There is a lot of corporate business related to the U.S. in Guatemala. And also, the U.S. policies are financing our government to keep and remain the war against the Indigenous peoples and communities that are defending the land, the rivers, our ways of living and existing. So there is a very long and nasty relationship from these private corporations, from the U.S. government, with the corrupt authoritarian regime in Guatemala, that at this very moment is putting into exile activists, judges, journalists, and they keep financing that extermination of our territories and our lands.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you demanding?

ANDREA IXCHÍU: We are demanding that the money is not going to solve the problems of green colonialism in our territories. We are demanding to the United States government to stop financing the extermination of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Marina Flores Cruz is with us from Oaxaca, from the southern state of Mexico. Talk about your concerns about the climate as you come here to COP27.

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: Yes. Well, us, as part of the delegation of Defenders of the Earth, we try to bring the voices and the demands of different Indigenous nations in our country. We are here, people like me. In my region, we are living the impact of the windmills, that are grabbing the lands and dispossessing the territories of the Indigenous binnizá and ikoojts in our region. This green energy is selling — is here, is being discussed — is discussed here like a solution, and we are in our territories confronting how the organized crime is really close to the companies and to the governments who are deciding, deciding that this is the solution and we need to take it in our territories and give them our space for them to make more money. Also, there is people in our delegation who is facing the — deforestación?

ANDREA IXCHÍU: Deforestation.

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: Deforestation of their lands to create monocultives for avocados and for other kind of crops, like selling also this idea that the vegetables are the solution about the climate crisis, and they are dispossessing the lands of the Indigenous communities. We are facing dams. We are facing a lot of megaprojects that are putting in risk our lives. And that’s why we are here, to say that, as Indigenous people, we have to — we need to be respect our decisions and our agency. We are totally able to decide what we want in our lands and in our territory. And the decisions not just come — must come only from the upside. We need to be heard, and we need to be respect.

AMY GOODMAN: Your father is from an Afro community —


AMY GOODMAN: — in Mexico.


AMY GOODMAN: Your mother, from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. If you can talk about how your heritage informs your climate activism?

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: Yes. Well, yes, my dad, he is from Cuajinicuilapa, from the Small Coast, Costa Chica, in Guerrero. But I grew up in my Indigenous community. I grew up in Juchitán. My mom, my grandma before her, they will be how the people outside call activists, since ever. So, they always had been fighting for the lands and for the respect of the rights of the community and for the respect of the Indigenous communities. There is where my heritage comes. So, since I born, I always have known that I must defend my land and I must be really proud about who I am.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s talk about how dangerous that activism is. A report from the nonprofit Global Witness this year revealed that Mexico saw 54 environmental and land defenders killed in 2021, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a climate activist. I mean, in our headlines through this year, every other week it seemed we were reporting on a Mexican journalist, for example, who was also killed. Talk about what the stakes are in Mexico.

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: Yes. Just the last week was murdered another defender of the forest in the center of Mexico. Defend the land is one of the most difficult and dangerous activities that we can do. My own family, we had to leave our region for six months several years ago because of the fight of my mom against the windmill projects. And also, in our network, we have compañeras who are being now — perseguidas?

ANDREA IXCHÍU: Persecuted.

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: Persecuted for her work in defense of the land and against pipelines and against these megaprojects that the government of Mexico is pushing in our territories.

AMY GOODMAN: What are these megaprojects?

ROSA MARINA FLORES CRUZ: The Maya Train. Like, it’s this big touristic project that they are — like, again, they are putting the Indigenous people, the Maya Indigenous people, as objects for the tourism. And they are building this big train that is going to cross, to turn out all the peninsula of Yucatán. Also, we have the interoceanic train in my region, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, that is like another Panama Canal, that they want to build, like, in the ground. And for us, that we are already living the impacts of the megaprojects. And for the other compañera, she is dealing with the pipeline, the Project Integral Morelos, that has been trying to be built in a volcano. So, it’s really dangerous for them as communities to have these kind of projects, and the government is just giving more and more impulse to these kind of things.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Andrea Ixchíu, as you talk about Guatemala, if you can talk about the — and name names. And it’s something you pointed out at the beginning. Here at COP, people should understand that you cannot name names in protests of countries, of individuals, of corporations, if anyone thought the protest is free. And it’s not just because it’s in Egypt. It happens every year. You can have a protest, but not talk about the country you’re talking about. As we wrap up, specifically talk about what you’re facing in Guatemala when it comes to megaprojects.

ANDREA IXCHÍU: We are talking about big business, for example, the CGN-Pronico-Maya company, that it’s exterminating the Maya Q’eqchi’ population. Just yesterday, a very big group of Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ people was arrested because this company is forcing them to — and displacing them from their land, just to keep building this big mining company that is going to be for the extraction of minerals for the energetic transition.

Also, the big megaprojects as dams that are financed by the president of the Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, who is owning one of the biggest hydroelectrical dams in Guatemala, the project Oxec, that is right now creating the prosecution and criminalization of several members of the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities.

In my territory, the interest of big capital to deforest there, deforestate our common and ancestral land, is also growing.

So, there is a lot of private corporate business that are trying to see — that are seeing our territories as profits, as money, and not as the living systems that means for us and that we have, you know, take care for thousands of years, and that has allowed us to live and also allow to have the climate solutions, because the climate solutions are already here. The climate solutions are in the ancestral science of Indigenous communities and knowledges. So, we are demeaning that to be respected.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both so much for being with us, Andrea Ixchíu, Maya K’iche’ journalist and activist from Guatemala; Rosa Marina Flores Cruz, Indigenous activist from Oaxaca, Mexico, both with the collective Futuros Indígenas. That’s Indigenous Futures, here at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

And now for an update about the case of Alaa Abd El-Fattah. His family visited with him today in the Wadi el-Natrun Prison. His sister Mona Seif, who was not there today, tweeted, “The news from the visit is not good. Alaa suffered a lot in this last period, but at least they saw him, and he needed to see them very much. The family says they’ll share more details later this afternoon. We’ll tweet them out, and we’ll have more on Alaa’s case on Friday’s program. That does it for our show.

Democracy Now! co-host Juan González will be giving a speech Friday at the Columbia School of Journalism reflecting on his 40 years of fighting for racial and social justice in journalism. It begins at 4:10 p.m. Friday. See for details on this event and two other speeches Juan is giving.

Special thanks to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Hany Massoud, Denis Moynihan, Nermeen Shaikh, here in Sharm el-Sheikh. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes. I’’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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