Avatar is Real: Indigenous Peoples are Being Displaced by Wars and Corporations

Indigenous peoples in the Americas and Africa are being displaced by wars and corporations, in order to extract the natural resources found in their territories.

If you haven’t seeing Avatar, you are missing out on a good movie. The film excels in creativity, imagination, excitement, plot and an amazing technical work. The result is overwhelmingly pleasing to the senses, and I suggest you watch its 3-D version to best enjoy it.  Most importantly, this film has a message beyond the central romance story.

Avatar is real: Pandora exists in our planet and it’s located in South and Central America, and Africa. The Na’vi peoples, the Indigenous peoples in those regions are being displaced and killed right now, in order to extract the natural resources laying underground. The names of places and peoples may be different in the movie, but the facts of reality are almost the same, like the Andean-inspired music of the film.

(Spoiler Alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know the plot of this film.)

Distant regions of green, tropical forests rich in beauty and resources, are in danger due to their abundance in unknown treasures hidden behind human’s eyes. In order to get those resources needed by rich countries, multinational corporations are using governments, armed forces, paramilitary and guerrillas to massacre and displace Indigenous peoples.

Sadly, in most cases the U.S. military is involved one way or another.

In the next generation, Central and South America will be the next battle fields for rich countries fighting over natural resources which they need to continue growing and keeping up with their consumerists, excessive ways of life. Minerals, oil, drinkable water, natural gas, forest and bio-tech resources are widely available in areas kept in balance by Native peoples for thousands of years.

Thus, the last pristine virgin forests on Earth, could be taken over by powerful military armies, working on behalf of multinational corporations, especially those based in the U.S., Europe, and Canada; and perhaps soon India, China, and Russia.

This is not fiction. It’s happening already in the tropical forests and mountains of Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Ecuador, where big mining, oil, lodging, tourism, real state, pharmaceutical corporations are invading the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples and stealing their cultures and heritage in order to profit, all of which is done with the complicity of the local puppet governments.

In the film, cold and insensitive folks working for corporate and military enterprises, would do anything to achieve their goals, including investing money in science, researching and cultural programs in order to win the hearts and minds of Indigenous peoples living in sacred, untouched, pristine forests of a balanced but fragile environment. Those places are the final destinations for destructive mining machinery, ready to extract the insides of the mother land.

Sebastian Machineri is a leader of the Yaminawa indigenous people that live in the border area of Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, deep in the Amazon forest. He was recently in Washington, DC, participating in a working meeting of the Organization of American States for a continental declaration of Indigenous rights. Sebastian Machineri told me that Indigenous peoples in Brazil are being killed, attacked, displaced, and exterminated by the federal government and private ranch owners. “I have no hope that anything will change in the near future” he added, when I asked if international legislation in behalf of Indigenous peoples rights -like the UN declaration adopted in 2007- can help. He said that greedy powerful interests are pushing governments to destroy our planet, for money.

This is the truth. In 2009 the Indigenous peoples around the Americas faced increasing violence, including deadly military attacks, displacement, persecution and incarceration ordered by governments, paramilitaries, guerrillas and military forces linked to corporate interests and extractive industries, especially big mining and oil production.

In order to do displace Indigenous peoples, governments in Latin America are forced by powerful interest groups to pass special legislation based on “free-trade” policies model, which were designed by Wall Street. This economic trend known as "neoliberalism" has opened the doors of protected areas to private corporations with enough money and influences to do what they please, without considering the rights of the Indigenous peoples living there, much less the environment.

Last June 2009 in Peru, hundreds of Awajun and Wampis Indigenous farmers were massacred by US-trained militarized police forces of Peru, in the Amazonian region of Bagua. The Natives were protesting peacefully against government legislation that allowed corporations to take over their lands resources, without previous consultation. Also as a result, many policemen of Indigenous heritage were killed by a riot of Natives in an oil station, after they heard of the Bagua massacre. Months later, the Awajun and Wampis peoples detained five employees of the Canadian mining company IAMGOLD, who didn’t have authorization to enter their territory.

In Peru, 49 million hectares out of the 74 million hectares of the Peruvian Amazon forest (72%) have been leased to oil, gas and mining corporations by the government. Indigenous peoples own 12 million hectares only and in several regions of Peru, mostly foreign mining corporations are causing pollution and the poisoning of entire Indigenous towns. This has led to social protests and a growing Indigenous movement, but the response of president Alan Garcia has been of racism, violence and repression, accusing the Natives of being "terrorists, criminals, second-class citizens". Many community leaders have been incarcerated when protesting against the government plans.

In 2006 the Bush administration forced Peruvians to accept an abusive free trade agreement (FTA) which was entirely written in the United States. The massacre of Bagua was an indirect result of the policies included in that FTA. The authorities of Cusco had to pass legislation that bans bio-piracy or “the appropriation and monopolization of traditional population’s knowledge and biological resources”, in order to prevent the negative effects of the unpopular and controversial U.S.-Peru FTA. But that is not it.

Jeremy Hance denounces more atrocities faced by Indigenous peoples in Peru in this excellent article posted by Mongabay News:

  • Just weeks after the bloody incident [of Bagua], Texas-based Hunt Oil, with full support of the Peruvian government, moved into the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve with helicopters and large machinery for seismic testing. A scene not unlike Avatar, which shows a corporation entering indigenous territory with gun ships. The seismic testing alone involves 300 miles of testing trails, over 12,000 explosive charges, and 100 helicopter land pads in the middle of a largely-untouched and unknown region of the Amazonian rainforest. The reserve, which was created to protect native peoples’ homes, may soon be turned into a land of oil scars. Indigenous groups say they were never properly consulted by Hunt Oil for use of their land. [...]
  • In the film the Na’vi are dismissed as "blue monkeys" and "savages" by the corporate administrator. Both the corporation and their hired soldiers view the Na’vi as less than human.
  • In Peru, President Alan Garcia has called indigenous people "confused savages", "barbaric", "second-class citizens", "criminals", and "ignorant". He has even compared tribal groups to the nation’s infamous terrorists, the Shining Path.
  • There is no end in sight in the struggle between the indigenous people of Peru and government-sanctioned corporate power.

Lets move on to Colombia, where the Amazonian Indigenous peoples are caught in the middle of the internal war between the government, the guerrillas and the government-supported paramilitary. Twenty members of the Awa Indigenous community were killed in 2009 by the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and by the end of the year 74 more Awas were killed by paramilitary groups linked to the illegal drugs cartels. Many Indigenous peoples are forced to leave their lands due to this type of violence, and the abandoned lands are taken by agro business corporations.

Also last year, more than 2,000 Indigenous Embera people in Colombia have abandoned 25 villages and their territory, in order to escape violence from paramilitaries. Meanwhile the Colombian House of Representatives approved a controversial program to convince local women to submit to sterilization. This same type of program has affected over 330,000 Indigenous women and men in Peru in the 1990’s decade.

In the Pacific region of Colombia, the Afro Colombian population continues to endure violence, killings and displacement. Just last month the leaders Manuel Moya, Graciano Blandon and his son were assassinated by the paramilitary. Over 4 million Colombians have been displaced by this type of violence created by the guerrillas, the military and right-wing paramilitaries, who have strong ties to the Alvaro Uribe government, and the Colombian military.

The same tragedy is occurring all over the continent. According to information posted by John Schertow of the Indigenous news website Intercontinental Cry, these are some of the most violent attacks faced by Native peoples in Central and South America in 2009:

  • In central Brazil, the Yanomami community of Paapiu began calling for the immediate expulsion of illegal gold miners occupying their land. Survival International reported, “[the Yanomami] say they are prepared to use bows and arrows to expel the invaders themselves if the authorities do not take immediate action.”
  • The Guarani Kaiowa community of Apyka´y in Brazil was attacked by ten gunmen, who fired shots in to their camp, wounding one person. The gunmen also beat up and injured others with knives and then set fire to their village. This was the second village torched in less than a week.
  • As many as 300 troops from Panama’s National Police demolished a Naso village in Bocas del Toro–for the second time. No injuries were reported, however, some 150 adults and 65 children were left with no shelter and limited access to food and water.
  • Following an overturned eviction, an Ava Guarani indigenous community in Paraguay’s Itakyry district was sprayed with toxic chemicals, most likely pesticide, resulting in nearly the entire village needing medical treatment.
  • In Guatemala, a group of Maya Mam villagers set fire to a pickup truck and an exploration drill rig, after the Canadian company Goldcorp repeatedly failed to remove the equipment off the community’s land.

In Chile, several Mapuche communities began to reclaim their lands in Araucania, a region located in the center of the country, which they say were stolen in the XVI century during the Hispanic invasion. At least five people have been killed by the Chilean government, which has also passed strong "anti-terrorism" legislation to trial and imprison Mapuche indigenous leaders.

In Ecuador, Indigenous peoples are suing U.S. oil corporations for damages to their Amazonian forest land and water pollution. Meanwhile the leftist government of Rafael Correa has tried to betray its electoral promises, by selling extensive lands to oil and mining corporations. The response was a strong national strike and social protests.

The panorama is different in Bolivia, where Indigenous people are moving towards self-government under their own cultural traditions, after the December 6 presidential and legislative elections. In those elections 12 of the 327 municipalities of the country voted in favor of Indigenous collective self-government, giving them control over the natural resources and their land. The same model, but at a smaller scale is being applied in Venezuela by the government of president Hugo Chavez, which is giving its Indigenous populations the right to own their ancestral lands.

Unfortunately, justice for Indigenous peoples seem to be wrong for the Obama administration, already controlled by the same corporate interests of its predecessors. This is obvious when the biased U.S. media often attacks the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela, as if they were enemies of the U.S.

Meanwhile the White House and the media remain silent about the massacres of Indigenous peoples in Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and the violent repression in Chile and Ecuador, or the violence promoted by the coup regime of Honduras where death squads trained in the U.S. are killing the opposition including Garifuna, Miskito and other Indigenous groups.

The future of Central and South America and Africa, depends directly of how much power is retained by rich countries and their multinational corporations, in those regions. In the last decades, Wall Street and London have told poor nations that small governments are the key for progress and development. The less control, the more democracy, more human rights and especially more foreign investment. This model has failed.

We see what is happening right now in Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, etc., where weak governments can’t stop internal wars financed by rich countries and their private corporations. Only in Congo this type of violence has caused over 6 million people killed and 500 thousands men and women being raped. This is a painful proof that national governments need to be strong, that people must take control of their destinies, not corporations.

Growing in South America, we were told that our Indigenous people were exterminated, disseminated, gone. Therefore they taught us in schools that nothing was left to reverse the colonization process, that our peoples could never dare to stop it. We were told we weren’t Indigenous anymore, that we didn’t exist.

In reality, there is so much we all people -of every race- can do in order to stop the imperialist oppression against Indigenous peoples, and the destruction of our planet. Everyone can do something, because at the end this is about the survival of the whole human race and our home, our mother land. 

We need to stand against rich countries oppressing poorer nations with direct military invasions or with provoked internal conflicts. It’s happening today in Congo, Uganda, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Mexico, Colombia, Yemen, Burma, Pakistan, Nigeria, Peru, Canada, the poorest cities in the U.S., etc.

Like in Avatar, this Pandora-like violence against Indigenous communities all over the world is promoted by a racist, selfish sector of United States government and corporate involvement in military invasions, coups, paramilitary groups, training of torturers and repressive forces, and the financing of anti-Indigenous governments and groups.

For instance, during the Bush administration, the strategy to take over the natural resources of Latin America was dominated by free-trade agreements (FTA) and the funding of violent conflicts in Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico. Thousands of civilians have been killed, many of whom were Indigenous and Afro descendants.

In 2009 with Barack Obama in power, the U.S. government has slowed down on its FTA policies but the Pentagon has confirmed the opening of seven military bases in Colombia, while it has possibly increased its presence in Peru with three military stations. The Pentagon’s South Command has also increased military exercise programs conducted with Peru, Panama, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, while Chile received approval from U.S. Congress to obtain high technology war missiles.

In Avatar, the main destructive leaders were the military chief and the corporate boss. The relation between U.S. military intervention and corporate interests is never more obvious than in Colombia. As the second biggest recipient in U.S. military aid in the world -after Israel- Colombia is an important source of oil, minerals, cocaine and agro business which are crucial for the U.S. economy. Its neighbor Venezuela is not taking this close ties too lightly, and recently the Chavez government has bought armament from Russia, China and possibly Iran.

In the James Cameron’s film, the US military became a sophisticated army of private mercenaries, working in behalf of extractive industries and their huge profits. No matter what they needed to destroy or who they had to kill, they had to get the dirty job done. The "Sky people" had already destroyed their home, "and no green was left" so they went to Pandora.

Despite the white-supremacist tone of the end of the film with a white male saving the Indigenous population, but the script has an interesting approach to race. While a mostly-white leadership were leading destructive enterprises, the saviors was a young and multi-racial group of thinkers and dreamers.

The movie presents Pandora’s Indigenous peoples as blueish half animals, not humans. In reality that is the way how some people see our Indigenous peoples in the Americas, almost as sub humans, without feelings, knowledge, with no rights to live, to survive. Thus, our peoples are victims of the permanently racist greediness of the so called developed nations, led by destructive elites.

As a result of extraordinary experiments, some of the humans become laboratory-mixed Natives. The Avatars were like a new race, mixed, mestizo individuals who are physically similar to the Indigenous, but mentally more aware of certain things. They learn the spirituality and sciences of nature from the “savages” and with time, they learn that mining is not worthit, and the price of such destruction is inexcusable. Then they become the protectors of Natives, who using a mixture of knowledge, both human and Na’vi, eventually kick the invaders out of their land by actually killing most of them.

I’m sorry: I just told you the plot of movie, but at least I didn’t reveal the romantic part. No worries, you will still enjoy this film.

Avatar represents a new step in the filming industry, not just because of its high-tech animation [amazing!] and the way it’s mixed with real action, but also because it’s showing us the most likely future of this planet, if we allow it to happen.

In the film, money is invested to reach out the Indigenous peoples in order to convince them to leave their lands. In real life, the Indigenous leader Sebastian Machineri told me that Native peoples in the Amazon forests are angry at many non-profits that come to their communities, video record their ways of live, take photos and teach them "modern" skills. Soon later, corporations and ranchers move in.

The possible military conflicts to take place in Central and especially in South America in the next years, are related to corporate greediness and special capitalist interests. This is the scary future that awaits to the future generations.

Unless of course, the United States, Europe and other rich countries end their colonialist, imperialistic policies which are designed and dominated by corporate and military machines, true mafias.

Like in Avatar, the future of our Pandora is in the hands of "the People" so we can regain the control of our lives and future, to guarantee a true democracy with equality for all regardless of race or origin, respecting our Indigenous peoples. Then we will preserve our planet and life will be sacred again.