The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is warning us today that if we fail to build alternatives to the current system governed by voracious, ruthless and extractive capitalism, it will rob our descendants of the future.

This historical moment that we are all living through is also serving to reveal that extreme inequalities are not only found in the marginalized and excluded neighborhoods of our so-called “third world” countries, but also in the academic and institutional worlds that we inhabit, many of them here in the “first world”.  In speaking of and honoring activism, inclusion, social justice, human rights and the generation of knowledge at the service of humanity–issues that Martin Diskin defended during his life and career–this moment also requires rethinking how our institutions, universities, departments and even conferences are organized, often leaving out intellectuals who are truly committed to social change movements, sisters and brothers who don’t have academic degrees, and many generators of thought and local action in our countries and communities who literally give their lives to defend the survival of their peoples.

Since the Spanish invasion at the end of the fifteenth century, this continent has been in dispute, creating or recreating territorial spaces where fighting to survive in the midst of acute colonial and neocolonial oppressions has never ceased. They have successfully erased hundreds of indigenous peoples, and in other cases decimated those that survived. Today on the Tzolk’in, one of the Mayan calendars of my ancestors kept and transmitted from one generation to the next, is Keb ’Iq’ day–the Keb’ tan closely linked to my present life and the nawal Iq’ that illuminated my birth.

It’s no coincidence, then, that they coincide on this day to accompany me in the face of this responsibility. On the Gregorian calendar, it is Friday, May 15. The date on both calendars records that the highest number of people killed by COVID-19 is in the territory of Abya Yala [1]. And within Abya Yala, all eyes are on the United States because it leads in the number of infected and deceased people, numbers that have grown exponentially since January of this year due to the deadly virus. [2] Thus, the richest nation in the world, the most powerful, the most armed nation of this time, which invests more than 700 million dollars annually for defense expenses, is being affected by a virus that we do not see, but whose transmission is aggressively attacking certain populations. [3] And we find that the world’s superpower cannot protect to its citizens. [4]

It seems then, that the power of the white man along with his symbols is being demystified. Here it is once again evident that the xenophobic patriotism of these times, held up as a beacon for the world, is not of much use, despite being pushed by the mainstream media and social media that have served to collectively numb or manipulate consciences. The prophetic words of the Great Chief Seattle of the Suquamish People are fulfilled– in 1854 he sent a letter to President Franklin Pierce warning that the white men who contaminated their bed would perish contaminated in their own waste, walking toward their self-destruction. [5]

Just as Chief Seattle warned, today we are seeing the end of self-destructive life and we begin to go back to the dawn of the age for survival. Now, from the epicenters, there are no national heroes or heroines who can save those who have been placed on the bottom steps of the racial pyramid. That is why the people who die are of Afro-descendant and Hispanic populations, and members of the First Nations that were stripped of their territories and today live neglected by the State. And within the category of Hispanics, many are also indigenous peoples of Latin America who were forced to migrate.

Those from below will not be saved, they will never be a priority. For them, happy endings are not written. On the contrary, they are the permanently declassed, those who fall in wars, those who are devastated in natural disasters and those who now fill the hospitals with COVID-19, who now die in absolute solitude and whose bodies no one claims. They end up piled up in trucks parked on the streets and avenues of cosmopolitan cities. In moments of humanitarian crisis, like these, it becomes evident that those from below cannot even hope to be buried in mass graves.

The millions of people throughout Abya Yala who wave white flags asking not to starve to death, are nothing more than the materialization of the invisible women and men who now appear in the media because they are emerging from the ravines or city slums or communities that have been depleted. [6] Their white flags expose the structures of exclusion that in “normal” times are hidden by fraudulent labor policies or private or state charities, but that are false palliatives because they keep entire sectors on the edge of subsistence, just so that they don’t die. Because the economic system needs its workforce to increase the wealth of the national oligarchies and the world elite. And despite this, many of the men and women belonging to these poor or middle-class sectors believe in this exploitative system. Perhaps the most brutal examples can be seen in Brazil and the United States.

In deeply stratified countries, such as those in America, where the gap between opulence and poverty continues to widen, humanitarian crises like this one combine with other social explosions. [7] I was born in one of those countries, and I grew up observing these extremes: between those who had access to exclusive education centers, compared to the majority who barely finished primary school in a school that was really a makeshift shed about to fall apart and even so, registered as part of the government’s “educational coverage”; between those who were fed three times a day and those who ate what they could; between those who had health care through private plans purchased in a voracious market, and those who had no health center to go to even to save their lives. In this permanent inequity, those on the side that receives the worst, the fewest, and the scraps from the system, cannot be expected to survive. There are no miracles for them and, despite their deep faith, which is often the only thing that sustains them, they have no way out, because they have not had the right to weave even a minimal safety net, especially since even the collective security of their communities has been undermined.

The states in Latin America are deeply elitist, racist and patriarchal political systems, sold to us as “democratic”, but which have been put together by countless old and new institutions that few of the citizens know about. The “crisis of democracy” never ends, because the democratic system was created to not work, to entangle our lives and keep millions of human beings tangled up, alienated and as far away as possible from resistance and from human forms of life. In the end, the small but powerful political and economic elites of our countries and the world know that a person’s active life is short, so the challenge is to stay distracted, controlled or divided during those years because disease, addiction or hopelessness will take care of the rest.

Backwards Priorities

The pandemic points out to us one of the errors of humanity and of the academy, where the important thing has not been how much knowledge has advanced, or how many Nobel prizes have been achieved in science, but how little science has been put to the service of humanity. When science is driven by the interests of capital and not by collective interests, it ends up trivialized, isolated in classrooms, invited to receptions in palaces or the headquarters of world institutions, but far from the people it should really serve, and there the consequences are dramatic for those who have the least.

As scientists continue to work on the conquest of Mars and building a camp on the moon, here on earth governments were never prepared or invested in to face diseases like this, and much less health services. Public hospitals were never provided with necessary equipment or instruments. On the contrary, from Utqiaġvik in Alaska to Ushuáia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, year after year, what little remains of public services have been dismantled with the argument that public is not useful and private is the only and the best option. The finest state assets were handed over to private companies, and in return, the cost of electricity, drinking water, roads, transportation, and telephone services, among others, soared to unpayable prices that have impoverished nations. At times like these, one more trip to the moon is of little use if thousands of people on earth are dying for lack of a ventilator.

 The priorities have always been backwards, but today we see them right before our eyes. We are also responsible, because we have consented by remaining silent, without taking action and allowing rotten systems to govern us, and keeping truly corrupt forces in power.

The centers of world power that control science and research anticipated pandemics of this magnitude based on previous infectious diseases that revealed that the human body is an incubator: Malaysia 1999, Nigeria 2004 and 2014, India 2018, China 2002 and other countries with aggressive and deadly viral infections. Although some specialists and researchers tried to alert us, the powerful have refused to listen. When COVID-19 struck, very few countries were capable of confronting it, not only for lack of hospital infrastructure, but also in terms of social, cultural and psychological measures. As a result, health systems and morgues have collapsed. In Latin America the dramatic case is Guayaquil, Ecuador, but other cities and countries find their populations mired in an economic and emotional crisis of survival and despair. [8 ]

Why was the alarm not raised? Why was the world, and its medical institutions, not prepared for what we`re experiencing? The answer is in the pages of the main global newspapers, in the centers of thought, in the universities, in the ministries of economy and finance that inform us directly or indirectly that no government can oppose the small elite that controls the world economy. In fact, all governments that proclaim themselves “democratic” are supported by that one percent of the world population that controls the wealth of the global economy. Most or all of the rulers were brought to power by multinational companies that control the trillionaire, unstoppable machinery of world production and consumption.

The challenge of how to organize

In the midst of the pandemic, the fight we’re witnessing now in Europe, Asia, Africa or America is not a fight to see who produces life-saving ventilators, or how they are best distributed and put at the service of the countries most affected. Nor is it a fight to see how the world’s medical personnel can be protected, or how to reject the hellish decision to deny the elderly a ventilator on the grounds that they have already lived. No, the fight in big and small countries is to open the markets as soon as possible. The front pages of the newspapers report the urgency, not of saving lives, but of how to save the markets. Powerful pressure comes to bear–we not only feel it, but we can almost smell it.

As long as the powerful and also the poor insist on following this path, it will be difficult to save humanity, but above all it will be almost impossible to save Mother Earth. We have no future with pseudo world leaders of this caliber. “Neither the rich nor the poor have leaders,” José Mujica recently said. Villages are alone and people who do not have a people or have not built a community are much more alone. The challenge is how to organize ourselves against world capital with intelligence and sagacity.

Covid-19 exposed the fallacy that those who have the responsibility and obligation to save the lives of their fellow citizens can be called “statesmen”. We are witnessing the decline of the art of politics and the failure of nations—there is the European Economic Community teaching us that class difference is permanent, that Italy is not the same as the Netherlands or Germany and that the division explains the zero aid given to Italy, while the leaders of the rich countries observed from their computer screens as Italians died rather than take immediate and concrete actions, even for the sake of humanity. The president of the Lombardy region, the worst hit in Italy, Attilio Fontana, stated the first week of April that “the European Union is a failed project.” [9] History has recorded that wealthy European countries widened the gap between them, and with their actions also the gaps that exist throughout the world. They refused to lead a common response to COVID-19, and Italy had to rely on Cuba, China and Russia. [10]

Another example of social division and its deep-rooted stratification is India. When quarantine was decreed, we saw the images of a sea of ​​human beings, whom they call “the rat-eaters”- They carried their few belongings and, out of work, were forced to return on foot to their communities thousands of kilometers away because it was the last refuge to hold on to the only social security they have. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nandrandra Modi sent airplanes to repatriate members of privileged sectors who were unemployed in other countries. In the midst of the crisis, the poor workers, who added to the wealth of transnational capital, walked back to their communities on foot, while the rich sat in comfortable planes. [11]

This is another lesson: The social and political sphere has toppled like dominos, we do not have officials who are up to the task of leading humankind at this stage of our journey. However, we must be alert because the future of humanity will depend on what is decided here, whether the earth is saved or continues to be destroyed will depend on the route taken today.

Having said this, I don’t know if the role of the academy in the world is to continue celebrating events, or perhaps the historical moment now assigns it the responsibility of leading collective reflection on: how did we get here? How did we end up living in a surrealist moment that predicts a future of living behind masks with minimal human contact? Why were we not able to raise our voices, we who are always publishing, traveling, having access to first-hand information? Have we also failed? Because although we witness and register social crises, we have also become hooked on the academic machinery that has created the same economic system that we question.

At this time, when thousands of our sisters and brothers in our countries face the emotional impact and the psychological damage, survive with battered souls and increased trauma, are separated or suffer other pain, let me imagine a humane and reality-based academy world, less performative perhaps, accompanying not so much the rhythm of capital as the human beings who, individually or collectively, have always raised their voices in the face of the destruction of their lives and environments.

I want to appeal to an academy that sees the invisible ones, not only to portray their miseries, but to walk with them and understand that their miseries are not exactly miseries, to really listen to them and learn from their wisdom, so urgent now, and vital to what we will need for the proposals we must develop to meet the challenges of the immediate future. [12]

The real nightmare

In this context, I ask myself, is COVID-19 really a nightmare? [13] I think that the real nightmare has been the world economic system that engulfs us and has brought us to this humanitarian crisis. That is why, now more than ever, the struggle of indigenous peoples, who have lived permanently under constant wars, genocides, diseases, spoils, corners and invisibilities, is key to trying to save humanity.

The mandate of the Zapatistas–“nothing without us”– takes on more life and certainty than before, not due to “academic fashion”, but because there can be no other world if we do not retake elements of the indigenous worlds in how we live. COVID reveals with pain and drama the unforgivable contradictions and injustices of the system that indigenous peoples have denounced for 500 years, without being heard. And now, instead of taking the “global pause” to rethink the future, the elites put all their energy into “getting back to normal” and “opening the markets without question.”

The more than 5,000 indigenous peoples proudly still existing despite the colonization processes they face teach academics, time and time again, that documenting the facts alone doesn’t make sense, especially if they just end up in libraries and they are not generated within a framework of co-participation and co-construction, recognizing and facing the unequal power relations that exist between each other. The knowledge produced must serve as a guide so that everyone lives, not only the richest or the strongest.

We cannot continue to study Indigenous peoples under the policies of representativeness and identity that combine economic projects with the hegemonic cultural and social projects that prevail in the academy. These policies use Indian symbols, speeches or demands, but exclude the peoples from their own historical spaces of power, in the face of global challenges they have to face in multiple ways. Indigenous peoples cannot continue to be taught as if they were the ahistorical defeated, the perpetual victims, the poor beggars, the social destitute or the permanent losers of history. It has to be the opposite—to approach indigenous peoples with the humility to learn more than to teach. Indigenous peoples are tired of others trying to implement all kinds of projects in the territories, even if they were conceived in good faith. They are tired of their participation being mediated by any means and that in the end their efforts do not translate into the substantive changes that as persons and peoples they aspire to and have the right to.

Even in the midst of this crisis, I have found in global public spaces a racist denial that ignores the permanent warnings and protests about environmental destruction that indigenous peoples of Latin America have been talking about constantly. This territory belonged to Indigenous peoples, 500 years later they still constitute around 50 million people, or just over 9 or 10% of the total population, living in 826 villages, of which 200 have decided to live in voluntary isolation. They are the ones who have best known how to maintain the balance between human, natural and mineral life. [14] Thanks to this, this region of the world still has a third of the fresh water we drink daily. In addition, 6 of the 17 mega diverse countries in the world are here–Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. And despite the fact that Latin America covers only 15% of the Earth’s surface, it protects no less than 40% of the world’s biodiversity. The beautiful and profound Amazon with its 6.7 million remaining forests provides us with more than 40,000 species of plants that are the pharmacies of our villages, and without that ancient medicine many of us indigenous people would not be here today. [15]

In Latin America, indigenous peoples have protected all biomes in their territories: lakes, mangroves, deserts and xerophilous scrubs, temperate coniferous forests and humid, tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests. But biodiversity, as indigenous people well know, is a complex and extremely delicate and fragile network of life, as fragile as human life is today on the planet. So, they have demanded respect for the goods found their territories, because they are vital to the future of humanity. For the majority of indigenous people, the land is our dear mother, our beloved mother, the one who receives us at birth, feeds us and provides for us while we live and in the autumn of our lives. She is the one who prepares us to return to Her, to merge with her, wisely teaching us that we are merely part of a circle that has a beginning and an end, so we must avoid at all costs breaking that circle, if we want to keep our peoples from disappearing.

The permanent cry of the indigenous peoples denouncing the destruction of our world house has sometimes been heard, but no concrete actions for change have been taken by those in power. Let me recall some of the threats facing indigenous peoples and the territories they have cared for: [16]

First, dispossession by extractive companies, especially mining and oil production. [17] In 2013, 30% of global direct investment in mining was in Latin American countries. Between 30 to 40% of the gold and silver mining projects around the world are in our territories. For example, the government of Mexico in 2010 and 2011 granted concessions of nearly half the territory of the Pueblo Wixárika (Huichol) to Canadian companies to mine gold and silver. And these state concessions have been increasing. In 2015, 50% of copper mining projects worldwide were in Chile and Peru.

Today, over 19% of the indigenous territories of Latin America are threatened by mining. The impact of this destruction has caused irreparable damage, for example, since 2007 when 30% of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest began to be severely polluted after the opening of around 300 oil wells. [18]

Record low world oil prices has not been a nightmare but rather a respite for ecosystems and indigenous peoples. The earth, our mother, has rested from us. The planet’s waters turned crystalline and the animals returned to their territories. The air has been cleaned and the rivers run clearer. Mother Earth has rested from man and his violent and ethnocidal actions. The species that the indigenous world has preserved now for the first time in centuries feel free. We hope that the world will learn that oil as the world’s largest business and the mining sector have brought death and destruction, not only for indigenous people, but for the world as a living being.

A second set of threats to indigenous peoples are infrastructure and power generation mega-projects, which entail excessive road construction, damaging electrical networks, communication systems, hydroelectric plants, installation of towers for energy transportation, telephone towers, among other facilities that the process requires. States, private companies and international organizations such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and also Asian and European financial institutions, finance expanding projects that sow confrontations and internal divisions in the communities. There are the cases of the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, TIPNIS in Bolivia, or the Mexican government’s project to promote at all costs the so-called “Maya Train”. Both projects will not only destroy fragile ecosystems, but also cause conflict with sectors of indigenous peoples. [19]

The third area is agroindustry, livestock, and large-scale monoculture planting. Soybeans, African palm, banana, sugar cane, livestock and others, bring with them an environmental impact that razes the forests, contaminates water sources due to the excessive and intense use of chemicals and pesticides, reduces biodiversity, increases desert and breaks the natural chain of life for animals, brings thirst to wildlife and human beings, and imposes genetically modified seeds that together with pesticides erode and degrade soils. The short and medium-term impact on indigenous peoples’ health includes malnutrition, cancer, a high number of children born with malformations, threats to physical and cultural survival, and an excessive concentration of land from the transfer of land and resources from indigenous peoples to private, national and international owners, through illegal means often legalized through corrupt national justice systems.

No State, rich or poor, first world or third world, respects the right that we have as peoples to free, prior and informed consent and to consultation in good faith guaranteed in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. Consultation has been prostituted by States that have promoted their regulation to benefit companies and not peoples. The fight to respect international and national frameworks–the few instruments that can be used in the midst of economic globalization–has led to the murder of sisters and brothers, fabricated trials, massacres, genocides, deceit, armed conflict, state terror, intellectual and abusive appropriation of our knowledge and wisdom, and the imposition of market mechanisms on living spaces that operate with another dynamic and logic.

Let me point out a single case: the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people in Paraguay, one of the last peoples to have decided to live in voluntary isolation. Some of its branches are the last uncontacted Indians in South America, outside of those who live in the Amazon. The Totobiegosode people have been the guardians of the Gran Chaco in Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay and in 2013 they faced one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, as forest was converted to grasslands to produce livestock. This destroyed much of their living space and exemplifies the threats to indigenous peoples of the world. They also must endure fundamentalist missionary sects, government armed forces, private police of (trans) national companies, organized crime, even jungle predators. [20] They face diseases for which they have no defenses that place them on the verge of extinction, similar to what the world is experiencing with COVID-19.

This dire situation often forces them to accept the introduction of livestock and other species outside their territories by foreign companies, which accelerates loss of their home, the forest. The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people tool the Paraguayan State to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which issued protection measures in 2016. Finally, after 26 years of struggle, in 2019 they won a ruling that the state must recognize their ancestral land. [21] Ironic. The same institution that has allowed its destruction is the one that abrogates the absolute right of recognition.

The fourth set of threats I´ll mention is the criminalization of the defenders of the rights of Mother Earth. In 2015, 185 cases of murdered environmental defenders worldwide were documented. Of that total, 50 were killed in Brazil, 60% were assassinated in Latin America, and 40% were indigenous brothers and sisters. The 2016 murder of our sister Berta Cáceres was a hard blow to the fight to defend territory, but despite worldwide coverage and outrage, the violence continues and the number of murders is rising.

In 2017, Global Witness reported that, of 207 defenders killed worldwide, a quarter were indigenous. [22] We are 5% of the total world population, but we are putting the highest number of deaths for the defense of mother earth. [23] Thousands of indigenous women and men are today under surveillance, facing harassment, threats, intimidation, attacks, arbitrary detention and malicious lawsuits often financed by the law firms of transnational corporations.

Here I want to mention and honor some of the leaders who have been criminalized, who are or were imprisoned: Lolita Chávez, Maya K’iche’ of Guatemala, Bernardo Caal Xol and Abelino Chub Caal, Maya Q’eqchi’ of Guatemala; the leaders of the Mapuche people, Alberto Curamil, Álvaro Millalen, Daniel Canio, Jorge Cayupan, Pablo Trangol, José Cáceres; Patricia Gualinga and Salomé Aranda of the Kichwa de Sarayaku people of Ecuador, Agustín Wachapá and José Acacho of the Shuar of Ecuador; our brothers and sisters of the Náhuatl people of México–Dominga González Martínez, Marco Antonio Pérez, Lorenzo Sánchez, Teófilo Pérez González, Rómulo Arias Mireles and Pedro Sánchez Berriozábal.

They all represent the thousands who, with dignity resist in this world. The persecution they suffer demonstrates the clear and permanent pattern of global criminalization, because the system of domination and explotation of natural resouresin the interest of capital is global.

Here we also have to question wealthy nations that have a policy of cooperation, but simultaneously promote investment policies that exploit our resources. I urge them to end this double standard—they should not, on the one hand, support our peoples, and on the other, support trasnational companies headquartered in their countries that destroy our forests or strip our mineral wealth, murdering our sisters and brothers and promoting government corruption in our countres where we have structurally corrupt governments. This system, this vision, and this imperial and colonial way of acting that still exists among them and us, should stop once and for all. This is the historic moment, this is the opportunity to do it if we really want our children and their children to have a world to inherit.

In this pandemia, I reaffirm the need to strengthen my principles Maya-K’iche’ to continue life in community. But also to rethink the way I was raised and molded in western schools. More and more, I feel obliged to examine my life, work and activism and reconsider colonial terms such as “poverty”, “development”, “industrialization”, “growth”, “educaiton”, “progress”, “modernity”, among others, since these are not universal categories that apply equally to all. Consequently, we cannot all be measured with the same international instruments, with the same methodolgies, or with the same theoretical frameworks for all peoples.

Examining this led to the question: as indigenous peoples were we born poor or did centuries of colonialism make our communities poor, perpetuating them in that position through the creation of the Nation State? If the current moment is questioning the imbalance and abuse that capital has imposed on mother earth, to what point do we want to be participants in the return of that normalized “development” that destroyed us? How must we revise the concepts imposed by global states and institutions? Because what the West has considered backwardness, poverty or underdevelopment, is for many indigenous peoples life, balance and the full exercise of their worldview.

While preparing this response, I listened to the advice of several indigenous brothers and sisters on how to deal with the pandemic in their territories, and I thought long and hard about the peoples who have chosen to live in voluntary isolation. Their wealth lies in that they live far from the west. They know that the moment they allow western concepts to penetrate their worlds, they will have lost that delicate and beautiful balance that now allows them to be the only peoples in the world, totally self-sustaining, who need absolutely nothing from this other world that today weeps because its economic pillars have broken and, therefore, it lives a nightmare.

That is a bit of the same self-sustainability that our grandparents and parents had, but which was slowly undermined with the introduction of chemical fertilizer and “improved seeds” in the middle of the last century and killed our lands and with it natural production of our food.

“Progress” came, they told us, and we replaced the mashán sheet for wrapping with plastic bags, and today the sea carries our waste and misery. We must stop being “backward Indians” they shouted at us, and we agreed to stop planting our food and became part of “development” as we went to shopping centers to buy what we stopped producing–our corn, beans, garbanzos and vegetables. Carlos Vilas reminds us that in 1970 the production of basic grains that fed Guatemala was concentrated on small plots of less than 10 manzanas in the highlands of my country. [24]

One of my memories as a child is the devastation of wheat cultivation, which was recently documented by Mario Aníbal González. Wheat in my region not only fed us annually, but also provided work and cared for the land through natural fertilization, and avoided tons of trash. [25] But we were pressured by many institutions, including the school, the church, the press, and the state – to stop being “Shuco Indians.” “Stop dumping the garbage onto your land,” they told us. “That is wasting time, be modern, pay for the garbage removal service.” Today the municipal landfill where I live has collapsed, becoming one of the largest sources of contamination and severely affecting the territories, life and health of the communities where it was installed.

Today the production of food without fertilizer is called organic food. It is the healthiest, but also the most expensive on the world market, while we ruin our land with fertilizers and introduced seeds. Today the separation of garbage is called recycling and our parents gradually stopped practicing it so as not to embarrass their daughters that were going to private school.

My almost illiterate but successful mother worked as a merchant in her community, and as a child I was caught in a clash of ideologies and worlds. I sought to get far away from the world she represented, as it was synonymous with “backwardness” and I wanted to walk toward “progress”. Today, who takes responsibility for the material and emotional destruction that “development” brought about in our lives and our territories? Which institution is responsible for the damages they inflicted on us in the name of modernity?

What, then, is “poverty”? A creation, the establishment of measurable criteria where being a farmer implies not having value, but being underestimated? In the midst of this crisis we celebrate the doctors who deserve it and I join in, but we do not remember those in the fields who are working in inclement weather so there always food on our tables. Why did academic, governments, and international organizations empty out the countryside and promote urbanization which today is where the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold? Perhaps as indigenous people we must fight back against the forms of measuring our lives with external, colonized indicators that do not reflect our realities.

Facing this pandemic, we must examine the indigenous life of the past and the present, the introduction into our lives of a world that came to change us and that today writes us off as poor populations, when poverty really lies in the unstoppable voracity of the economic system that gobbles up our last remaining territories. If you really want to end indigenous poverty, with the inequity and inequality faced by women and girls, with the unstoppable migration of generation after generation to this country, the recipe is simple. Economic power must step aside, it must allow indigenous peoples to decide for themselves what path they want to follow, and all of humanity will be able to witness the creative diversity of ways of life that we possess.

Stop continuing to allow communities to be deprived of their livelihoods by state institutions. Stop the looting of the resources of the soil and subsoil where we live. Stop diverting the rivers, which belong to everyone. Stop extensive monoculture crops. Stop scraping the mountains to extract gold, silver, and other minerals. Stop piercing the ocean and stop dividing to deceive and conquer. The solutions are there, they seem simple, but for the capitalist system the generation of their wealth is at stake. It won’t be easy.

In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, indigenous peoples all over will continue to resist and open up paths that continue the long ancestral struggle through the permanent recovery of the territories. They will continue to fight for respect for the right to self-determination, always remembering that we have life projects that differ from the one that has been imposed on us. Therefore, we have to divest ourselves of a number of created needs that have only brought us hunger, excesses and pain, and have made us slaves to a world that does not care about community or cooperation, but only about the creation of consumers. [26]

This world economic system is personified by aggression and predation, abuse, racism and machismo, assimilation and dispossession, homophobia and cynicism, migration and rejection, excesses and monopolies that have ended up screwing those who shelter and feed us. A system run by immoral and self-conscious politicians, businessmen, bankers and technocrats who mercilessly mock those who do not hold their same values. We hope that many will listen, and that this “pause” will provoke a transformation of consciousness. For the sake of humanity, it must be.

If we don’t learn fromthis pandemia to care for and appreciate our “Big House”, the Pachamama, the “Loma Santa”, the “Tierra sin mal”, or our Mother Earth, we really deserve extinction as a species, because what we’re seeing now is that we cannot go against nature–there is no “progress” outside of the natural order.

What to do, then, about the two fundamental points of the crisis? On the one hand, the exposure of the devastation of the system, and on the other, what the obligatory pause is showing us, the outline of a different future, less dependent on global consumption, less polluting, more attentive to self-sustaining ways and to human relations.

The dilemma lies in that this pause is causing suffering and pain as a consequence of inequities, so many poor people are demanding that the “economy be opened” so they can eat. Will going back to normal reduce pain for the majority? If so, how can those of us in positions of relative privilege encourage alternative spaces?
This is complex, because it has to do with an addiction to the market system, to consumption, to the mentality that there are no alternatives for the poor or the middle class, like the elites tell us.

This is where indigenous ancestral awareness and practice are important, because communities know exactly what to do in the face of the crisis: plant and harvest their own food, as they have done for four thousand years. But at the same time, we cannot avoid the gap between that consciousness and indigenous practice, and the human population, including a significant number of indigenous people themselves. How to make proposals that do not ignore the pain that is being experienced, but that can build possible resistance from the peoples themselves? Could it be that we have to work on transforming the consciences of those who have been the most “used” and co-opted by the system?

The challenge we all face is that we have to go further, take the next steps that involve criticism and self-criticism, but also to rethink the institutions that lead us to alternative proposals where the peoples, the communities, youth and women’s struggles guide the parameters, where undoubtedly those paths will be diverse, some within the states while others seek a partial, temporary or total distancing from the state. Some will be mixed processes, others autonomic or federative. In the indigenous world and the academic world of the future, without a doubt, the diversity in forms of organization will prevail in spite of efforts to minimize or trivialize it. But above all, it will continue to be a fertile field to continue harvesting, imagining and creating.

Maltiox chawe follow tinamit.

Text based on speech by the author on receiving the 2020 Martin Diskin Award for scholar-activism


[1] By March 11 the United States reported 20,110 deaths the highest number worldwide while the total number of infected was 1,754,457, while for May 15 the number of deaths in the US exceeded 87,500. Globally, May 15 the number of cases exceeded 4,600,000 and the number of deaths exceeded 308,000, according to the page of the Johns Hopkins University.


[3] On April 15, which was Junlajuj E, there were more than 2 million cases.

[4] Political debate in the United States about the pandemic has been heated, for example, Hillary Clinton said that the pandemic “is having a disproportionate impact on the front lines: on women who work, women who take care of others, women who support the home as we go through this together.” She added: “Just think of the difference it would make right now if we had a president who not only listened to science, put facts before fiction, but united us.” former President Barak Obama criticized handling of the pandemic along the same lines -eeuu-al-coronavirus



[7]–nuevas-tablas-de-datos-del-pnud-revelan -Huge-different.html In this report, the UNDP warned of the enormous differences between the capacities of the countries to face the Covid-19, pointing out that there is a systemic crisis.

[9]  http://www.5se

[10] Italy proposed the Coronabonos, which Spain and France also supported, but which was rejected by countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.






[16] For the four challenges presented here, I want to thank the research support of my colleague, Aileen Ford.

[17] Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based on the registry of extractive industry projects in indigenous territories, Support Project for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, University of Arizona. Cited in Altomonte and Sánchez, 2016.

[18] See the Chevron-Texaco case.

[19] Booklet “TIPNIS, resistance is dignity.” Territories in Resistance: Bolivia without date.





[24] In Guatemala, the South Coast concentrated the agro-export boom with only 13% of the national surface, generating in the late 1970s around 40% of the country’s agricultural product. Production of basic grains was concentrated in the Western Highlands, where smallholding predominates: 50% of the area of ​​that region are farms of less than 10 manzanas, while nationally these farms represented only 19% (Hintermeister 1982: 18). Carlos Vilas, Markets, State and Revolutions. Central America 1950-1990. Mexico 1994. The author analyzes how the capitalist modernization of Central America was supported mainly by the IDB and the World Bank.

[25] Wheat Birth, Life and Death in Guatemala. 2019. Mario Anibal González USAC, CUNOC.

[26] .html