Save the Toromonas

Save the Toromonas

By Pablo Cingolani

In the midst of this overwhelming modernity, there are still indigenous peoples or groups detached from these peoples who, of their own volition, have decided to remain isolated from the rest of the societies as a result of the aggressions they suffered in the past.

Save the Toromonas

In the midst of this overwhelming modernity, there are still indigenous peoples or groups separated from these peoples who, by their own volition, in most cases, have decided to remain isolated from the rest of the national societies of which they are also part.

The continental Amazon and the Gran Chaco region are the last sanctuaries where these peoples live according to their customs and traditional ways of life.

This voluntary isolation, to a great extent, is the product of the aggressions that these peoples suffered in the past and the potential aggressions that they may receive from almost everyone, from religious organizations to colonizers, through loggers, drug traffickers or oil companies.

In the Amazon, and this already includes the current Bolivian Amazon, from the mid-nineteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century, the history of indigenous peoples changed dramatically and forever from the rise of the exploitation of one of its main natural resources: rubber.

The fever for the exploitation of rubber - which was experienced from Colombia to Bolivia - meant, plain and simple, a genocide for indigenous peoples.

There are many testimonies of peoples that have disappeared permanently and there is the awareness that many others have disappeared without even leaving a trace of their existence, due to the lack of action of governments and the lack of visibility of the issue within society.

This hidden, silent and invisible genocide persists to the present. It is necessary to call attention, stir sensitivity, awaken consciences and urge decisive action on the part of the governments and institutions that administer and / or work in the Amazon so that this stops and, above all, the existence of these peoples in the Amazonian territories and their human rights are respected, especially their decision to live in isolation.

A global and necessary alliance

In that direction, on November 11, 2005, a signed declaration was released in the Brazilian city of Belem do Pará within the framework of the First International Meeting on Isolated Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon and the Gran Chaco.

Another decision emanating from the meeting was the constitution of an International Alliance for the Protection of Isolated Indigenous Peoples, which is in its launch phase.

Bolivia was represented at the Belem meeting by Bernardo Fischermann, an anthropologist who works with the Ayoreo in the Cruceño Chaco, and by Arturo Villanueva, from the Ombudsman's Office headed by Don Waldo Albarracín.

The problem of isolated peoples not only involves the countries where these groups of people exist within their territories but also the international community as a whole.

This was expressed both in Resolution 3056 on Indigenous Peoples living in Voluntary Isolation in the Amazon and Chaco Region of the World Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), issued in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004, as well as in the recommendation (Paragraph 73) on isolated indigenous peoples adopted at the IV Session of the Permanent Forum on indigenous issues of the United Nations (UN) in 2005 and the proposal of the Working Group in charge of preparing the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Organization of American States (OAS) in its last session held in Guatemala last year.

In Article XXVI of the aforementioned declaration, it is postulated that "indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation or in initial contact have the right to remain in that condition and to live freely and in accordance with their cultures." At the same time, that “the states will adopt adequate measures and policies, with the knowledge and participation of indigenous peoples and organizations, to recognize, respect and protect the lands, territories, environment and cultures of these peoples, as well as their lives and individual and collective integrity ”.

In the Declaration of Belem, the presence of peoples or segments of isolated indigenous peoples is certified in the Madidi National Park area of ​​the department of La Paz in the Republic of Bolivia.

Los Toromonas to the Constituent Assembly

For five years, as the Madidi Expedition, we have been studying, drawing attention and alerting about the threats that loom over an isolated human group that would live in the valley region and the headwaters of the Colorado River or Pukamayu and the headwaters of the Heath River or Sonene in the western sector of the Madidi National Park, on the border with the Republic of Peru.

The inhabitants of the indigenous or mestizo communities around the territory in question refer to the human group with the name of Toromonas.

The Toromonas were one of the peoples that most resisted the penetration of the Spanish conquerors in the current Bolivian Amazon region during the 16th and 17th centuries. Led by the legendary Tarano chieftain, the Toromonas prevented not only the geographical recognition of the region but also any intention of permanent settlement in the area by the Europeans.

The presence of the ethnic group began to be diluted at the end of the 19th century in the midst of the genocide caused by the rubber tappers and its trace was submerged in oblivion in the middle of the 20th century. However, it is presumable that groups of this Tacana-speaking people may have survived in the inaccessible jungles of the Pukamayu.

Today, the region is shaken by the presence of loggers who carry out a desperate search for new trees to exploit.

During our last inspection at the site, in October 2005, we received information that logging was reaching the Cachimayu River sector, very close to the Colorado River sector. As is public knowledge, we made the corresponding complaint. It is our intention to continue with our recognition work and prove the existence of the isolated group so that the State assumes responsibility for its strict protection.

If we understand the importance of preserving these last isolated indigenous peoples that resist in the Bolivian Amazon, if we understand that the human rights of these isolated groups are the same that we must respect and enforce for the rest of the citizenry, we will realize that it is time to act, that is now or never the time to take action to safeguard the life and culture of the Toromonas.

Otherwise, they will disappear without leaving a trace and will be one more stain on our conscience, no matter how intercultural it manifests.

It is our wish that this problem not only be disseminated but also finds a space, both in the policies of the current government headed by President Evo Morales - which, due to its origin, will surely have greater sensitivity regarding the issue - as well as in the framework of the future Constituent Assembly that will write a new Political Constitution of the State.

It is a duty of conscience to do everything in our power to preserve the lives of isolated indigenous peoples. We are in time not to continue repeating the sad history of America of the last five centuries.

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