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We are proud of this agreement reached after six years of legal strategy

Dear Friends:

We have gathered here in the Community of Ñaurenda to celebrate another year of the Assembly of the Guaraní People of Itika Guasu (APG IG), another year of the People of Itika Guasu, another year of the existence of the Original Community Territory (TCO) of Itika Guasu.

But the significance of the past year is such that this year's anniversary is not like any other; it is a very special year that we will forever remember and I think that we have reason to believe that it will also be remembered by our children and their children.

In this past year, important measures were taken for achieving the legal recognition of our rights as indigenous communities, our rights to our land, and the recognition of our uses and customs.

Last December 29th, we signed an Agreement with Repsol Bolivia SA that put an end to the tough conflict that lasted several years.

But we signed without giving up any of our rights and instead obtaining full legal recognition of our ownership of the Original Community Territory and of the existence of the APG IG.

We are proud of this Agreement that satisfies certain conditions in particular that make it unique in Bolivia and even in all of Latin America and that benefits not only us, as members of the APG IG, since most of the principles agreed upon by both parties to the Agreement are useful and will serve as an example to other indigenous communities, and can influence the conduct of oil corporations insofar as this Agreement implies concrete legal consequences.

We hope that this will be a true inspiration for other indigenous communities who are facing similar problems in other parts of Latin America.

For at least six years we have been following a well defined legal strategy that has allowed all of those involved to learn not only the value of our own rights, but also the fact that they may be defended in practice.

We were told by many that our dream was impossible, and there were even those who ventured to express through "brainy" writings that our rupture with Repsol SA in 2006 was a suicide and that we would never succeed in achieving the conditions that we were requesting at that time. Today we can proudly say that they were mistaken and fortunately for the future of our children we can declare that the decisions made in our Mburuvicha Assemblies were the right ones.

We have established, among others, the following:

  • The creation of the Itika Guasu Investment Fund, whose financial activity, as it has been announced, began last March 11th. This fund is the first of its kind in Bolivia and in Latin America and is part of our long-term financing strategy, which will allow us to progress in our own development. This guarantees our true autonomy and that of our children.

    These 14.8 million dollars will serve to develop first and foremost medical care for our children and women and will attend to our long-term needs. As many people know, the medical unit has began functioning and will be fully functioning within the next six months and for the first time in our history, we will guarantee medical care to all of our children on a consistent basis, or in other words, in the long-term. This project will have secure financing for at least twenty years.

    At this time, we are studying which companies specialized in environmental audits will carry out the first environmental audit of our Original Community Territory covering the period from 1997 until December 31st, 2010. This is the first time such an environmental audit will be carried out in Bolivia and of course the first time it is carried out within the legal framework of an Original Community Territory.

    You all know that in the Chaco, no attempts to carry out such audits were successful. But this audit will repeat every five years until the end of the contract governing Repsol Bolivia SA's activities, which guarantees that when the contract terminates, our land will be returned to its original state and that the companies themselves will be responsible for compensating for environmental damage and for guarantying our children that the land will not be left contaminated or full of useless scraps.

  • In addition to these issues, our right to consultation has been recognised, not as an administrative measure, but rather in the form of a continuous supervision of the company's activities on our land and the companies' duty to respect our uses and customs and that, in the case of conflict, these uses and customs will be recognized and considered a legal priority for the purpose of reaching a resolution.

  • We have also managed to incorporate into our Agreement with Repsol Bolivia SA international human rights law, international commercial law and international criminal law; the 169 International Labour Organisation Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are also incorporated into our Agreement with Repsol.

    In other words, this does not consist recognition based on formality or rhetoric. These form an integral part of the Agreement, which implies a recognition of all of the rights of indigenous peoples and our civil liberties. This is the first time that an oil company has signed such an agreement in Bolivia and in Latin America.

  • These means and agreements will allow us for the first time to have a real and secure strategy with respect to the legalisation and the exploitation of lumber in our Original Community Territory with technical and legal assistance that we have already agreed upon and that we will implement over the course of the next five to ten years. For the first time we can guarantee the rational exploitation of our lumber resources ensuring the respect for nature that we have always sought.

    As such, as I said at the beginning, today's anniversary is not just like any other in our history. During our assemblies, when these agreements were approved and their significance discussed and explained in depth, I witnessed that many fellow members cried with emotion, especially those who suffered persecution and who, for having merely defended the rights of us all, suffered also from racist attacks, from which we continue to suffer still today.

    Before finishing, I would like to say to you all that our wish is to defend all of our fellow companions and authorities, and to this end we will resort to all financial and legal means available to us. In this way, I appeal specifically for the defence of our uses and customs for the purpose of confronting those who attempt to usurp our lands, our forests and, most seriously, our authorities.

    If any Guaraní leader makes a mistake, it is us who will consider his/her actions in view of our uses and customs and, if necessary, punish the wrongdoer..., but no one should replace our uses and customs.

    As you will see, this new position presents us with many challenges, including, among others, the necessary training for the purpose of managing our own resources so that our children within a generation will have the means that we have never had and that will guarantee their education, their access to healthcare and adequate housing, and in addition, profitable projects that guarantee our development in the long-term.

    But we will not achieve this without everyone's effort and collaboration. Today, more than ever, we must remain united in order to be able to move forward. May these significant achievements be the beginning of a new era of which we can be very proud.

    Ñaurenda, March 23rd, 2011
    Never Barrientos
    President of the APG IG

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