Fany Kuiru, 1st woman elected to head Coica indigenous confederation

Quito, Mar 7 (EFE).- Colombia’s Fany Kuiru is the first woman elected to head the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica), the world’s largest indigenous confederation, amid deep division and conflict within the Quito-based organization and with Ecuador’s Tuntiak Katan also claiming to be its leader.

Amid this great internal tension within Coica – which represents 511 indigenous peoples in nine countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – Kuiru, in an interview with EFE, called for unity and exhorted Ecuadorian authorities to reverse the registering of the directive council headed by Katan and acknowledge her as the organization’s leader.

The appointment of Kuiru, a member of the Huitoto people, came at an extraordinary conference held in Quito in late January officially called by the directive council and with the backing of founding members – and former leaders – of the organization such as Peru’s Evaristo Nugkuag and Ecuador’s Valerio Grefa.

“I’m the candidate of the women of eight countries who were present in Quito at the Second Summit of First Women from the Amazon Basin. … I never thought that I’d be the one chosen by them. Then, there was also unanimity among men and women in the congress,” Kuiru said.

For the first time in the almost 39 years of its history, a woman was chosen to lead Coica, and her election has been recognized by the indigenous federations of Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

On the other hand, Katan, a member of the Shuar tribe, was selected at a conference held last November in Suriname that was not officially called by the Coica directive council, but he has the support of Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname.

“We have to be united to defend the Amazon against extractive activities, against the poisoning of our lands and rivers, because the communities are becoming sick,” warned Kuiru, who is descended from indigenous people who survived the rubber epoch, one of the most atrocious slavery regimes in the world’s history.

She said that indigenous women have been harmed the most over time by extractive and other activities in the region, including in terms of their reproductive health due to pollution of the rivers by mercury from illegal mining, and thus they also deserve the chance to take the reins of Coica.

“We indigenous women have all the strength, knowledge and ability (needed) to govern,” Kuiru said.

“This is our chance. They are not very favorable circumstances, but we women have a lot of strength for building and recrafting things. Just like we give life (to our children), Coica will be reborn with us,” she added.

Before Kuiru, four men had headed Coica: Peruvians Evaristo Nugkuag, from the Awajun people, and Edwin Vasquez with the Huitoto people; Ecuador’s Valerio Grefa, with the Kuchwa people, and Venezuela’s Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, with the Wakuenai Kurripako.

“It’s always been up to us women to fight for space, and what’s happened now is the result of elections after a process of more than four years, when we women of the Amazon basin decided to unite our voices, our problems and push ourselves forward,” Kuiru said.

“And one of the mandates is specifically equal participation and the participation of women in the decision-making spaces. That was our struggle,” said the indigenous leader, who views this moment as “an opportunity to project our female vision of how to protect the Amazon and to engage in political dialogue with the governments” of the region.

On the horizon is the task of building bridges of dialogue with governments to bring the ambitious goals developed in earlier years by Coica to fruition in terms of protecting 80 percent of Amazonia by 2025 along with promoting the recognition of indigenous rights, especially ownership of tribal lands.

Kuiru said that the return of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Brazil’s presidency is a way to reach those goals, since under ultrarightist former President Jair Bolsonaro indigenous peoples “suffered four years of pain, persecution, defenselessness and deforestation of their territories.”

“I hope that finally there will be some kind of peace for our Brazilian brothers,” she said.

As for Colombia, Kuiru lamented the pursuit of what she said was so-called sustainable development of the Amazon without taking into account the indigenous peoples of the region.

“We’re the legitimate ancient and ancestral owners of the lands and we know how to take care of them. If (the authorities) leave us to the side, once again they will be lashing out wildly wanting to do something for the Amazon but being unable to,” she said.



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