Media Center



October 10, 2005 - Antigua, Guatemala

Mr. Luis Alberto Rodríguez, Director of the Summits of the Americas Secretariat.
Representatives of the governments of OAS member states, Observers, and Representatives of the international community in general.
Representatives of indigenous peoples and organizations.
Friends and colleagues of Guatemala’s Maya, Garífuna and Xinka organizations

With the blessing of our Mayan grandparents and ancestors, for the first time we are meeting to draft the American Declaration in the territory of the Mayan People of Kaqchikel, in the beautiful city of La Antigua Guatemala, in the Department of Sacatepéquez, and we are doing so thanks to the efforts of the government authorities who worked so hard to bring about the Sixth Meeting of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus. We extend a welcome to all the delegates and hope you have a comfortable and happy stay.

We are here, but our mind, our spirit, our heart, and our feelings are profoundly shaken by the physical and psychological grief afflicting thousands of my brothers, brothers and sisters who have suddenly lost their loved ones and suffered the material damage wrought by Hurricane Stan. Therefore, on behalf of the Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I convey our solidarity and sympathy to all the communities in these difficult moments. We extend our special thanks, also, to all the countries that, as friends of Guatemala, have provided various forms of assistance. I am sure that, as on other occasions, we Guatemalans will recover and move forward to rebuild what has been destroyed and ensure that life goes on again in happiness and hope.

It is the first time in the history of discussion of the Declaration that a meeting on it is being held outside OAS headquarters. This is a new experience in our work and I am sure that it will lead us to renew our ideals and goals; but, above all, it will help us acquire the vision needed to achieve a balanced, as well as a profound and objective, Declaration.

From the very beginning of the process of preparing the Declaration, we were conscious that recognizing the rights of the indigenous peoples is an arduous but not impossible task, above all because there is a pressing need to recognize and respect the collective and individual rights of those peoples, apart from the fact that those rights mirror the evolution and form an important complement of international law and, hence, of domestic legislation.

Numerous national and international fora have discussed and debated the core concepts and definitions that render approval of the Declaration so difficult. The players know exactly where these difficulties lie and that is an advantage for moving the negotiations forward, provided that we all driven by the will to attain maximum consensus and to avoid curtailing or thwarting the aspirations and principles upheld by both indigenous peoples and states.

It is normal that there should be apprehension and some uncertainty regarding the consequences of applying the paragraphs that representatives of governments and the indigenous peoples come to agree on. There are fears on both sides, but we have come far enough during five meetings of negotiations in the quest for points of consensus to realize that we are reaching a stage of maturity and depth in our discussions. Mistrust among us is dwindling as we enter the final lap. The OAS must embark on the road to approving, as soon as possible, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as a historic challenge for member states.

The challenge facing us at this Sixth Meeting of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus, which begins today, is to discuss amply and with flexibility, wisdom, and creativity the section on social, economic, and property rights, which includes, along with other issues, the rights to lands, territories, and resources; transfers and relocation; labor rights; the right to development, and the rights to protection of cultural heritage and intellectual property. We will also discuss Section VI, on General Provisions.

The key to the success we yearn for is to bear in mind that a Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples will make an enormous contribution to the consolidation and exercise of democracy in our countries and to the creation of a more propitious environment for democratic governance in most of our nations. That is why I invite you all to speak from the heart and to reason, with as much sensitivity as you can muster and with a large dose of tolerance and understanding, in order to achieve balance and inclusiveness in our proposals.

Finally, I wish to thank all the staff of Guatemala’s government institutions and that of the General Secretariat, who have worked intensely to plan and organize this meeting. I would also like to thank the government delegations, who have traveled from afar to make this meeting possible.

Thank you very much.