The Plight of the World's Indigenous Community.

As the Fourth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples commenced last week at the United Nations, World Bank released a report essentially discloses that indigenous people continue to suffer from higher poverty, lower education, and a greater incidence of disease and discrimination than other groups, despite increased political influence.

Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004 considers how social conditions have evolved in the five Latin American countries with the largest indigenous populations (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru) during the last decade, proclaimed in 1994 by the United Nations as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“Although indigenous people in the region have increased their political power and representation during the last decade, this has not translated into the positive results -in terms of poverty reduction- we had hoped to find when we embarked on this research,” said Gillette Hall, World Bank economist and co-author of the study.

The study found that indigenous peoples represent 10 percent of the region’s population and the largest disadvantaged group in Latin America. While the incidence of poverty in Latin America is high, it is particularly severe and deep among the indigenous population.

Specifically, few gains were made in income poverty reduction among indigenous peoples during the indigenous peoples’ decade (1994-2004). Indigenous people recover more slowly from economic crisis. The indigenous poverty gap is deeper, and shrank more slowly over the 1990s. Being indigenous increases an individual’s probability of being poor and this relationship was about the same at the beginning and at the close of the decade. Indigenous people continue to have fewer years of education, but the gap is narrowing, and education outcomes are substantially worse for indigenous peoples, which is indicative of problems in education quality. Indigenous people, especially women and children, continue to have less access to basic health services.

However, many activists are coming out and making it clear that it is the fault of the very institution that put out this report who is to blame for the miseries of the indigenous.

With this report, "the World Bank is trying to whitewash its image, but we all know it is partly to blame for many of our problems, and for numerous human rights violations," said Rafael González, spokesman for the Committee for Campesino Unity in Guatemala, a country where indigenous people make up a majority of the population, to IPS.

Critics of World Bank investments in timber, mining, and extractive industries say the projects damage the way of life of many indigenous communities.

With respect to political influence, González said in an interview with IPS that "It's true that indigenous people have gained political power, but not as much as we could or should have."

"The real power remains in the hands of the traditional politicians and the economic elites, which have exploited, killed and marginalised indigenous people," added the activist.

Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, and the United Nations declared the International Decade for the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004).

But last year, Menchú told IPS that she was disappointed with what the International Decade had achieved.

While many activists are hoping the World Bank report will bring about change, they don't see this happening anytime soon.


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