Tuesday 4 March 2014


By Jiten Yumnam

Capitalism, in the present stage of global imperialism also manifested in monopoly finance carried out through banking cartels such as World Bank, ADB, etc, has a negative impact on the indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are the most marginalized section of population within the countries where they are confined and ruled upon. The indigenous peoples and their land, resources are reduced into source of surplus value and object of exploitation within the overarching imperialist globalization. What is crucial for analysis is that there is underdevelopment and exploitation of indigenous peoples when a country is dependent to the global imperialism, thereby keeping itself in semi or even an abject colonial condition, or if it would uphold predominance of capitalist system. Since there is correlation between capitalist recession and economic crisis, e.g., “global financial and economic crisis of 2008,” the imperialist crisis severely affected them through intensified policies of subjugation and underdevelopment. Let me elaborate it under the following subheadings; (a) imperialist financial and economic crisis of 2008, and (b) impact on indigenous peoples.

(a) Financial and economic crisis of 2008

Financial crisis of the capitalists, which is dominantly measured in terms of the comparative decline of GDP rate of their respective countries, currency value of those countries and their gold reserves in the stock exchange, have been generally identified with economic crisis. But the global economic crisis in the age of imperialism is largely the syndrome of capitalist recession and exhaustion of resources. The “financial and economic crisis of 2008” that originates in USA, considered as the epicenter of the global financial system, has widespread economic impact on several countries since most of these countries are subjected to structural constraints under finance imperialism.   

The USA syndrome would reveal that the immediate cause of the 2008 financial crisis was the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage markets in the US. Other factors includes complex processes - the expansionary monetary policies in major financial centers; developments in the sub-prime mortgage markets of US; extensive use of securitization, complex derivative instruments and shadow banking system; excessive leverage in the financial system; poor assessment of risk in the financial system; lax regulation and supervision by public bodies arising from belief in efficient markets; and global macroeconomic imbalances. Some say the crisis is related to the high oil price in 2008, which reach nearly 150 USD a barrel. The  crisis has exposed fundamental problems, not only in regulatory systems of established countries affecting finance, competition, and corporate governance, but also in the international institutions and arrangements that were created in the name of ensuring financial and economic stability.  

(b) Impact on indigenous peoples:

Indigenous peoples, whose livelihood and way of life still revolves around the traditional occupation, swiden farming, hunting, gathering of forest products, fishing etc., which used to be far more sustainable and self sufficient with low carbon foot prints, has been trying hard to find direct and indirect impacts of the economic crisis primarily due to lack of understanding due to their remote locations and the complexity of the global financial system. Yet, there are impacts of the crisis related to increased cost of goods and services, low demand & or price of their food and cash crop, and lesser work or job opportunities and also  adverse affects associated with loss of Land and natural resources for development projects. The impacts among indigenous peoples differ from one situation to another, depending on how the communities and the respective country where they live in is integrated to the market-based global economy, the capitalist system.  Crisis or not, Indigenous peoples have long been confronting a survival crisis, due to non-recognition of their way of life, their right to define, control and manage their own developmental affairs in their own land, expropriation of their land and resources without their consent and state subjugations with militarization.

IFI intrusion: The ne-liberal measures adopted by the imperialists to deal with the financial crisis had negative implication on the economic condition of the peoples who are not the direct stakeholders of the imperialists grabs. This is primarily evident in the ever increasing intrusion of international Financial Institutions to promote market oriented investments. For instance, in the aftermath of the crisis, the World Bank has committed a record $88 billion in loans, grants, equity investments, and guarantees. In the post-crisis period countries that promote capitalism have approached International Monetary Fund for financial assistance. Several steps have been taken to expand the IMF’s financial resources. At the G20 London Summit in April 2009, capitalist representatives agreed that the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB) should be increased to $550 billion from the current $50 billion in order to strengthen IMF’s capacity to respond in the event of a crisis.

The unprecedented involvement and role of the IFI in India’s North East has seen unprecedented expropriation of land and brutal suppression of those who assert for land and other democratic rights. Indian capital expansionism under the cover of the jargon ‘Look East Policy’ is in reality an attempt to strengthen Indian comprador control over the markets in Southeast Asia. The subsequent investments in the tertiary construction sub-sectors, such as the Trans Asian Highway, the Trans Asian Railways, and military stations, which are meant for expanding neo-liberal trade system, would perpetuate further exposure of the region to the imperialist globalization. All these projects are being carried out through false propaganda, suppression, and without Free Prior and Informed Consent of the people to be affected by such projects. The profit seeking capitalist investors, in their scramble for super-profit have caused unrestrained environmental destruction, displacement, divide & rule and other forms of human rights violation in Manipur and other parts of India’s Northeast. This process of deepening the role of IFI in the aftermath of the economic crisis cannot be a solution to the imperialist financial crisis. On the contrary it will deepen the global crisis, as the IFI’s involvement has already led to destruction of indigenous peoples land and resources, thereby, having negative repercussion on their identity and human rights.

Even during the crisis, we have seen companies receiving financial stimulus from Governments in developed world, such as General Motors expanding its sales operations during the crisis even in far flung areas, simultaneously with expansion for search for oil and other resources for exploitation.     

Intensification of extractive industries and related displacement: In order to recover from the financial crisis, multinational companies are being funded by the international financial institutions and nationalized banks to strengthen extraction and exploitation of indigenous peoples in the name of development. In order to secure economic growth of the imperialists, there has been promotion of extractive industries, mining, oil drilling, destruction of forest, construction of mega dams in several indigenous territories in India’s North East, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and etc. Mining and oil drilling lease to both foreign and national companies and also for construction of mega dams is increasing despite the economic crisis. Some countries which are quite complacent of its ability to withstand the shock of the financial crisis, such as India and China are more aggressive in using its nationalized banks to fund such mega projects targetting indigenous territories.

Food crisis: The financial and economic crisis interplayed with climate change disasters and adoption of false solutions created food crisis among peoples who are either forced to export food at their own costs in order to meet with imperialist trade quota and those who are dependent upon food aid & subsidies by the food monopolies. The food crisis has exasperated the extremely difficult situation of indigenous peoples who were already greatly affected by the unprecedented rise in food and energy prices. In many indigenous communities, where their food sovereignty has been destroyed due to non-recognition of their rights, there is increasing import of food from outside their territory and rise in both food and energy prices adds further suffering to the already impoverished communities. Statistically it is being estimated that the current food crisis had pushed roughly 150 million people, which includes many indigenous communities back into poverty.  Indeed, staple foods had seen double digit cost increases. The year 2008 saw massive rises in the price of the most basic of necessities – food.  

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that increasing prices have “triggered a food crisis” in 36 countries, where several indigenous communities also lived. Again, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 12 out of the 16 ‘hunger hotspot countries’ are in the LDCs (Afghanistan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, Senegal, Somalia, Uganda, Yemen). Because the majority of poor people in LDCs spend 70%-80% of their income on food, they are very hard hit by the sharp increases in domestic food prices. In 2008-2009 Eritrea has produced only about 30% of its food requirements. The consequences of the food crisis, which the head of WFP has called ‘a silent tsunami’, include widespread misery and malnutrition for millions of people.  
There are five major drivers of rising global food prices. They are: (a) long term supply problems; (b) rise in oil prices; (c) Changes in demand due to bio fuels; (d) depreciation in dollar and low interest rate in the US and speculative activities; (f) export restrictions of developing countries. The food crisis shows that the existing agro-industrial and market-led approach to food security has totally failed to feed hungry people living in LDCs. Promotion of corporate farming and the introduction of extreme dependence on external food supplies, lack of productive investments in local agricultural systems, global warming, trade imbalances and trade liberalization are also to blame for food crisis.  

Employment question: Unemployment had soared up among indigenous peoples in the aftermath of global crisis. It is worth reminding that several thousands of migrant workers who have been drawn into labor pool as a direct fallout of imperialist market based economic model and who were being forced to migrate in search for work are employed in capitalist enterprises in advanced countries and within urban metropolis within countries of their confines with high prevalence of high connectivity to capitalist market and investment. This section of the productive force is the first one to be discriminated and targeted in job cuts.  The IT sector, construction sectors and others are ones where there are massive job cuts, which also affect indigenous peoples. Declining exports more so with agricultural (decline in cash crops sales in Indonesia, tea in Assam, NE India) and other service sectors, such as tourism (Kenya) etc has led to serious downfall of income and loss of employment among indigenous peoples. There is serious decline in the volume of remittances among indigenous migrant workers in the Americas and in Asia (Philippines). (Saudi Arabia announced on 1 July not to hire Pinoys as domestic workers anymore). Such racially twisted discrimination and job cuts had direct negative impacts on the economic condition of the migrant worker, leading to their impoverishment.   

Deepening climate crisis: The current climate change crisis is also a glaring example of destruction of ecological balance as a result of unrestrained exploitation of natural resources by the imperialist. Indigenous peoples disproportionately suffer from the serious impacts of climate change because; (a) they are mainly dependent on the integrity with ecosystems for survival, and (b) they lack material resource and political compatibility to compete with the exploiting governments who promote finance intrusion. They also suffer from climate mitigation measures of the governments which failed to respect their rights. They are the ones who mainly bear the costs of adapting to climate change. However, despite the proven limitations of the current market based system, solutions to climate changes, viz, the market based mitigation measures, such as emissions trading, carbon sinks, renewable energy systems, and alternative fuels – will lead to further exclusion and violation of indigenous peoples’ rights and deepening of climate crisis. To cite a few examples, in several indigenous peoples territories forest and other water bodies are being increasingly targeted for false climate crisis solutions.

Human rights violations: Imperialism is based on two interrelated process of exploitation and suppression to maximize capitalist profit. The economic crisis already has serious economic, social and cultural impacts upon peoples affected by it. The most burning issue interrelated with the question of exploitation and suppression is the issue of civil and political rights. Peoples across the globe who are affected by and dissatisfied with the structural constraints of imperialism are raising democratic voices to defend their rights. In Peru and in Chile, there were demonstrations throughout 2008 on Indigenous People’s rights and rising living costs. Protests over grain prices in Haiti, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritania and other parts of Africa and a hungry children’s march in Yemen are some examples. The response of the concerned governments to such demands and voices has been characteristically militant and repressive. For instance, in armed conflict prone Manipur in India’s North East, rampant human rights violations by government troops under emergency legislations like the Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act and other forms of terror tactics has created an emergency situation that is similar to what is being referred to as War on People in the areas affected by the Operation Green Hunt in central India. Community members calling for greater respect of their democratic rights continues to be targeted. The human rights violations in happening in the context of denial of indigenous peoples’ right to self determination. Impact of women’s rights due to development aggression and militarization is another serious challenge.

Indigenous peoples’ perspective on development and way forward

Indigenous peoples confront a structural policy that is obsessed with capital expansionism, and which fails to fulfill economic development, social development, protection of human rights, and ecological stability. Neoliberalism which enforced unrestrained exploitation of resources as policy towards rapid economic growth has led to over-exploitation of natural resources belonging to indigenous peoples. The capitalist onslaught has negative repercussion upon the indigenous peoples. 

The crisis highlighted that financial markets are inherently unstable and market failures have huge economic and social costs, while the cost of market failure has been borne by society. Indigenous peoples needs development that reflects their own visions, perspectives as well as strategies that respect their individual and collective rights, which is self determining, sensitive and relevant to their situation and communities. Indigenous peoples want development with culture and identity where their rights are no longer violated, where they are not discriminated and excluded and where their free, prior and informed consent for all development processes.

To create more sustainable and people friendly development, it is important to look into the visions, concepts and practices of indigenous peoples who still sit in the territories which contain the earth's remaining natural wealth and who are the bearers of much of what remains of the world's diverse cultures and languages.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a strong basis from which indigenous peoples can affirm their rights and define their development rights and aspirations.  

Indigenous peoples’ interpretations of well-being have a several common elements such as:

o          Importance of collective economic actors and community economic institutions    integrity of indigenous governance;
o          Purpose of production should not only be considered in terms of profit but rather in terms of improving quality of life.
o          Enriching the notion of development where human beings are in harmony with Mother Earth;
o          Respecting Self-determination;
o          Interaction between people, resources and the spiritual aspects of life as well as strengthening indigenous peoples’ knowledge institutions.

It is also important to underscore that Indigenous Peoples are rights holders, with an inextricable link to their lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired, and should not be treated merely as stakeholders.  And end to the development model premised on unsustainable consumption and production, and corporate globalization, which fuels the entry of extractive industries onto their lands is foremost need.

Since global financial issues affect the lives and livelihoods of vast majority of people, these cannot be left in the hands of few experts, rich bankers, financiers, IFIs. Any efforts to find solutions should not lead to further intrusion into indigenous peoples' territories for resource extraction and targeting them to a range of violations.  

The crisis cannot and must not be used as an excuse to limit the enjoyment and progressive realization of these rights. Any unjustified limitations or retrogressive measures on the level of enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, for example, the removal or restriction of social protection and welfare would be contrary to internationally recognized human rights obligations. It is crucial that all States have effective laws and policies in place to combat all forms of discrimination, including racism.

And indeed, the crisis provides new impetus to global demands for reforming the global financial system.  The debates on global financial issues could be broadened by the active participation of all peoples including indigenous peoples and their representative bodies to ensure that the global finance serves the needs of the real economy. 

1.Report of the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples: Development with Culture and Identity Articles 3 and 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UN Permanent Forum on  Indigenous Issues 9th session, New York, 19 – 30 April, 2010, E/C.19/2010/14, 5 Feb 2010

2.10th special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council: "The Impact of the Global Economic and Financial Crises on the Universal Realization and Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights" – Friday, 20 February 2009
3.ISSUES PAPER 2009 ECOSOC High-Level Segment Thematic Debate Dialogue 1 “Social trends and emerging challenges and their impact on public health: Renewing our commitment to the vulnerable in a time of crisis” Thursday, 9 July 2009 

5.“Indigenous Peoples' Actions Towards Solving the Biodiversity Crisis”, by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues presented at the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, UNESCO High-Level Event, Paris, 21-22 January 2010
6.“Insidious Intrusion of International Financial Institutions in India’s North East”, by Jiten Yumnam and Mr. Ramananda Wangkheirakpam and published by Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action, Manipur and Intercultural Resources, New Delhi, April 2006

8.Report of the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples: Development with Culture and Identity Articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UN Permanent Forum on  Indigenous Issues Ninth session, New York, 19 – 30 April, 2010, E/C.19/2010/14, 5 February 2010

9.Fixing Global Finance A Developing Country Perspective on Global Financial Reforms, by Kavaljit Singh, published in 2010 by MADHYAM and SOMO 
10.Impact of the Global Financial and Economic Crisis on Africa, Working series paper of African Development Bank, 2010 
11.Global economic crisis opens up new space for discrimination at work, ILO  Press Release, 16 May 2009
12.“Social Impact of the Global Financial Crisis in the Philippines”, ADB, 2010
13. The global economic crisis and the least developed countries: citizens’ concerns, by Arjun Karki, LDS Watch

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