Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mangrove territories: "Culture, tradition and a vital space for coastal peoples"

Communities, peoples and civil society organizations have worked for
years to raise the visibility of the significant benefits of the
mangrove ecosystem and the importance of its existence. They have
fought for the recognition of mangroves as highly productive systems
that provide livelihoods and a space for the practice of the cultures
and traditions of coastal peoples. “The mangrove is our natural
enterprise, it is our employment, it does not ask us for our
qualifications or a CV or identification. As long as we are in good
health we can cast our nets and harvest our food,” declared Enrique
Bonilla, president of COGMANGLAR and a fisherman from Champerico,
Guatemala.

Today, the former perception of mangroves as mosquito-infested swamps
has changed, but the struggle to defend them has become increasingly
difficult in the face of the new and aggressive actors threatening
their existence and the survival of the peoples and communities who
inhabit them, from Latin America to Asia to Africa. “They are slowly
exterminating us. Government policies criminalize and impoverish us.
We are not poor; we have great wealth that the powerful want to
appropriate, and we call that environmental racism,” said Marizhelia
López of the Movement of Fishermen and Fisherwomen of Bahia, Brazil,
expressing her concern over the loss of territories.

In addition to the shrimp farming industry, which has historically
been responsible for the destruction of thousands of hectares of
mangroves in tropical regions, mangroves now face a long list of
threats, including oil drilling, tourism megaprojects, the
construction of dams and reservoirs on rivers, metal mining on the
coasts and seabeds, industrial monoculture plantations of trees and
agrofuel crops like sugar cane and oil palm, large-scale port
complexes and wind farms, among others. All of these activities are
increasingly threatening the collective livelihoods and lives of
coastal peoples and form part of a process of the privatization and
grabbing of territories and extraction and exploitation of nature for
the exclusive benefit of particular private interests. As an example,
the government of Honduras recently launched a proposal for so-called
“model cities” or Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDE)
in the country’s southern region. According to the Committee for the
Defence and Development of the Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca
(CODDEFFAGOLF), this is an outrageous proposal that would cause
irreversible damage to the mangrove wetlands of the gulf.

Mangroves, considered one of the planet’s five most productive
ecological units, are the main source of food and livelihoods for
millions of coastal families who practise artisanal and subsistence
fishing and gather shellfish such as conchs, snails and crabs. As a
result, mangroves are the foundation of food sovereignty for these
peoples. They also serve as a natural protective barrier against the
impacts of climate change. Silvia Quiroa of CESTA in El Salvador
stressed, “The climate crisis is a reality that is already affecting
communities and peoples. We must challenge and oppose the utilization
of mangroves as carbon sinks. The survival of the peoples will be the
path to follow.”

Above all, mangroves are territories. They are one of the basic
elements that sustain life in coastal areas, which in most countries
are public-use areas. According to Líder Góngora of C-CONDEM,
Ecuador, “It is important to recognize the maternal nature of
mangroves, which are like a womb in which a diversity of species are
bred, raised, protected and reproduced.”

It is of great strategic importance to demand the designation and
maintenance of marine coastal territories as public areas, as well as
to demand enforcement of the collective rights of the communities and
peoples who inhabit them to make decisions on their collective
management, protection and use. This is a right that corresponds to
them, because they are the ones who have long guaranteed the existence
and survival of mangroves through the wisdom, cultural practices and
ancestral knowledge and traditions passed down from generation to
generation. “In Guatemala, for decades, the national territorial
reserves have been privatized, used by politicians as payoffs in their
electoral campaigns. There is still a great deal of interest on the
part of large landholders, sugar plantation owners, shrimp farm owners
and urban developers to continue grabbing more territories,” warned
Sergio Maldonado of Avedichamp in Guatemala.

In the struggle to defend mangroves, women play a fundamental role.
The contribution of women to local and community development, to the
construction and defence of territories, and to the protection and
transmission of knowledge is essential, and should be valued and
highlighted. At the same time, it is crucial to recognize the
situation of inequality between men and women in order to promote
social justice and equity.

The members of Redmanglar International aspire to a world in which
the traditional use of territories to sustain life is given priority
over business, in which local communities regain control over their
own economies, and exchanges among peoples take place on the basis of
solidarity and equality.

By Carlos Salvatierra, Executive Secretary of Redmanglar
Internacional. Based on discussions held during the Redmanglar
strategy meeting in February 2014.

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