US Academics Are Mapping Resources in Mexico; Corporations and the US Military Are the Beneficiaries of the Data
By Silvia Ribeiro
La Jornada February 3, 2009
As the Union of Organization of the Sierra Juarez [Unión de Organización de la Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca] has complained (Unosjo, 15/1/09), they have been victimized by a new type of appropriations in their communities: “geo-piracy”. This refers to using (and abusing) the local wisdom of the indigenous and rural villages to make digital highly detailed maps of their geography, resources, (hydrology, natural and cultivated biodiversity, archeology, social, cultural) to place all this on electronic pages with open access, at the disposition of whoever wants to use it. For example, corporations, institutions, or the army of the United States, which financed the project in Oaxaca. What is true, is that previously the project was carried out in nine communities of the Potosi Huasteca, and it is going on in the Sierra Tarahumara.
The implications of this type of activity are so vast, that it is difficult to sum them up. The detailed and precise map of the territories is only possible if it is extracted from local knowledge of those who live there. On processing this knowledge with new technologies, such as systems of digital geographic information, superimposed on satellite maps freely accessible on Google, one obtains an enormous volume of information which is not known or can not be appraised. These maps are of great utility for military ends and for counterinsurgency, but also for industrial purposes (exploitation of resources like minerals, plants, animals and biodiversity; mapping access roads already constructed or “necessary”, sources of water, settlements, social maps of possible resistance or acceptance of projects, etcetera).
The parallel with bio-piracy is surprising: both are based on accessing the knowledge –and potentially their resources– of the communities, based on rich and detailed knowledge of their environment, to obtain benefits which in no way favor the communities and even can seriously harm them. In both cases, the voluntary handing over information on the part of the communities is obtained thanks to the intervention of local people and people from universities or national academic institutes (with international agreements), with the timely appearance of some foreigner (gringo), who are the ones really directing the projects. Behind them, obscure financiers, who constitutes the real beneficiaries of the projects, for example transnational businesses, or in the case of geo-piracy, the armed forces of the United States.
According to Unosjo, a team led by the US geographer Peter Herlihy, arrived at the Sierra Juárez in 2006, to inform and ask aid for a “participative” mapping project entitled “México Indígena”. Herlihy presented the project as a form of digitalized mapping done with and in the service of the communities themselves, in the framework of study about the impact of Procede. [Procede is a law which permits transfer of communal land into salable property]
Although he mentioned other collaborators of the project, like the American Geographic Society (through Jerome Dobson, its president), the University of Kansas, the University of Carleton, the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (Dr. Miguel Aguilar Robledo) and Semanart [Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales is the office for Environment and Natural Resources], he did not mention the active participation of the business for military technology Radiant Technologies nor that the financing was provided by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO)
It was not forgetfulness. The FMSO is described as “a center of investigation and analysis of Intelligence Assistance Activities under the Command of Training and Doctrine of the Army of the United States (…) which administrates and operates the Center of Intelligence Joint Mission of Reserve of Fort Leavenworth.”
Fort Leavenworth was the military center of command during the expansion of the United States onto indigenous territories since 1800 (the genocide referred to by television as “winning the West”). Also it has been the center of vigilance and control of native populations since the Civil War in that country. Presently it is focused on “ emerging and asymmetrical threats to the national security of the United States”, obviously stemming from their vision of the danger which the indigenous peoples represent. From that point, their aid to this project of geo-piracy focused on indigenous areas.
The director of Fort Leavenworth is David Petraeus, who commanded air assault Division 101 during Operation “Iraqi Freedom” against the people of Iraq, being then the first commander of the Multinational Command for Security and Transition in Iraq.
The information from the “disinterested” geographers of the project “México Indígena”, are presented monthly at the FMSO of Fort Leavenworth. Among many other facts that appear in these reports, which from a simple glance raise the hairs on one’s neck, is related a conversation between the leaders of México Indígena with Petraeus, where he affirms that based on his experience in Iraq, “ knowledge of the cultures is a multiplier of [military] forces …the knowledge of cultural ` terrain’ can be as important, and at times more, than the knowledge of the geographic terrain”. The leaders of México Indígena add with pride that “the culture and local residents are then the “decisive terrain” and that their project will succeed in completing the digital description of the ´ cultural terrain ´ if indigenous México. Except that now they are warned.