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  • Bolivian President Evo Morales speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Feb. 1, 2019.

    Bolivian President Evo Morales speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Feb. 1, 2019. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 February 2019

The Bolivian president spoke at the inauguration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages in the U.N. General Assembly.

Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke at the U.N. General Assembly for the opening ceremony of the International Year of Indigenous Languages on Friday, warning about the accelerated destructionsuch languages are suffering.

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“The loss of a language means the loss of a worldview; a decline and belittling of human intelligence,” said Morales in New York.

The Bolivian president opened his discourse in Aymara, his mother language, and stressed that Indigenous languages are a fundamental part of identity.

The initiative was promoted by several countries, including Bolivia, and was approved by the General Assembly in 2016. Now, UNESCO is leading efforts to raise awareness of their value.

According to the international organization, there are about 370 million people in more than 70 countries speaking Indigenous languages. Of the total 6,700 languages registered worldwide, about 40 percent are in imminent danger of disappearing, especially indigenous ones.

Morales highlighted that languages are not only a means for communication, but part of the people's’ identity and culture.

“Is part of dearest treasures our ancestors left us,” he said.

Bolivia is the Latin American country with the largest Indigenous population, 62.2 percent, followed by Guatemala, Peru and Mexico. After Morales first took office in 2006, he promoted plans to benefit the Indigenous population. Now, the Political Constitution of the Plurinational State recognizes and protects the country’s 36 nationalities, each with its own language.

“Today we keep resisting the post-colonial anger that tries to crush our rebellions against injustice,” said Morales. “They speak to Indigenous people about democracy and human rights. Can there be democracy or rights when our indigenous peoples live crushed by the tyranny of capital.”

Morales also accused the U.S. and its allies of interfering in the internal affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean, in reference to the efforts they’re carrying against the government of Nicolas Maduro, and called the public to not forget about the lessons from the past.

“The U.S. brings us war and we put the dead, while they take our natural resources,” he said.

Ernesto Ottone, deputy culture general director at UNESCO, says about 90 percent of indigenous languages could disappear by the end of the century if the necessary measures are not taken.

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The president of the General Assembly, the Ecuadorean diplomat Maria Fernanda Espinosa, remarked that every Indigenous language is vulnerable, and when they disappear they take “pages of history, wisdom and worldview of the peoples” with them.

“The International Year must help revert the alarming tendency of disappearance of Indigenous languages, pay attention to their critical situation and do everything within our reach to recover and preserve them,” said Espinosa.

The U.N. Indigenous Forum issued a series of recommendations for member countries and for the international organization to gradually introduce Indigenous languages in its administration.

One of those efforts have already kicked off in Bangladesh, where schools have implemented a program in which children study their first year in their native language and take Bengali, the national language, starting on the second year.

The Indigenous Forum also highlighted the importance of new technologies to help preserve languages. In the Kamchatka peninsula, for example, traditional music channels are being subtitled and apps are being developed to impulse the use of the Itelmen language.

In the U.S., the Cherokee language, spoken by over 20,000 people, now has digital interfaces to ease its use in emails and social networks.

The Ecuadorean vice minister of culture and heritage, Gabriel Cisneros, said that efforts should be designed beyond the one year span and that a whole decade is necessary.

“Do you think a year is enough to carry out all the historical reparation actions for ourselves and for our indigenous brothers and sisters,” said Cisneros at the General Assembly.

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