Prominient Cuban Diplomat, Miguel Alfonso Martinez passes

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Prominient Cuban Diplomat, Miguel Alfonso Martinez passed away on Monday, February 1, 2010 at the age of 74.He was born in Havana, Cuba on May 16, 1935.A career diplomat, much of his professional life was spent working with and for Indigenous peoples.Particularly for Native peoples and nations of North America, in history there may never have been a more perceptive and effective non-Indigenous advocate.

At the United Nations, Professor was a founding member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.As a jurist and a teacher, in 1988 he was asked by the Commission on Human Rights to prepare a study on Indigenous treaties.This ground-breaking document is officially called the Study on treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and indigenous populations.

MiguelMartinezFProfessor Martinez spent a substantial amount of time with Lakota leaders and elders in preparing the Study.Lakota history and issues with the United States government, especially those related to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, provided important facts and documentation that he used liberally in the Treaty Study.In 1994, he visited Pine Ridge and spoke with treaty elders and many are personally thanked in the Study.He attempted to come back on several occasions for treaty gatherings and to meet with elders but was repeatedly blocked by the United States government.

Nonetheless, the treaty study is a fair and scholarly assessment of treaties.Lakota elders played a significant role in lobbying the United Nations early on for such a study.Professor Martinezs mission was nothing less than an academic assessment of violations of the human rights of Indigenous peoples and the international status of those treaties.Professor Martinezs work was done:

for the purpose of ensuring the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous populations. (Treaty Study 9).

On July 30, 1998, Professor Martinez presented the Final Report on his long awaited Treaty Study.Despite attacks, both personal and professional, from many nations, especially the United States, as well as many Indigenous peoples from other continents, Professor Martinezs conclusions were in no way vague:

In the case of Indigenous peoples having concluded treaties or other legal instruments with the European settlers and/or their continuators in the colonization process, the Special Rapporteur has not found any sound legal argument to sustain the position that they have lost their international juridical status as nations.

In his oral presentation at the United Nations in Geneva during the summer of 1998, hespoke of the personal effect that doing the report had had on him.He stated that his view of life and his place in the universe were changed through the outstanding experience of researching the project and meeting with Indigenous peoples to discuss it.

[Working on the Study] has afforded me the opportunity to enter a new dimension of thinking I inhabit as a jurist and as a human being.I have learned about a different reality.I am quantitatively different.

Professor Martinezs life was lived in service to humanity and the environment.It is a sad to lose such an honored Cuban elder, statesman and friend.However, there is solace and comfort in observing the life and work of a man who provides us all with the vision that diversity and respect do live side by side when approached with an open mind and heart.We believe that no greater honor could be paid to our dear friend Miguel than utilizing his study in the furtherance of Indigenous sovereignty and cultural preservation.The Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, under the guidance of Chief Oliver Red Cloud, and with the support of Owe Aku, looks forward to continuing this mission.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Correction: Our apologies, the original photo we had here was incorrect, the photo above has now been updated and verified by Mr Leon (thank you!).

    Kia ora to Roberto Leon, who emailed us, he is currently working together with Dr Martinez's wife to create a video memorial which will be screened in Havana next week (the first week of May 2010).

  2. This article is a fitting tribute to an amazing man who fought for justice where ever he saw inequality. I must point out however that the photo included in this article is not of Dr. Miguel Alfonso Martinez. I am not sure who is depicted in the photo. Thank you, Roberto Leon

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