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PERU
What’s next for Amazonia?
Ramiro Escobar*
6/26/2009
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Will García’s government take indigenous issues into account for profound change?

A moment of calm took over after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to revoke two pro-investment decrees on June 18. Their decision came on the heels of more than two months of protests by Amazon indigenous groups, demonstrations that turned bloody on June 5, when police moved in, that left 24 officers and at least 10 protesters dead, according to government figures.

But now the government and native groups from Peru´s Amazon are scheduled to sit down and discuss the region´s development.

Participating in the group is the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or AIDESEP, the umbrella organization of Amazon indigenous groups that first called the protests on April 9.

"One of the things that we´re going to ask for is a national policy of inter-cultural education," said Walter Kategari, AIDESEP´s director and member of the Machiguengua people.

Kategari complained that the government has failed to take indigenous knowledge into consideration in order to improve the national health system.

Failed policies
"The Peruvian government´s public policies should incluye an understanding of our cultural Diversity," said Óscar Espinosa, head of the Pontificate Catholic University of Peru´s anthropology department.


He says that a long series of government-run indigenous institutions have been inefficient poorly funded, and in some cases, completely absent in the Amazon conflict.

Espinosa commended the work of Brazil´s state-run National Indian Foundation, which he says is well-funded and has political weight.

If the government had more political will, it would have previously consulted the indigenous groups before issuing the controversial investment decrees. The practice is outlined in the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples, and in the Constitution, Kategari notes.

"They should have issued a legislative decree for this consultation better," he said.

At the heart of the debate was the issue of territory, the precise reason why a consultation was necessary.

"That´s the central issue," said Margarita Benavides, an anthropologist at the Instituto de Bien Comun, a Peruvian non-profit that is geared toward the optimal management of commonly held resources, such as water and forest. She said there are 1,509 native communities in Peru, of which 267 lack land titles. There are five territorial reservations for indigenous groups living in isolation, which total 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres).

The government has received the requests to create six additional reservations, where, Benavides says, "a development more balanced with the environment" is necessary for forest conservation.

Respecting differences
"The respect for differences will be key in this process," said Espinosa. From that point, there may be constitutional changes that make Peru´s recognition of itself as a pluricultural country.


But the government has to be willing to make changes. In Bolivia and Ecuador, their new Constitutions call the country "plurinational."

"There´s no one formula," Espinosa said. "But it´s strange that we easily accept our culinary diversity but not in recognizing the existence of other peoples."

Meanwhile, the 350,000 indigenous people of the 56 Amazonian ethnicities are waiting. For centuries they have been ignored by the government until now, when a violent incident brought their plight to the forefront.

The concept of plurinationalities means also recognizing Andean indigenous groups, whose number is difficult to pin down because following the 1969 agrarian reform, they began to be known as campesinos. But various estimates see Peru´s indigenous population at around 45 percent of its 28 million people.

For many of them, the concept of living well is quite different from the government´s idea of development.

"They criminalize us when we want to protect Mother Nature," says Mario Palacios, president of the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining, referring to the persecution the groups have received under the government of President García. Victims are often organizations and individuals who defend the environment.

"We believe that the current crisis is financial, but also about the environment, energy," said Palacios, who is involved in the creation of a new political party, called "Perú Plurinacional."

"Development should be in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature, not destroy it," he said. "We have to overcome the irrational use of resources and respect the rights of the indigenous peoples." —Latinamerica Press.


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The government and native groups from Peru´s Amazon are scheduled to sit down and discuss the region´s development. (Photo: Andina)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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