Politics of Poverty

From Peru to North Dakota, indigenous communities are demanding Land Rights Now

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Aurelio Chino, a member of the Quechua community in Nuevo Andoas, Peru looks out over community lands. (Photo: Oxfam)

Take action to stand with Peru’s Quechua people in their fight for land and justice.

“Oil companies are causing the deliberate destruction of our sacred places… Our lives and our rights are threatened,” remarked Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II, in his testimony before the UN Human Rights Council last week on the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

But these words could easily have come from indigenous communities in many parts of the world.

“We’re not poor, it’s the oil company that put us in this situation, ruining the environment,” said Petronila Sandi of the Quechua community of Nuevo Andoas in Peru’s northern Amazonian region, as she showed a visitor the pollution of her community’s land caused by over 40 years of oil extraction in the area known as ‘Block 192’.

Indigenous and community lands make up half of the earth’s land area and are home to as many as 2.5 billion people. These communities currently have full ownership rights to only one-fifth of that land according to the report this year released by the Land Rights Now alliance.  And often their rights are ignored, their land pillaged and its natural resource wealth plundered.  Yet their stewardship of this land, which contains 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity and stores as much carbon as the world’s entire annual emissions of CO2 due to fossil fuel combustion, is crucial in the battle against climate change.

This is not just an economic issue of costs and benefits, or simply an environmental issue of the planet’s future, as critically vital as that is.  It’s a fundamental matter of rights, of human dignity, and of justice.

Peru is a country where the challenges of protecting land rights and the environment have often led to conflict.  The rights of indigenous peoples – about one quarter of Peru’s population – to protect their lands collectively are recognized under national and international law.  Yet indigenous communities must often struggle to ensure those rights are respected and the commitments made to them fulfilled.

Community stewardship of land is essential in Peru, where forests, including one of the world’s five largest tropical forest areas, comprise 70 percent of the country’s land.  Past governments have sought to attract investors by offering up large tracts of the Peruvian Amazon for potential oil and gas concessions.

The community of Nuevo Andoas is emblematic of indigenous peoples’ struggle for fulfillment of land rights in Peru. Located on the banks of the Pastaza River, it is home to 2,000 Quechuas as well as much of the oil infrastructure that services Block 192.  The Quechua have rights to the land, while the State holds exclusive rights to all sub-soil resources and thus has licensed oil activities in the area.  But the community has been unable to acquire legal title to the land even though it has territorial rights pre-existing any other granted to the Peruvian State.

Without legal title to their land, the community of Nuevo Andoas lacks the legal certainty to claim compensation for use of their land and any damages caused, or to negotiate a fair share of benefits from any economic activities in their territory. In recent years, indigenous federations in the Peruvian Amazon have come together under the banner of the alliance Pueblos Indígenas Amazónicos Unidos en Defensa de sus Territorios (PUINAMUDT) to address the threats to their territories.  Last year, after four years of organizing and campaigning efforts, they succeeded in getting an historic commitment from the Peruvian government to address serious environmental and health damages from oil extraction and to advance community land titling.  But implementation of the ´Lima Act’ of March 2015 has been inadequate and slow, at best.

Oxfam has joined with the Quechua Peoples Indigenous Federation of Pastaza (FEDIQUEP) and member of PUINAMUDT, to call on the newly elected government of Peru to take effective and swift action to fully implement the ‘Lima Act’ and other agreements between the State and indigenous organizations. In particular, it is vital that Nuevo Andoas and other indigenous communities be granted title to ensure they have legal certainty in the control of their territories.

“For us, it’s important to be given formal land titles, not so that we can feel like owners, but to protect our territory,” remarked Teddy Guerra, indigenous leader of Nuevo Andoas.  Without this, the future of these peoples and their potential for development will remain under threat.

Read more about the struggle of the Quechua community of Nuevo Andoas and take action to support their demands and those of FEDIQUEP and PUINAMUDT in Peru.

Join the Global Call to Action for LAND RIGHTS NOW!

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