Peru: Autonomous Indigenous People Fight Deforestation

The Peruvian Court opened an oral process to Awajun-Wampis ethnic groups over clashes between locals and police over land use at "Devil's Curve". | Photo: EFE

By teleSur - 19 April 2019

Profit-seeking intruders have had negative effects on Wampi territory, through deforestation and water pollution, as a result of gold mining.

The Wampi Nation of Peru, the first-ever Indigenous autonomous group in the country, continues to fight back against illegal deforestation and raise awareness of land issues in the country, and subsequently the rest of the world.

The Wampis have managed to expel illegal miners from their land both directly and through notifying the national authorities. While illegal logging proves more difficult to curb, Wampi soldiers serving in battalions along the Ecuador-Peru border work with government authorities and Wampi leaders to expel intruders from the region.

In addition to mining and logging, the oil industry proves to be the biggest threat to the Wampi Nation. The Oleoducto Norperuano oil pipeline was built through the territory and has a history of spills and leaks, including 23 between 2001 and 2016.

The Wampi Nation's journey towards their governmental authority, which was achieved in 2015, is a direct response to former President Alan Garcia's repressive decrees that opened up the land to foreign companies which sought to exploit the resources for profit. Garcia died Wednesday by suicide when police officers arrived at his home to arrest him on bribery charges. 

The Wampis have inhabited Peru's Amazon for hundreds of years, and are consistently met with 'visitors' seeking to access their waters and forests for a number of reasons, the most dangerous of which being capitalist ventures.

Profit-seeking intruders have had negative effects on Wampi territory, through deforestation and water pollution, as a result of gold mining. The booming industries of oil, mining and logging have moved into the region, and leases for concessions have risen to over 40% in the last ten years.

Over the years, rights groups have sided with the Indigenous communities, who state that the capitalist incentives violate several international human rights standards. Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) explicitly states the requirement of consulting with Indigenous communities over the use of their territories.

Since the formation of the Wampi Nation, their consent is necessary for any economic activity taking place on their land. While they assert their autonomy, they stress that they "are still Peruvians". Technical director of the Territorial Government of the Wampi Nation (GTANW), Shampion Noningo, says they do not desire independence, but rather "to manage our territory, and we have the partnership of the government of Peru."

Another initiative by the Wampis to avoid "the seduction of the accumulation of goods" is to educate students at their schools of their native traditions, encourage them to take part in government meetings, and motivate them to learn the ways of the agricultural industry.

The Wampis are determined to extend this education to other vulnerable regions, especially Brazil's Amazon, which has experienced a new level of threat after the election of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. In a similar move to Garcia, Bolsonaro has opened up Indigenous land and resources to companies.

“This will greatly affect the Amazon rainforest of Brazil and the rights of the people who live there for thousands of years and have always preserved the forest,” says Wampi Nation president Wrays Perez. 

While the global concern is one priority, the Wampis continue to focus most of their energy on growing their potential for change and protecting their land. Noningo acknowledges the long process ahead and stated that “the Spaniards did not conquer us directly. We were not slaves. We were absorbed when the states were formed, so we need a lot of time to finally organize ourselves with one voice.”