By Carla Samon Ros
Iquitos, Peru, Dec 2 (EFE).- A new campaign in the Peruvian region of Loreto in the Amazon is seeking to end a law that recognizes and protects the isolated indigenous groups in the region, claiming that it condemns it to underdevelopment.
There are some 25 isolated groups in Peru, known as “piaci” (the Spanish initials for indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact), the majority of whom live in the Loreto rainforest bordering Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil.
Official data estimates the piaci population is roughly 7,500 people — 5,200 in isolation and 2,300 in initial contact — all descendants of indigenous people who were in the country before the formation of the Peruvian state.
But according to the Coordination for the Development of Loreto, a recently created civilian organization, their existence is “not proven.”
Established in 2006, a law has protected indigenous reserves and peoples, who live in conditions of “extreme vulnerability due to threats to their health and culture and the constant invasion of their territories,” according to the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.
The campaign by the Coordination for the Development of Loreto is calling for the repeal of the rule, claiming that it is “harmful” to the development of infrastructure and investment projects for the forestry and hydrocarbon industries in the region.
Pablo Chota, secretary-general of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the East (Orpio), believes that the development initiative is driven by hidden interests from “illegal loggers, miners and drug traffickers.”
“It is really unfortunate,” Dulhy Pinedo, program director of the General Direction of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights of the Ministry of Culture, tells Efe.
While recognizing that, as a state, “it is necessary to understand these views relating to economic development”, Pinedo believes this is an attempt to “privilege one right over the other” and “even deny the specific existence of these peoples”.
She explains that the process of identifying the piaci starts with a year-long preliminary study based on “anthropological evidence”, which has to be approved by a multisectoral commission, following an additional categorization study to determine the territory that will be protected.
“It is a scientific, technical, and political procedure, but it is not only established by the Ministry of Culture, but within a multisectoral commission where we find objections, consultations, doubts, recommendations,” says Pinedo.
Christian Pinasco, leader of the group behind the campaign, did not respond to an interview request from Efe.
The piaci protection law has been recently discussed in Congress when representative Jorge Morante proposed a bill to transfer the legal powers over the creation of indigenous reserves from the Ministry of Culture to the regional governments.
Pablo Chota believes that, if approved, the proposed bill would put these people “at risk of extermination.”
According to Orpio, the modification of the current law without a human rights approach could result in “a crime against humanity against these populations who enjoy the same constitutional rights as all citizens born in Peru.” EFE