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  • Members of various Indigenous communities march in Atalaya, central Peru, on August 19, 2018.

    Members of various Indigenous communities march in Atalaya, central Peru, on August 19, 2018. | Photo: @aidesep_org

Published 30 August 2018

Thousands of Indigenous people had been on strike for two weeks in Atalaya, central Peru, over a series of demands for the national govermnent.

Representatives of Peru's Indigenous Amazonian communities met with ministers of the national government in Atalaya to discuss demands on Tuesday, ending a two-week strike that had paralyzed commerce and mobility in the central city.

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About 2,000 Indigenous people from 14 communities near Atalaya asked the national government for dialogue as their demands accumulated.

Demands include the conclusion of a long-delayed process of communal land tenure rights and the cancelation of fines against the communities for their economic use of their own native forests.

After two weeks of strike, the government sent a delegation headed by President of the Council of Ministers Cesar Villanueva and the ministers of agriculture, environment and culture.

The dialogue concluded with partial results and parties agreed to reconvene on September 11. The president of the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (Aidesep), Lizardo Cauper, welcomed the gesture from the government.

One of the deals reached was the establishment of a national Indigenous discussion board, which will include the ministers and representatives from Aidesep and its nine regional organizations.

Aidesep has been the leading organization in the movement, and it represents 108 Indigenous federations encompassing more than 1,800 communities in the Peruvian Amazon.

"We must work together and untangle the bureaucracy to solve the problems in the Amazon," Villanueva told local media.

One of the communities' most urgent problems is the lack of legal recognition of their communal lands. Gustavo Mostajo, agriculture minister, committed to completing the legal procedures to hand communal tenure rights to 403 Indigenous communities in the next two years.

 
"The president of Aidesep, Lizardo Cauper Pezo, greets the visit of the President of the Council of Ministers Cesar Villanueva to the Atalaya province to dialogue with the indigenous organizations and address their demands."

In order to meet its goal, the government would have to accelerate the legal processes: "It's a minimum commitment that we hope the government holds up to contribute to settle an historic debt from the Peruvian state to Indigenous peoples," Cauper said. "We will keep an eye on that."

Indigenous groups are also demanding the cancelation of fines imposed by the Forest Resources Supervision Institute (Osinfor) on more than 50 communities, amounting to more than US$15 million.

The fines are based on poor management of the forest areas, which have been the sites of much irresponsible logging.

Spokesman Guillermo Ñaco said: "The apus (chiefs) of our communities were tricked by logging companies and they signed documents without knowing what they were about. That's how the fines arrived."

Originally, Osinfor offered to exchange the fines for forest conservation commitments, and at least 27 Indigenous people have agreed, according to a statement given to Mongabay Latam.

But Indigenous spokesman Oswaldo Juep said the Peruvian state has not provided the training on management of forest resources it promised, prompting abuses by logging companies.

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According to a report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), logging companies make unjust deals with Indigenous communities, offering overpriced equipment in exchange for allowing them to work in their territories. After finishing their operations, the logging companies withdraw, leaving locals to face the fines. 

During the dialogue, Villanueva recognized such fines were unjust and offered to cancel almost half: "We're working to solve this in a definitive way and this implies a ruling from the Economy and Finance Ministry, and none of us here present has that power," he said.

Cauper and other leaders, however, are demand cancellation of all the fines and an end to the criminalization of their community leaders.

Villanueva also commited to start a bidding process to finish the construction of the hospital in Atalaya, which stopped at 70 percent due financial problems of the constructing company.

Other discussion points, such as the creation of a communal reserve, will be taken to the national discussion board.

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