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Date: Tue, 26 Jan 1999 21:09:54 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: PERU: Colonisation Threatens Amazon Indigenous Group
Article: 53143
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.2944.19990127181531@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ppn.peru: 201.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: POPULATION-PERU: Colonisation Threatens the Ashaninka **
** Written 2:39 PM Jan 25, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ppn.peru **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Colonisation Threatens the Ashaninka

By Zoraida Portillo, IPS
22 January 1999

OXAPAMPA, Peru, Jan 22 (IPS) - Colonisers authorised to live on Ashaninka ancestral lands in the central forests of Peru threaten the survival of these native people - the largest indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon.

Peru's Amazon territories are home to some 300,000 native people from 65 different ethnic groups, 55,000 of them Ashaninka.

But the Ashaninka have paid a heavy price for being the biggest ethnic group: their settlements have been systematically destroyed and their territories reduced since the fifties, and an estimated 80 percent of the population was exterminated during the rubber boom (1839-1913).

In recent years, the presence of guerrilla groups and coca producers caused the death of some 5,000 Ashaninka, along with the forced recruitment of thousands of young men into rebel ranks and the displacement of some 10,000 people from nearby communities.

But unlike the Andean peoples, the Ashaninka held on to their social organisation, their forms of self government and their determination to defend their ancestral lands. They even formed the "Ovayeriite" - their own army - to free captives and recover their land.

However, when they tried to return to their lands, they found them occupied by colonisers who had themselves been displaced from their homelands by the guerrilla. These settlers wielded provisional official land deeds to be made definitive in two years time.

"This is a very complicated situation because the colonisers and the community had serious differences dating from before guerrilla warfare began," said Teodorico Castillo, a Franciscan priest who has lived amongst the Ashaninka for almost 40 years.

Amazon experts agree there is a sound basis for this, as the Ashaninka lands are threatened by a very real danger - destruction and invasion by coca growers.

"They interfere with our customs," said Rogelio Crus, an Askaninka. "They (the Andeans) don't know how to look after the land, they come, sow, harvest, burn and on top of all this, criticse us for being slack, because we allow the soil to rest."

"Nothing grows here any more, they burn entire hills of vegetation for one farm, in the end they lose everything and move further in to continue the burning, and all on our ancestral lands," he stated, standing surrounded by weeds in the midst of carbonised plots.

In recent years, various projects led by international and non- governmental entities have adopted indigenous environmental management techniques to detain soil erosion, counter the problems brought by floods and enrich the soil.

"The native peoples use biodiversity-friendly techniques. This is something inherent to their cosmovision. Sometimes improvement of just a few technological aspects will bring magnificent results," said Eugenio Corzo, leader of a forest management project.

"But the outsiders arrive with other customs, like slash and burn, which may have been successful in the past but in the present day, given population growth and greater land use pressure, the soils become impoverished. Obviously, this upsets the indigenous people, whose only wealth is the soil," he stated.

But this is only the visible part of the problem. Jorge Dandler, from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) multidisciplinary techical team for the Andean area, advocates differentiated treatment to deal with repopulation by the returning Ashaninka.

In a study on the vulnerable condition of the Ashaninka people, published by the ILO, Dandler and his colleagues claim the penetration of new colonisers upsets conditions for the return and settlement of the Ashaninka in their communities, while putting their land seriously at risk.

And the authorities do nothing to change the situation. Members of the governmental Repopulation Support Programme privately recognise this body - created to promote the return of those displaced by the war to their places of origin - is biased toward the Andean people.

For the displaced have been relocated on land which never belonged to them, which "could have belonged" to the Amazon groups but are currently uninhabited - mainly as a result of the forcible expulsion of the Ashaninka from their territories.

"The Ashaninka are a brave people, who opposed the subversion, who refuse to become involved in narcotrafficking, and in exchange we only ask to be allowed to live in peace and to be given development facilities, without losing our lands. We have shown we are capable of forging ahead," stated Crus.

In recent municipal elections, in October, many Ashaninka and members of other ethic groups were elected mayors or alderpersons, and they are now seeking support to help their communities develop. (END/IPS/tra-so/zp/ag/sm/99)

Origin: Montevideo/POPULATION-PERU/

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