Date: Tue, 26 Jan 1999 21:09:54 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: PERU: Colonisation Threatens Amazon Indigenous Group
/** 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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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