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Photo: National strike in Peru, Pativilca-Huaraz highway. Credit: John Commandment

Expectations and uncertainties for Latin America's Indigenous Peoples as a new year begins

The end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 finds Indigenous Peoples in Latin America shaken by an escalation of political and social conflicts that threatens the effective implementation of their rights. We examine some of the main events that have taken place over the last days and weeks in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, their implications for Indigenous Peoples and the resistance agenda of Indigenous movements and organisations in the face of intensifying conflicts in the region.

Brazil: Between hope and attempted coup d'état  

Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva's electoral victory last October raised the expectations of Indigenous Peoples and climate activists about two of his key campaign promises: "Zero deforestation" of the Amazon and the creation of a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. At the same time, Lula's ability to actually implement these measures has been met with trepidation as former president Jair Bolsonaro’s deputies are trying to maintain policies in congress that are destructive to Indigenous Peoples' rights and biodiversity.

A few days before he was sworn in as president, Lula appointed three Indigenous representatives as officials in Brazil's new government: Sônia Guajajara was appointed Minister of Indigenous Affairs; Joênia Wapichana as President of the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI); and Weibe Tapeba as Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai). Also, in early January, Norway announced the reactivation of international funds to combat deforestation in the Amazon. The scenario at the time seemed encouraging for Indigenous and environmental defenders.

But the optimistic mood did not last long. On the afternoon of 8 January, a week after Lula's inauguration, supporters of Bolsonaro seized the headquarters of Brazil's executive, legislative and judicial branches to resist the new government and force Lula's removal from office.

 

Peru: Political and social crisis

In early December, Congress dismissed Pedro Castillo, who had been president since mid-2021. The deputies claimed "permanent moral incapacity" following Castillo's decision to dissolve the house and install an emergency government.

Since then, the eyes of the international community have been focused on the deep political and social crisis in the country, which has already claimed the lives of nearly 50 people during mass protests. Currently, the country is governed by Castillo's vice president, Dina Boluarte. 

In addition to violent repression, Indigenous activists are calling attention to a bill that would jeopardise the protection of peoples in isolation and initial contact in the Peruvian Amazon.

With the support of human rights organisations, civil society organisations, academic institutions and other international personalities, IWGIA sent a communiqué to the Peruvian Congress and the Executive Power rejecting the initiative and demanding a halt to the persecution of defenders of the rights of the Indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon.

 

Colombia: The need to build peace

The violence of the armed conflict continues in Colombia six years after the signing of the Peace Agreement between the government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces.

In 2022, there were 94 massacres in the country with a total of 300 victims, according to data from the Observatory for Human Rights, Conflict and Peace. In addition, 8,000 children and adolescents were forcefully recruited by illegal armed groups since 2016. The Attorney General's Office has stated that 9.2% of the victims belong to Indigenous communities and 6.6% are Afro-descendants.

On New Year's Eve, President Gustavo Petro announced that his government had bilaterally agreed a 'ceasefire' with five armed organisations until June 2023, with the possibility of extension as negotiations progress. The agreement is part of the 'total peace' policy promoted by Petro since he took office in August 2022.

However, in early January, the National Liberation Army (ELN) denied the bilateral agreement and the government ended up backtracking on the announcement.

 

Photo: National strike in Peru, Pativilca-Huaraz highway. Credit: John Commandment

Tags: Human rights

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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