Conflict between indigenous community and land grabbers worsens

6 July 2019

Conflict has once again broken out in the San Martín region with indigenous communities threatening to expel non-indigenous invaders if state-led mediation fails to restore land occupied two decades ago.

In 1997 the authorities of the Shimpiyacu community in Moyobamba denounced the invasion of their titled territory by non-indigenous settlers (colonos), and in 2000 they achieved a court ruling which ordered the eviction of the colonos. However, this order was never carried out for lack of personnel and funds.

The situation of colonos living on and cultivating community lands has continued since then. Over time, some coordinated with indigenous community authorities whereas others created armed self-defence groups (rondas campesinas) and began to extort money from people using paths passing through their lands. Meanwhile, the files concerning the eviction decision disappeared, even though the decision remains in the computer system.

Things came to a head on 3 June when there was an attempted eviction by the community in three sectors, 12 houses were burned and three people injured. In response, the Ombudsman’s office, the Defensoría, urged the parties to negotiate a solution or pursue peaceful legal measures. A commission comprising representatives of the San Martín regional government, the regional prefecture and the national police met with both sides, and the regional president proposed that the invaders be evicted and granted alternative lands by the end of this year.

The situation remains tense and community leaders have announced that, since they have exhausted all the available legal alternatives, they will take matters into their own hands if the invaders have not been relocated by the end of the year. They say they will defend their lands according to their “ancestral customs”.

It is worth remembering that some years ago, in a similar situation in the region, Awajún indigenous communities evicted invaders with considerable loss of life.

Sources here, here, here and here.

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