The task ahead in guaranteeing the integrity of communal land in Peru is daunting. Various attempts have been made over the years to award land titles to communities (whether peasant communities on the coast or in the Andes or indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest), but the task is very far from complete, and the impetus behind what is known as ‘saneamiento’ has weakened notably in recent years, especially under Alan García and Ollanta Humala.
The map of extractive concessions awarded to mining and petroleum companies bears no relation to prior systems of landholding, whether legally recognised or not. The Instituto del Bien Común (IBC), an NGO in Lima, has been pressing the government to push ahead with rationalising land tenure (ordenamiento territorial) and extending legal ownership titles to rural communities; but its efforts face strong counter-pressures. According to Richard Chase Smith, the head of the IBC, “there is tremendous pressure to get rid of communities of all sorts […] there is no ordenamiento territorial in Peru because it does not suit powerful economic interests”.
Land titling used to be the responsibility of an organisation called the PETT, but its functions have been shunted off into an organisation based in the Housing Ministry. At the beginning of the Humala government, there were high hopes that the agricultural ministry would re-assume this key role, but this has not happened. “There is not even an official map of community landholding” says Chase Smith. Meanwhile, the 57,000 extant mining concessions are carefully mapped out. “That says it all” he says.
The main pressure for continued land titling comes from outside, from organisations like the World Bank, the Inter-American Bank and the international NGO (INGO) community. “The problem is that there is no law to define what an indigenous community is” says Chase Smith. “If people have blue jeans and mobile phones, they are no longer regarded as indigenous”. IBC, which works closely with similar organisations in other Amazonian countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela amongst others), is developing a directory of peasant communities, based on carefully cross-referenced information from a variety of different sources. It hopes this will provide a basis for defending community land rights.
Chase Smith is sceptical about the role played by the Environment Ministry in protecting indigenous rights. “It’s not that people like Manuel (Pulgar Vidal, the minister) are ill-intentioned” he says “but that the opposition they face at the cabinet level is tremendous”. He describes the Housing Ministry, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) as the “axis of evil”.