Procrastination by the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuzco has given rise to a new instance of land grabbing in the Apurímac valley. Delays in processing the Shimashirincani’s application for a land title has led to a cooperative of cacao producers from Satipo invading community lands, infiltrating the land reserve of the Ashaninka peoples.

Since the invasion took place in January, repeated appeals to the forestry service and environmental prosecutors have failed on the grounds that the military and national police are reluctant to provide back-up in what is part of the VRAEM emergency zone.

Since it was established in 2003, the Ashaninka Communal Reserve has served to protect 184,500 hectares of steeply forested terrain overlooking the Apurímac River. Having lost the valley floor to land invasions by people from the Ayacucho highlands during the Shining Path insurrection, the surviving Ashaninka regrouped in what remained of their ancestral lands above the floodplain, establishing a representative organisation (OARA) to secure land rights for up to 30 communities on the Cuzco side of the river. This 20-year process is all but complete, thanks to the efforts of OARA, an affiliate of AIDESEP, the representative organisation of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region.

Although welcomed at the time, the weaknesses of Peru’s land ordering arrangements for indigenous peoples in Amazonia (too little, too late and too bureaucratic) have been apparent almost since President Juan Velasco’s agrarian reform and the passage of the first Law of Native Communities in 1974. Thirty years on, the government of the day introduced the concept of communal reserves under joint management of the adjoining titled communities and the national service for protected areas (SERNAMP).

On a recent inspection of the invasion site OARA’s president, Virgilio Pizarro Curi, declared “while we protect the forest, others come to cut it down and traffic lands cleared inside the Ashaninka Reserve as well as within our community lands”.

There are now ten communal reserves across Amazonia, totalling 2 million hectares under the protection of 204 indigenous communities. The main advantages for the communities are the rights (albeit shared) to the sustainable use of their forest and the links to the Ministry of Environment for resources, capacity building and advocacy. Set against them are the regional governments which tend to favour extractive industries and weak protection against national infrastructure projects, especially roads.

These weaknesses, combined with the recent proliferation of dubious demands for the allocation of forests for conservation by a wide variety of interested parties, have convinced AIDESEP to support groups such as the Awajún, that claim land rights over the group’s territory in its entirety, including decisions over their development path in line with the spirit of ILO Convention 169.