On 26 February, the Civil Court of Tambopata ordered the regional government of Madre de Dios to pay the pension due to the widow of a Matsigenka bi-lingual teacher. The authorities had refused in the absence of a marriage certificate which is required in civil law. Instead the widow, Eva Cárdenas Pereira, had submitted an official document from her home community of Poyentimari, La Convención, confirming her marriage of 40 years to the bilingual teacher and the seven children they have raised.
In refusing the validity of the acta comunal, the regional government had set itself against Article 149 of the Constitution. This upholds the customary right of indigenous communities to govern themselves and specifically to “turn to their communal jurisdictions for the protection of their rights”. Even so, the widow Cardenas lost her appeal to the civil court.
The Matsigenka organisation, COMARU, then took the case to the Constitutional Tribunal with legal support from the NGO IIDS. In a comprehensive verdict in support of indigenous peoples’ customary rights to self-government, the court upheld the case of Eva Cárdenas and ordered the regional government to comply with the acta comunal of the Poyentimari community and acknowledge her rights as a widow according to Matsigenka custom.
The current president of Poyentimari and leader of COMARU, José Alberto Kaibi Omenki, expressed satisfaction with the result of three years of legal wrangling and hopes that the regional government will implement the decision immediately in Cárdenas’ favour. The IIDS lawyer commented that “where judges apply constitutional and international law, as in this case, it is possible to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples”. Another supporter declared “this case is very important, as it will serve as a precedent for other similar cases”.