A jurisdictional stand-off between the erratic mayor of the municipality of Cenepa, Carlos Alberto Yankikat, and the Awajún population of the district risks serious consequences as indigenous reservists and national troops dispute the authority for policing river traffic at the mouth of the Cenepa in the northern Amazonas region.

The dispute, which once again reflects a clash of political authority in indigenous areas, began when the mayor called in troops to seal off the Cenepa without consulting the Awajún inhabitants. The troops were assigned to the community of Huampami, thereby exposing the indigenous population to infection.

The mayor’s decision also deprived the Awajún communities of access to medical and welfare programmes set up by the state as well as their main market for their produce. Instead, the mayor proposed ordering supplies from the coastal city of Chiclayo, further endangering the population by exposing it to infection.

A week later, the mayor lifted the river blockade to allow free movement between Cenepa and the town of Imiza upstream, yet further exposing the general population of the district to infection.

At this point, the Awajún decided to impose order by deploying indigenous military reservists at the mouth of the Cenepa with instructions to prevent passage by potential carriers of the coronavirus. The mayor responded by confronting the reservists with regular troops.

However an agreement was reached to allow the reservists to carry out their functions and to permit essential river travel by the indigenous population; for his part the mayor was to inform the communities of the arrangements for controlling the epidemic while distributing supplies to the communities.

The mayor suspended this agreement on 18 April, so that now the military controls the river without the consent of the indigenous population. This flies in the face of the Awajún’s constitutional right to self-determination in their own territory.

With the support of Cooperacción, the indigenous organisation ODECOFROC has protested about the mayor’s failure to observe national quarantine instructions while overriding the Awajún’s capacity and right to manage the crisis as they see fit.