After several weeks of unprecedented government activism in response to the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, a growing chorus of complaints from indigenous leaders and their allies and, more recently, an increasing number of proposals aimed at meeting the needs of indigenous peoples, President Martín Vizcarra finally acknowledged on 14 April that the special needs of indigenous communities were not being met. He announced that the ministries of social inclusion, culture, women and vulnerable populations and the environment were working together to develop proposals. However, the day before going to press, the president’s daily press conference was cancelled, and no proposals were announced.
Indigenous leaders and their allies have been claiming that, once again, Amazonian indigenous peoples have been forgotten and their needs ignored by a series of government measures designed to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on different sectors of the population. Claims by the culture minister that responses were being coordinated with indigenous organisations were denied by their leaders.
However, these have rapidly moved from protests to proposals. Six national organisations representing indigenous peoples and peasant communities (AIDESEP, CONAP, CAN, CCP, FENMUCARINAP and UNCA) proposed a package of emergency measures. These include a special information programme on national radio directed towards indigenous and peasant communities; the creation of a national commission composed of representatives from different sectors of the state and national indigenous organisations; guarantees for the safety of women, children and adolescents; the inclusion of indigenous and peasant families in the development ministry’s poverty register (SISFOH); and their inclusion in municipal food distribution programmes.
The organisations also demanded that during the economic recovery period communities be incorporated into public purchases programmes and that local projects for the production, marketing and transformation of seeds be implemented. Furthermore, they want cooperative forms of participation in markets to be promoted.
Not to be outdone, the recently installed congressional committee dealing with Andean, Amazonian and Afroperuvian peoples has called on the executive to prepare a COVID-19 emergency plan for the Amazon. Its president, Lenin Bazán, from the Frente Amplio, proposes that such a plan should include measures to ensure indigenous control over ancestral territories; a ban on the activities of outsiders in protected areas and those living in isolation; the guarantee of local food supplies; delivery of intercultural health programs; provision of a bono for Amazonian indigenous communities comprising basic foods and other essentials; development of intercultural and bilingual educational strategies; and the enabling of indigenous people quarantined in urban areas to return to their communities.
For its part, PUINAMUDT, the platform representing the indigenous federations along the Pastaza, Corrientes, Tigre, Marañón and Chambira rivers in the Loreto region, urged the national and regional health authorities to develop contingency plans to address health impacts, including providing mosquito nets, face masks and other materials for those in isolation. They also proposed that plans for the evacuation of emergency cases be drawn up, that food and other essentials be distributed in coordination with community leaders, that the supply of drinking water be guaranteed, that indigenous peoples in Iquitos and other cities be supported with food and housing, that controls over frontiers and river transport be strengthened, and that indigenous peoples be protected from violence and abuse.
Anne Nuorgam, president of the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues, argues that international cooperation agencies should give priority to strengthening the capacity of indigenous territorial organisations and that their territories be protected and access to them be closed off. She argued that the international community needs to adapt to the new situation and should seek to push the government and other competent authorities to respond in providing health and food aid to the communities.
Julio Cusirichi, president of the regional indigenous organisation in Madre de Dios (FENAMAD), has urged the government and international cooperation agencies to work together in the support of indigenous peoples.
On 16 April, a letter signed by over 300 academics and students of the Amazon region demanded that the government define a comprehensive emergency health strategy to meet the needs of the indigenous peoples, adopting an intercultural approach. Amongst other things, they proposed a series of ‘air bridges’ to guarantee the delivery of medicines and the timely evacuation of the sick.
The following day the Indigenous Peoples Working Group of the National Human Rights Coordinator returned to the fray with another letter to the Council of Ministers supporting the proposals already submitted by AIDESEP and complaining that, over a month after the beginning of the national emergency, “the state still has not elaborated or implemented strategies and effective and timely actions to protect the integrity and rights of the indigenous peoples”.
Proposals have also been presented by other Amazonian specialists.
- Bruce Barnaby of the Democracy and Human Rights Institute at Catholic University (IDEHPUC) has called for mechanisms of ongoing coordination between the executive, armed forces, indigenous organisations and other actors.
- Deborah Delgado of the group for the Study of the Environment and Society (GEAS), also at Catholic University, has emphasised the importance of improving health prevention measures, providing access to basic services, and strengthening controls along the frontiers with Brazil and other countries to prevent the spread of infection.
- In an interview in El País, anthropologist Luisa Belaunde emphasised the role of changes in diet and customs in undermining the health levels of indigenous peoples and increasing their vulnerability to infection.
- Anthropologist Frederica Barclay claims that for indigenous peoples the weakness of the health system is more lethal than Covid-19.
Thus, the national government now has available a wealth of policy proposals for meeting the particular needs of indigenous peoples. What are now needed are the political will, the technical capacity and the resources to design and implement a tailored emergency programme in collaboration with the representatives of the indigenous organisations.
The rural bonus of 760 soles for over a million rural families in isolated areas with few resources does not appear to be intended specifically for the indigenous and their communities.