Amazonian indigenous leaders and the Working Group for Indigenous Peoples of the National Human Rights Coordinator (CNDH) are both demanding that the Ministry of Culture, in coordination with other ministries and state organisms, design and implement a programme of support for Amazonian indigenous communities threatened by COVID-19. This, they say, should take into account the special vulnerabilities and needs of indigenous peoples, their cultures and the challenges presented by distance and isolation.
There is special concern for the situation in the Loreto region where the largest number of indigenous communities are located and where the regional capital, Iquitos, has one of the highest registered number of cases of infection.
For their part, indigenous leaders are requesting government action in the following matters:
- helping community leaders prevent unauthorized persons from entering and leaving indigenous communities and territories for the duration of the epidemic;
- making indigenous people eligible for the programme to provide a bonus of S/.380.00 for people to survive the crisis and to access food subsidies provided through municipalities;
- establishing health protocols for the interactions between communities in isolation and outsiders, including government officials;
- increasing the medical personnel and medicines available and other facilities in health posts where these exist;
- enabling children in indigenous communities to complete the school year; and
- creating a ministry for indigenous peoples.
Meeting and implementing these demands will present the state with significant challenges considering the lack of infrastructure, services and trained personnel in indigenous areas. For example, in Madre de Dios region there are important differences between communities in the availability of computers, televisions and mobile phones, as well as in the access to the Internet, television and radio, and additionally in the degree of teachers’ preparation for distance education.
These are viewed as key components of a programme that would respect the rights and respond to the needs of indigenous peoples during the emergency.
Teachers at the School of Anthropology of San Marcos University have called on the state to implement differentiated policies with an intercultural focus for indigenous communities. But they warn that to distribute cash bonuses to indigenous families might encourage them to leave their communities to purchase goods; it would be preferable, they say, to distribute food and other essentials. Finally, they call for recognition of the contribution of the elders in the education of children regarding community horticulture, recuperation of self-sufficiency in the forest, and food security in their communities.
For its part, the CNDH Working Group is proposing the following measures:
- Provision of services with an intercultural focus in response to Covid-19, involving indigenous representatives, leaders and community authorities.
- A guarantee on access to the quantity and quality of water needed by indigenous communities, especially those affected by extractive activities.
- A guarantee for the food security of indigenous communities by ensuring their access to the S/.380.00 MIDIS subsidy and the funds distributed through local governments.
- A stop to all activities under concessions granted by the state in indigenous territories and a guarantee to the lives of those indigenous in voluntary isolation and initial contact (see PSG article).
- An end to all activities by the security forces that impede indigenous people from carrying out their subsistence activities and other food production during the emergency.
In addition, the Working Group warns against any reduction in environmental and social standards that affect the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. This concern arises from the proposals of the Ministry of Production and others to promote high value-added economic activities, such as mining, petroleum and timber extraction, to stimulate the economy after the emergency period ends.