Indigenous peoples and their allies have consistently demanded differentiated public policies to protect the indigenous from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. A common thread has been the demand for participation in the formulation and implementation of government policies at all levels in order to take into account the cultural specificities inherent to a multicultural and plurinational society. Such participation would achieve more effective outcomes, they argue.
Although the legislative decree setting out the government’s strategies for protecting indigenous peoples from the pandemic has been widely criticised, it does include a commitment to involve indigenous representatives in the national Covid-19 Commands at the national, regional and local levels. These have been, or are being, created to coordinate state activities. Although such inclusion is (or will be) rather late in the day and has yet to be fully implemented, it does appear to represent a victory for indigenous peoples in the face of bureaucratic indifference and resistance.
The incorporation of indigenous representatives at the national level has yet to occur but it is beginning to take shape elsewhere. The indigenous peoples’ commission in Congress has announced the creation of a consultative committee which will include indigenous representatives.
This commission has approved a motion, yet to be approved by the full Congress, to request the government to create a multisectoral commission with representatives from the ministries of health, culture, defence, transport and communications, education, agriculture, interior, production, and development and social inclusion, as well as the ombudsman’s office (Defensoría), the Congress and representatives of those regional governments with large indigenous populations. The proposed commission would participate in the elaboration and execution of health, food and supply policies, economic reactivation, habitat protection, educational services and in the defence of communities’ collective rights.
Olga Gavancho, lawyer in the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), has proposed that the state develop a bottom-up approach both to defining policies and measures relating to indigenous peoples and in carrying these out. Indigenous peoples and their organisations have been at the margins of the formal economy and institutions, facing multiple obstacles to obtaining recognition both for their organisations and their territories. She has presented an alternative, bottom-up model for a coordinating committee for the development and defence of indigenous peoples in the San Martín region.
Anthropologist Luis Felipe Torre cites as an example of this new approach the recently-created Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in the Face of Covid-19 in Madre de Dios, which will include authorities from the regional government, the national government, indigenous organisations and other civil society organisations, to promote horizontal working relations between the state and indigenous peoples.
This is still an incipient movement. However, if these initiatives are successful and become institutionalised, they could become part of a ‘new normal’ in the relations between the state and indigenous peoples in which indigenous identities, cultures and territories and their right to self-determination are accepted and formally recognised.