As the economy begins to reactivate and despite the continuing high levels of Covid-19 contagion among Amazonian communities, inconsistencies in the decisions of state agencies are limiting the extent of protection for the most vulnerable.
At the beginning of the month, the president of the indigenous peoples and environment commission in Congress, Lenin Bazán, requested that a draft law to strengthen the legal protection for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact be placed on the agenda for debate by the full Congress. However, with congressional leaders absorbed by the confrontation with the executive, this and other measures to address the health crisis remain on hold.
On a more positive note, on 2 July, the Ministry of Health issued guidelines to prevent respiratory infections and Covid-19 in areas near those occupied by peoples in voluntary isolation (RS No. 451-2020-MINSA). These guidelines include promoting local linkages between sectors, guaranteeing sufficient medicines and the presence of health professionals, establishing epidemiological monitoring mechanisms, providing information in areas adjacent to indigenous reserves, and establishing protocols and other infection prevention methods for persons entering protected areas to deliver food and emergency supplies.
Furthermore, on 5 July, a high-level delegation from the national government, including the prime minister, the ministers of culture, education, the environment, women, and the head of the national Covid Command, met with regional government and indigenous authorities to inaugurate an Indigenous Covid Command in Madre de Dios. This is the third such Command after those established in the Loreto and Ucayali regions. In this case, the Command will be led by Julio Cusurichi, president of the regional indigenous federation (FENAMAD). It will include representatives of other indigenous organisations, the health and social development directors of the regional government, and other local and regional authorities.
This will thus meet a long-standing demand from indigenous leaders to participate with state officials at all levels in coordinating responses to the health crisis in indigenous communities.
However, at the same time, FENAMAD has criticised what it called the “negligent and unacceptable” action of the state in authorising a logging company to enter an indigenous reserve. On 12 June, the National Health Institute, a dependency of the Ministry of Health, had authorised Canales Tahuamanu S.A.C. (Consolidado Catahua) to enter with personnel and machinery the proposed reserve for the Mashco Piro people in voluntary isolation.
The presence of logging operations in such a sensitive area risks violent conflict and further disease transmission.
The Ministry of Culture, responsible for the protection of isolated peoples, has remained silent despite a precautionary measure (262-05) issued by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to protect the lives and integrity of the Mashco Piro. This decision to authorise timber extraction places the lives of both the Mashco Piro and timber workers at risk, as previous confrontations between isolated peoples and others have shown.
FENAMAD is demanding that the state protect the health of the Mashco Piro and guarantee the intangibility of their territory as overriding the need for reactivation of the economy.
On 7 July, Aidesep, the national Amazonian indigenous organisation, held a virtual press conference with the participation of the pan-Amazonian indigenous organisation (COICA) in which they declared the Peruvian Amazon to be in a state of emergency and announced an ongoing mobilisation until such time that the government responds to their demands. These include immediate medical attention for communities affected by Covid-19, passage of the law to strengthen the protection for indigenous peoples in isolation, and the suspension of all logging and oil activities that affect the rights of indigenous peoples.
As first steps, they requested a meeting with President Martín Vizcarra to decide concrete responses to their demands and they announced that protests would be held outside the offices of the nine Amazonian regional governments on 13, 14 and 15 July.