Where there are peoples with rights there will always be forests for everyone
In recent weeks many comments and accusations have circulated which allege that the legal challenge filed by the Kichwa community of Nuevo Lamas de Shapaja and their organization (CEPKA) against the Regional Government of San Martin (GORESAM) requesting the titling of its territory within the Cordillera Escalera Regional Conservation Area (ACR - CE) seeks to eliminate the ACR – CE. In order to correct these inaccurate statements we the undersigned organisations including FPP and IDL who have supported this lawsuit wish to establish the following:
1. The area which today is referred to as Cordillera Escalera by the Regional Government of San Martin has been superimposed on the ancestral territory of our people, the lands where our grandparents knew how to walk and includes paths such as Cachiñyan and Wayra Purina or the road of the wind amongst whose hills we find the Caballito Uksha. It is only thanks to this longstanding coexistence of our people with the forest that today the area is as we know it: a source of life and water not only for us, but for the entire population of San Martín.
2. Despite the government’s legal obligation to title our territory, our ongoing demands of land titling have never been met. This has left our lands without protection and legal security, exposing us to invasions of settlers, concessions of loggers, illegal logging and the expansion of oil palm companies.
3. In this context in which our rights to territory and free, prior and informed consultation have been continuously violated, the Regional Government began to create conservation areas in our territory, including conservation and ecosystem recovery zones (ZOCRES), private conservation concessions and state conservation areas such as the ACR - CE.
4. The creation of the ACR - CE without consultation with us has generated serious consequences for our communities. Today we must ask for permission from the authorities and accept their restrictions to enter our territory, in other words to our own house, where we used to nurture our farms, practice our traditional rotational agriculture, hunt the animals to share with the family, and obtain medicine from the plants. This includes the treatment with emetics which are essential to strengthen our bodies and to educate our young ones.
5. As a result of this, we not only go hungry, but our children are not able to practice our culture and they lose their identity. Worse, in some cases; our brothers who continue to use the area of the ACR - CE have been denounced and criminalized by the Regional Government.
6. Despite this, we are still committed to dialogue and, for years, CEPKA and the whole indigenous movement in San Martin, have been proposing alternative solutions to the Regional Government, including the Co-management of the conservation area. At the same time, we have submitted proposals to amend article 11 of the Native Communities lands Act, which restricts our territorial rights by establishing that lands with forest aptitude will only be given to us in the form of a leasehold contract, although approximately 80% of the Amazon is categorized in this way. Regrettably, all of our proposals to improve effective participation have been ignored
7. For this reason and tired of the lack of political will to respect our rights, we opted for a legal route and sought the legal and technical advice of our allies, including the Institute of Legal Defense (IDL) and the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP). The demand of the community of Nuevo Lamas was filed to achieve the integrated recognition of our territory, a portion of which was titled in 2016. However, in this process only 1.5% or 31 hectares were recognized in the form of a property title while the remaining 1620 hectares (or 98.5%) under this modality of a leasehold contract thereby conditioning ours right on fulfilment of the terms of a contract and endangering our territorial security. This contract includes clauses that sanctions and restricts our traditional practices including agriculture, collection and hunting of resources including traditional medicine, which endangers our culture itself.
At the same time we are also demanding that the creation of the ACR - CE is subjected to a full consultation process with indigenous peoples which is required in order to get the Government to stop treating us as intruders. Instead we hope they will recognize that because of the deep and traditional knowledge that we have of our territory and the close link we have with it we are the best allies and guardians of our hills, forests and rivers
8. In relation to the campaign of fear that our action will open the doors to the oil company we wish to specify the following:
- Our Peruvian constitution is clear, any act that violates a constitutional right is automatically classified as null and void. Therefore, and independently of the legal challenge of Nuevo Lamas, the failure to consult the creation of the ACR with us and to recognise our lands has created a latent risk that since its creation the ACR will become null and void given that it’s creation violated a constitutional right.
- To avoid this possible risk, the community has used good judgment to request the suspension of the area in the event that the Regional Government does not wish to implement a consultation process with indigenous peoples.
- To conclude, the only one that has generated the risk is the Regional Government which from the outset has failed to respect our rights.
To avoid further disinformation we have presented a letter to the Court stating that such a suspension would only apply if the Regional Government does not initiate a formal consultation process. We live in a state governed by the rule of law and we have confidence that if there is a judicial order the Regional Government will comply.
9. As a result of the first hand experience that the members of CEPKA have of the negative consequences generated by the oil industry in the lands of our indigenous brothers we reject the presence of them within our territory and the ACR - CE, as well as that of any other extractive industry inside of her.
10. It is important to emphasize that CEPKA has fought against the oil exploitation of Block 103 (within the ACR-CE) with protests and advocacy. In 2008 this contributed to a favourable decision by the Constitutional Court (TC) to protect the ACR-CE.
IDL has also contributed to the defense of the ACR. In particular IDL contributed to a lawsuit filed against the protected areas authority (SERNANP) for failing to comply with the judgment of the TC in the case of the ACR-CE, a case which has just been won in the court of first instance. This lawsuit was filed because SERNANP demanded that GORESAM obtain the consent of Repsol, the company that operates Lot 103, as a condition for the creation and implementation of the ACR-CE, an action which was in clear contempt of the constitutional court ruling.
11. The purpose of the lawsuit filed by Nuevo Lamas is that our territorial rights based on our occupation and ancestral use and our right to self-determination is respected. We do not want the so called ACR - CE to disappear, we want the Government and civil society to start treating us as an ally in the protection of this area. We believe in an ACR that respects the rights of its guardians and ensures our full participation in its management. Where there are peoples with rights there will always be forests for everyone.
Tarapoto, 20th November 2017, CEPKA, Nuevo Lamas, IDL-FPP