Urgent Measures from Cooperation to Help Indigenous Peoples

Familia ashaninka. Foto: Berlin Diquez Familia ashaninka. Foto: Berlin Diquez

With the COVID-19 pandemic, an unpredictable and changing scenario prevails. However, despite the uncertainty, what urgent measures emerge to help indigenous peoples?

Servindi, April 11, 2020. - Indigenous communities "are almost three times more likely to live in extreme poverty, and therefore to be more prone to infectious diseases."

Anne Nuorgam, President of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues  (1), warned about this seeking to provoke the action of the states - and why not, of cooperation -, to attend to the cry for help of the native communities amidst the pandemic.

However, this cry for help is not surprising or unexpected. The gaps and deferral of the native populations are historical, structural and today more than ever in force, despite being at the gates of the Bicentennial of the Independence of Peru.

"If the virus reaches our communities, it will spread rapidly," warned Asháninka leader Ángel Valerio, who denounced not only the lack of drinking water or the prevalent malnutrition in the communities of the Ene basin, but also excessive vehicular transit, despite the state of emergency and the closure measures given from the territories.

Valerio's fears are about to come true. Not in the Ene basin –for now, and we hope that it will continue this way–, but in Loreto, the second region of Peru most affected by COVID-19, which was already resisting the burden of dengue, pressuring and weakening the regional health system and its networks.

Now we also know that in Loreto COVID-19 reached the San Lorenzo Village (2) in the Datem del Marañón province, where a diversity of indigenous peoples come together.

If pandemic continues to spread, Ucayali, Yurúa, Purús, Chanchamayo, Satipo, Jaén, Bagua and Saramiriza would be the next places it reaches.

Despite the measures to close the territories, road traffic or river traffic are not strictly controlled by the law enforcement agencies, whose negligence weakens efforts to protect the peoples (3).

 “The boats continue their public transport route carrying passengers from Iquitos. We are concerned because they are going to make direct contact with the communities,” denounced Richard Rubio, from the Aidesep national directorate [4].

The Fragile Communal Economy

Although communities are respecting the state of emergency and other provisions by remaining in their territories and cutting off contact with strangers, the weak economy that supports them is taking a heavy toll, it is short of supplies and unable to generate income.

Shintuya Native Community, in Madre de Dios, today radicalized its entry measures due to permanent transit. Image: Facebook CCNN Shintuya.

The state of emergency has been extended until April 26. While the Executive has ordered palliative economic measures for poor populations, these are concentrated in the urban areas, without prioritizing native communities as vulnerable populations.

"Why are we not to be considered? Are we not vulnerable peoples? We also work every day to bring at least one loaf bread home. We do not earn a salary," Miguel Visse Mani asks the Harakbut leader Miguel Visse Mani [5], as well as many others in the Amazon.

Restricted transport makes it impossible to sell their agricultural, fishing or handicraft products, the suspension of tourist activity, and the increase in prices, among other problems, asphyxiate the communities’ economy, which must face two more weeks of stoppage.

In addition, there is the State’s idleness, which has not only excluded indigenous communities from social support measures to endure the pandemic, but it has kept an ominous silence [6] for 24 days regarding the actions it will take for the indigenous populations.

Because the press was insisting, the Executive, through its head of Culture - the governing ministry for indigenous peoples - limited itself to saying that they were coordinating with indigenous organizations. However, this was immediately denied by representative leaders [7].

Miguel Visse Mani, coordinator of the  Harakbut nation in Madre de Dios. Photo: Jhonatan Yuri.

The Role of the Allies

Given the situation: what should international solidarity cooperation organizations do, as well as the various allied institutions of the indigenous movement?

En ese escenario mutable, veloz y marcado por la incertidumbre, que pareciera nos condenara a la imposibilidad de planificar, lo que queda es definir y respaldar con rapidez aquellas voluntades, convicciones y compromisos que deben guiar la intervención de la cooperación y que en el momento actual adquieren más relevancia. In this changing, swift and uncertain scenario that seems to condemn us to the impossibility of planning, what remains is to quickly define and support those wills, convictions and commitments that should guide the intervention of cooperation, which at this time become more relevant.

Thus, priority should be given to:

  • The need to strengthen the response capacity of indigenous territorial organizations, empowering their actors from the community levels, considering that they must now exercise intense community leadership, strengthening organizations and communities to react quickly and in a timely manner to serve the population.
  • Respecting the agreements of the organizations and communities for closing and protecting their territories, adapting the interventions and fieldwork of the cooperation and allies to this new scenario. To do so, it is key that the authorities coordinate the emergency actions with the organizations and adapt the projects to the new needs.
  • The cooperation must show the capacity to adapt to the new scenario and make the projects in progress more flexible, not only to reprogram them but, fundamentally, to reformulate them according to the new scenario. In this way, they prioritize emergency actions that meet the new needs and vulnerabilities in communication, health, education, food and territorial control.
  • It is also necessary to aggressively influence the government and the competent authorities to react and provide health and food aid to the communities, through biosecure caravans, to prevent populations from being forced to go out to the cities to get food, at the risk of increasing the chances of spreading the pandemic.

Without a doubt, the scenario will continue to change and become more complex and challenging; however, stopping is not advisable at a time when we must speak with the facts and intensify our support at least with these first and urgent steps.

Important Information

Various action proposals have been formulated by different national and international entities. We mention some of them with their respective links to download:




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