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What is the situation of the indigenous peoples in isolation in Peru?

In recent years, sightings of them have become increasingly common, but the consequences of this sudden exposure to a medium to which they are not accustomed are ignored. We are talking about the Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact (PIACI), a name established by the Ministry of Culture of Peru. These are thousands of people who have a very different immune system from the Western population and who put their lives at risk every time they leave their environment and come into contact with a foreign space.

“They are indigenous peoples who have not developed sustained social relations with other members of society or, having done so, have chosen to discontinue it,” says Johana Deza Grados, Conservation Officer for WWF Peru. However, this has changed in recent years. Sightings have become more and more common, and so have the deaths of some of them, as they have become infected with viruses that their bodies do not know how to combat.

Currently, there are five territorial reserves that protect the peoples in isolation, covering 2 million hectares of Peruvian territory. The PIACI populations are distributed in three Peruvian regions: “Isconahua”, “Mashco Piro” and “Murunahua” in the Ucayali region; “Madre de Dios” in the Madre de Dios region; and “Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti and Others” between the Cusco and Ucayali regions.

The good news is that three of the territorial reserves are about to be categorized as indigenous reserves, that is, they will be recognized by the central government and not just by their locality. “This gives them a higher legal backing that protects them by supreme decree. The idea is that all the territorial reserves will become indigenous,” explains Deza. In addition, there are five other proposed indigenous reserves underway that would cover 5 million hectares of the Amazon.

The importance of the creation of the indigenous reserves lies in the fact that it recognizes the vulnerability of the IPACI and their right to free self-determination, a value recognized in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both ratified by Peru and also by some countries in the rest of South America. These international conventions are usually regional because they take into account that IPs are nomadic and often cross borders. They inhabit territories of Amazonian countries such as: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela or the Guianas.

There is more and more contact

There are two types of levels according to the type of contact that these indigenous populations establish with Western society, says the WWF Peru expert. There are the indigenous peoples in initial contact (PICI) and those in isolation (PIA); “it may be that these peoples have not had contact before or sporadically, but for historical reasons they have decided to isolate themselves,” says Deza.

The PIA are the Isconahua, Mashco Piro, Machiguenga, Mastanahua, Murunahua and Chitonahua peoples; on the other hand, there are the PICI which are the Yora or Nahua, Machiguenga and Amahuaca peoples. A historical event that closed the communication routes between the isolated peoples and the western society was the rubber era, during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, where hundreds of indigenous people were exploited in slavery conditions, which caused their escape.

However, the distance is shrinking because extractive companies are increasingly interested in their territories. According to Deza, there is a record of illegal logging in the Murunahua and Isconahua territorial reserves and illegal mining in other protected areas.

There are also less violent reasons why there is contact between societies. For example, in the Curanja basin on the Purús River (Ucayali), some isolated villages are heading towards the communities attracted by metal objects such as machetes, knives, and clothing. “That is why there must be work with the communities settled near the territorial reserves so that the lives of the IPs are not endangered and the inhabitants do not feel threatened”, says the expert, who advises that a “comprehensive sanitary cordon” be established jointly between the different levels of government, so that they are protected without contacting them.

This is a problem that reaches the Amazon countries, so representatives of public institutions and indigenous organizations from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet on July 6 and 7 to show their progress in the protection of IPs. In addition, they will present the main threats to these populations, with particular emphasis on health care work.

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