Indigenous Peoples, the Invisible Victims of War

by Abraham Lama

LIMA, 7 Mar (IPS) - The Aguaruna and Shuar groups of the Jibara peoples who live on both sides of the Ecuador-Peru border have not been consulted on how to settle the territorial war even though they are the traditional owners of the disputed land.

The undeclared war has occured exclusively in Peruvian Aguaruna territory, in the highest part of the Cenepa river valley where 120 Auguaruna communities live.

The 5,300 square kilometers have a total population of 35,000 people - 82 of the communities have legal ownership of the majority of their territory while the other 38 are in the process of gaining legal title to their land.

The war has had a serious impact on the local communities, and president of the Aguaruna Huambisa Council Evaristo Nukuang reported that 28 local people have been killed by landmines during the conflict.

''No one has included them on the list of casualties, and their families will not receive compensation like the families of the soldiers and other dead,'' said Nukuang.

''There is no peace in our communities, mothers are crying for their children, the children for fear of the bombing raids, and the animals we hunt have all run away...'' he added.

''But we are Peruvian and we don't want to leave this territory because we've been here since the time of the Incas.''

The Aguaruna, Shuar, Ashuar and Huambisa all live in the area disputed by Ecuador and Peru - spreading nearly 200 kilometers into each country.

They were split from each other by religious divisions of the continent when the Amazonian forests were left to the missionaries following the Spanish failure to discover Eldorado.

The Shuar and Ashuar were assigned to the Francisans in Quito, Ecuador while the Agauruna and Huambisa went to the Jesuits in Lima, Peru.

''They are being used as cannon fodder in the war and for propaganda, but the military, political and economic solutions to resolve the frontier conflict mean new, more serious infringements of their rights,'' said anthropologist Imelda Vega.

''If this area was transferred to Ecuador, the Agaurunas living there would have to change nationality,'' a move which they ''will not accept,'' added Vega.

In Peruvian political circles there is talk of accelerated colonisation plans, installing ''modern'' colonies of landless people from other regions, to create ''living frontiers,'' she said.

President of the Congress Defense Committee Andres Reggiardo has already announced a settlement programme to distribute the land in the Cenepa river valley amongst the soldiers who fought there.

''We can imagine what would really be a colonisation programme, supported and maybe even directed by the army: the Aguaruna, the real owners of the area would be displaced and expelled,'' said Vega.

''But we are dealing with very poor land, most of which is only suitable for hunting, fishing and gathering, where any modern colonisation programme is inapplicable because of rapid erosion,'' said sociologist Alberto Panessi.

''They are the poorest soils in Peru, with steep inclinations and rain all year round, where not even the forest can fix the soil and the bigger forest trees fall over as the rain erodes the soil,'' explained Vega.

''Sixty percent of the ground is not suited to farming. The Belen Aguaruna community for example owns 10,691 hectares of land, of which only 1,710 are cultivable - around 16 hectares per family.''

The interplanted plots produce subsistence crops like bananas, maize and cassava, and all attempts at intensive rice or maize plantations have quickly ended in severe soil erosion.


Origin: San Jose/ECUADOR-PERU/

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Written 3:38 pm Mar 10, 1995 by cdp:newsdesk in web:ips.english