Although Indigenous Peoples and local communities have legal ownership of over 33 percent of Latin America’s forests, overlapping claims to their lands continue. In an effort to clarify where such overlap exists, 13 civil society organizations from Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru surveyed 29 million hectares of forest land, a corridor stretching from the Panama Canal, through the western edge of Ecuador and Colombia, down to northern Peru. This area, known as the Pacific Basin, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and home to forest communities
Its richness in natural resources has made it an attractive worldly investment. While local governments claim that extractive resource projects and other megaprojects such as roads, rail, and dams, will help boost economic growth and uplift local communities, these deliverables have been short in coming. What has manifested, however, are the visible signs of social and environmental damages.
As the map illustrates, forest areas owned or controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities (roughly 41 percent of the Basin) are overrun by large-scale land projects and government controlled protected areas. Within the Basin, mining concessions account for 31 percent, oil concessions 13 percent, agroindustry 5 percent, logging 1 percent and protected areas 13 percent. In addition, there are 184 hydroelectric already in service or under construction.
By providing quantifiable evidence that overlapping land claims do exist and are rampant, community members hope to highlight the urgent need to create and implement more robust safeguards and legal mechanisms that protect community land rights. Moreover, by creating transparency between what is written in law and what is happening on the ground, governments, investors, development organizations, and communities can be better positioned to work together to find meaningful solutions to the problems that exist and more adeptly adapt to the needs of all those with an interests in these forests.
The map was coordinated by Instituto del Bien Común with the assistance of the World Wildlife Foundation, EcoCiencia, and 10 other civil society groups, and supported by the Rights and Resources Initiative. It was completed in December of 2013.