Since the mid-1980s, the Latin America region has been a global leader in recognizing land and forest rights for Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, and local communities; enacting a series of progressive national constitutions and policy reforms. However, in countries across the region, efforts to implement land policies and resist rollback remain a challenge.
Globally, Latin America leads the rate of criminalization and killing of environmental and human rights defenders. Difficult economic times have prompted many governments to adopt more pro-industry stances, exacerbating pressure on community held lands. Even more worrisome, recent presidential elections in 2018 have brought back far-right governments that threaten to exacerbate oppression and violence toward land defenders, prompt greater environmental degradation, and roll back hard-won civil rights as well as the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, and women.
Despite the growing threats in some countries and regions, significant opportunities remain to strengthen the collective rights of indigenous, Afro-descendant, and forest communities in the region. National-level coalition building is proving an effective strategy to influence decision makers, fight rollback, advance communities’ agendas in policy-making, and close historical gaps in recognition and titling of indigenous and Afro-descendant collective tenure rights. In addition, the Coalition seeks to respond to requests to strengthen and expand alliances, enhance regional coordination, and develop a collaborative mechanism to support communities in the defense of their lands and resources.
RRI’s facilitation and coordination at the regional level has allowed for the identification and amplification of common issues, such as: consolidation of Afro-descendant movements across Latin Americas; strengthening a common agenda and securing representation at the UNFCCC platform on local communities; and facilitating coordinated strategies to ensure the respect of collective rights and stave off rollback.
Since 2012, a particular focus on the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant women—who still face inadequate land tenure policies that typically disregard the importance of women’s access to land and fail to include them in decision-making processes—has resulted in the increased presence and role of women in decision-making spaces at all levels. RRI is actively supporting coordination and information-sharing among women’s groups across the region to better advance their rights within national policy reforms, economic development, and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Read more about our country-level work in Peru and Colombia below.
Colombia’s fledgling peace process is under threat. Colombia has taken important steps toward recognizing the rights of indigenous and local communities, and in 2014, adopted constitutional decrees recognizing greater autonomy for indigenous communities to manage their education systems, healthcare, and drinking water. The government also established legal mechanisms to secure their ancestral lands. After 50 years of internal conflict, the government finalized peace agreements with the FARC rebel group in 2016 that target 20 million hectares of land for distribution to peasant communities. However, the peace process remains under threat as implementation stagnates, and violence continues to climb across the country amidst new power vacuums.
Since 2015, the formation of a country-level coalition in Colombia has supported the creation of new policies on rights recognition; made strides toward safeguarding indigenous and Afro-descendant rights and territories; and achieved greater participation of indigenous and ethnic groups in key political processes:
- RRI Collaborators and other civil society organizations successfully advocated for the inclusion of provisions in Colombia’s 2015-2018 National Development Plan for the creation of a comprehensive public policy on rural women and women’s access to land.
- Within the context of ongoing agrarian reform processes and implementation of the 2016 peace accord, RRI supported key Collaborators for their involvement in the Inter-Ethnic Commission of Peace, the body created to represent indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in peace negotiations.
- RRI supported the creation and launch of a database documenting outstanding claims for collective titles for Afro-descendant communities, and a multi-sector partnership to implement pending claims.
Peru’s Indigenous Peoples face the threat of rollback. Nearly 35 percent of Peru’s land is owned or controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, whose contributions to sustainable development and climate change mitigation are of particular importance given that Peru has the largest Amazonian rainforest territory after Brazil. According to the national indigenous group AIDESEP, Peru has the largest area of unrecognized community forest land in Latin America—20 million hectares. However, the government has focused its efforts on propping up Peru’s struggling economy, including through a series of five sets of laws, known as paquetazos, which threaten indigenous lands by accelerating concessions and streamlining social and environmental requirements for transferring land to private investors.
The RRI Coalition in Peru has worked to prevent the rollback of land rights by positioning tenure security at the center of national and international debates, and promoting secure land and resource rights on the ground. This work has led to the inclusion of indigenous proposals within the national government agenda, including the successful creation of four new reserves for Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation and states of initial contact (IPVIIC) in 2016, and a new agreements between indigenous organizations and the government to strengthen local economic initiatives in national development plans in 2018.
Indigenous Peoples’ activism regarding REDD+ and climate change has reactivated donor interest and increased government commitment to land titling, resulting in a new suite of land titling programs. The RRI Coalition in Peru has been working to ensure the rights of rural and indigenous women are taken into account in these titling projects, and supported advocacy efforts that resulted in the inclusion of members of the National Organization of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women (ONAMIAP) in the working group for one of Peru’s largest donor-funded titling projects.