Peru: Indigenous Organizations Aim for the Presidency

Peru’s indigenous associations are pursuing a political project of their own, and hope to win power in the 2011 presidential elections in order to defend their collective rights. (IPS)- Peru’s indigenous associations are pursuing a political project of their own, and hope to win power in the 2011 presidential elections in order to defend their collective rights.

"We want a political instrument that is different from conventional parties. We are seeking a plurinational state that will include us," indigenous leader Miguel Palacín, the chief organiser of the May 13-16 People’s Summit in Lima, told IPS.

The meeting, carried out in parallel to the Fifth Latin American, Caribbean and European Union (EU-LAC) Summit, also coincided with the Second Indigenous Summit.

According to the 1993 census, indigenous people made up one-third of the Peruvian population. But more recent estimates put the proportion at 45 percent, with most of the rest of the population of 28 million being of mixed-race (mestizo) heritage, and around 15 percent of European descent.

The head of the National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by the Mining Industry (CONACAMI), Mario Palacios, told IPS that a congress of indigenous leaders would be held in July or August. The goal, he said, is to "elect a Peruvian Evo Morales," referring to Bolivia’s indigenous president, who has become an icon for native organisations in the region.

Morales gave the closing speech at the People’s Summit.

The creation of a political arm was one of the main actions approved by six organisations, including CONACAMI, at the end of the Second Indigenous Summit, which was attended by representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

The strategy announced in the meeting’s final declaration is to consolidate a national political project "in alliance with other social sectors."

Palacín, who presides over the Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organisations (CAOI), said that among the groups’ allies is the coca growers’ movement, headed by Nelson Palomino.

Palomino founded the National Association of Peruvian Coca Producers (CONPACCP), and a political party, Kuska (which means "united" in the Quechua language), whose support base is in the southern valley of the rivers Apurimac and Ene, where it won mayoral elections in seven municipalities.

The aim of Kuska’s supporters is to create a plurinational state that would recognise the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. They also want to convene a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution, following in the footsteps of Bolivia and Ecuador.

The new constitution, they say, should include the principles enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, and Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, which entered into force in 1991.

Convention 169 establishes a special protection system for original peoples, as well as consultation mechanisms for laws, production projects and policies that affect their development and territories. The indigenous organisations also want a management policy for territories and natural resources that will promote participation by the communities in decision-making, and respect their autonomy when allocating mining, oil or forestry concessions.

Another proposal at the indigenous summit was to re-negotiate free trade treaties with the United States and the European Union, because of their negative social impacts. These agreements have turned Peru "into a provider of commodities and a recipient of transnational capital for unlimited extraction of natural resources," the declaration says.

Palacín said it was imperative for the indigenous movement to organise politically, following the lead of neighbouring Andean countries. "We are an important force in the region. Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia are home to 50 percent of the region’s indigenous population," he said. Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who delivered a lecture at the indigenous summit, said that "plurinationalism, as a political project, is the most important struggle for indigenous peoples in the region."

De Sousa said that "plurinationalism represents another conception of law and democracy, which may take three forms: representative, participative or community democracy. The latter (which is advocated by indigenous peoples) would amount to democratising democracy."

A country like Peru, which has a socially and culturally diverse population, must have "institutions appropriate to these differences," he said.

Ecuadorean indigenous leader Blanca Chancosa, the coordinator of the "Dolores Cacuango" Training School for Women Leaders, said indigenous people must seek "strategies for exerting influence and opening spaces" for participation, although she emphasised that it is also important to construct a broad agenda that includes other voices.

"Other sectors must be included, so that we think as a country and achieve the ‘re-founding’ of states," she told IPS.

Such a broad vision, said Chancosa, led to the creation of the Pachakutik political movement in her country. Indigenous people in Ecuador began to win seats in local government, and eventually in parliament and the constituent assembly.

This is the model sought for Peru, where the national indigenous organisations are proposing a quota system to ensure that their communities are represented in the legislature.

The mechanism proposed is "the creation of a special national electoral constituency, to ensure political participation of indigenous peoples and communities in the constituent assembly and Congress, which would elect 30 percent of the members of parliament," states a document of Peru’s indigenous movement.

The groups are also calling for "a special regional constituency for indigenous peoples and communities, which would elect 30 percent of the representatives on regional government councils. Similar arrangements would be made for representation at the municipal, provincial and district level."

This was the same path Bolivian indigenous peoples trod in the 1980s. They began by gaining representation in local governments and progressed to winning the 2005 presidential elections with Morales, the candidate for the Movement to Socialism (MAS).

However, some indigenous sectors in Bolivia do not regard Morales as their authentic leader, because in their view he basically represents the coca growers’ movement.

Tomás Huanacu, head of international relations for the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of the Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), said that "authentic indigenous people defend their autonomy, and aren’t really convinced they should take part in the political structure of the state, because they’re against the system."

Ayllus are extended family communities typical of the Andean peoples, markas cover a wider area, while Qullasuyu refers to the Bolivian highlands.

In Chancosa’s view, it is time for the regional indigenous movement to evaluate its achievements and reframe its organisation in political terms.

"In Bolivia, for instance, indigenous people made slow progress and won representation, but the challenge now is to maintain and consolidate their project from a position of power. It’s not enough to win through to government if we’re not organised and haven’t enough support from the people and other sectors," she said.

The challenge is to achieve political power without sacrificing the essence of the indigenous movement, she said. "We cannot compromise. We have to demonstrate the firmness of our purpose," Chancosa said.