It took the indigenous community of Saweto 12 years to receive its land title, compared to the mere one year it took the government to hand their land over to logging concessions in 2003. Our new joint-report: Peru at the Climate Cross Roads: How Saweto and Indigenous Communities Can Guide Peru Down the Right Path illustrates just how challenging it can be for indigenous communities to obtain titles to their ancestral lands. By law, it takes 27 bureaucratic steps for indigenous communities to be recognized and to receive a land title from the government. It can sometimes take decades, due to corruption and state indifference. And it comes at a huge personal and financial cost to the communities concerned. But if you want to cut down the Amazon you only need to follow three steps for logging or seven steps to get a mining permit.
But that is only a piece of the story.
The full story demonstrates just how impossible it is for many communities to follow those 27 steps. Loggers and miners usually live in town and filing for land concessions requires nothing other than some patience and money. For indigenous communities deep in the Amazon, it is a different story. For the community of Saweto every single one of the 27 steps required a four to five day canoe trip to the nearest city. Once there, they needed to have enough money to pay for food, and a place to stay. Often, they managed to get appointments with local officials to negotiate or turn in papers, only to be told there was some additional step they needed to follow or that the document they presented was invalid. After all of this, the leaders of Saweto had to get in a canoe and make the long trip back home. The community of Saweto rarely heard back from the government, meaning that between many of those 27 steps, they had to once more pack up a canoe to go to the city and find out why the process had stalled. In addition, Saweto, like other indigenous communities, had to figure out how to pay for certain studies that are legally required to process a title—even though it is the government who carries those studies out. The Asheninka of Saweto were denied their claims multiple times over the course of 12 years, yet they persevered. Even when four of their leaders were murdered by loggers attempting to intimidate the community, they did not back down. After 12 years of struggle and with the help of a remarkable lawyer, the Asheninka of Saweto finally obtained the legal title to 200,000 acres of rainforest land.
Over a decade of fighting, the brutal murder of leaders and family members: this is a price few of us can imagine paying. It is a price no other indigenous community should have to pay. Right now the Peruvian State has the opportunity to commit to streamlining this process and expedite land titling for indigenous communities. If it does so, it will not only be fulfilling its ethical and legal obligations to the indigenous communities within its borders. Peru will also be taking one of the most proven steps to protecting the rainforests it has pledged itself to conserve as part of its climate change commitments. Such a move would signal a strong and committed intent in the global fight for the reduction in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.