Panamanian indigenous threaten with protests if autonomous region is not created

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  • Tue, 12/04/2018 - 18:52
Indigenas panama
  • EFE - Archivo

Indigenous authorities threatened today to organize protests and "close roads" if the Panamanian government does not create an autonomous region for the Naso people, one of the seven original ethnic groups in the country.

"Today is the 40th working day that the president had to formalize the Comarca Naso; we want him to tell us what he is going to do, because if his intention is to back down, the indigenous peoples of Panama will go out to protest and close roads," the maximum leader of the Naso people, King Reynaldo Alexis Santana, told Efe.

On October 25, the Panamanian parliament passed bill 656, which creates the Comarca Naso in the mountains of the western part of the country and must be approved by Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, to enter into force.

The bill establishes that the Naso people "will perpetually own the rights and will enjoy" a territory of more than 160,000 hectares in the Caribbean province of Bocas del Toro, which in practice implies that the Government will undertake to ask for authorization to carry out any type of project.

The creation of the region, which if finally became official would be the sixth in the country, is a historical claim of this indigenous people that has been governed for centuries by a kind of assembly monarchy.

"We have our own customs, our own language, and we are the only people in Latin America that is governed by a king, so it is necessary to create the region to safeguard our culture," the monarch said after attending a press conference with leaders of other ethnicities.

"We have been protecting our forests and natural resources for more than 500 years and we will continue to do so," he added.

In Panama there are about 400,000 indigenous people, who represent about 11 percent of the total population and are grouped into 7 main ethnic groups: Emberá, Wounaan, Guna, Ngäbe, Buglé, Naso and Bri-Bri.

Many of these people live in the five indigenous regions that currently have their own legal recognition and autonomy: Embera-Wounaan, Guna Yala, Ngäbe-Buglé, Madugandi and Wargandi.

The management of forests is the main concern of environmentalists, who have opposed the bill, since the Naso region would cover more than 125,000 hectares of La Amistad International Park, a lush natural reserve that is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

"The Naso region is not a danger for protected areas; on the contrary, multiple scientific studies show that the recognition of indigenous lands is the most profitable, efficient and sustainable means of conservation," said the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples (Coonapip) and general cacique of the Emberá Wounaan people, Elibardo Membache.


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