By Barbara Fraser • Dec 18, 2012
While indigenous people in Latin America are increasingly gaining rights to their traditional homelands, obstacles ranging from unclear legislation to entrenched power brokers have prevented them from having any real say over governance or their natural resources, a new analysis says.
Anne Larson, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and winner of this year’s Ostrom Memorial Award for most innovative paper of the year, has spent the last six years studying cases in northeastern Nicaragua.
The North Atlantic Autonomous Region, an area that includes 19 indigenous territories with elected leaders, was created in the late 1980s to give local people a role in decision-making. That added a new layer of control to a system that already included national and municipal governments.
However, that did not necessarily make decision-making more effective or democratic.
Effectively, the national government maintained de facto control.
A turning point came when Awas Tingni, a Sumo-Mayangna indigenous community, filed a petition with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights over a forest concession that the national government had granted to a foreign company on its lands, without its consent. In a landmark case in 2001, the court mandated that the government recognise indigenous land rights. Not long after, Nicaragua passed the Communal Lands Law, officially recognizing this and calling for demarcation and titling of lands.
The law, however, did not automatically resolve key issues facing the communities, particularly those related to the colonisation of the land by outsiders, the formation of territories, election of representatives and authority over natural resources.
“Indigenous land rights are being recognised in part because of important national and international movements that have fought for them, but also in part because those who want access to the resources on those lands are finding other ways to get them,” Larson says.
ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: For Indigenous Peoples, land rights are only half the battle.