Where Are the Indigenous Movements in Peru?

CUSCO, Peru – Like other Latin American countries, Peru’s Native population, which is estimated at 40 percent to 50 percent of the country and is predominately Quechua, has experienced a renaissance of pride in Indian identity in the last 20 years.

But Indian movements and national representation here have been slower to develop than in neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia, and Peruvian identity tends to be more nationalistic.

Some analysts say this is because Peru was the center of Spanish colonial conquest for the region, and the ancestral wounds and assimilation of the dominant culture run deeper than in the outlying regions.

Others blame the brutal violence inflicted on the campesino population here by government and terrorist forces during the 1980s and ’90s, in which 70,000 people died.

Still others speak of the depoliticizing influence of “paternalistic” non-governmental organizations that initially arrived as financial backers for Christian missionaries, or of the difficulty of organizing on a national level in a country that includes 72 different indigenous peoples, many of whom live in remote regions.

Some of the organizations now working on issues that affect indigenous people are the ideological inheritors of the early campesino unions that fought to break up the haciendas that kept agricultural workers in virtual slavery until the ’50s.

These organizations include the Confederacion Nacional Agraria (CNA), the Confederacion de Campesinos de Peru (CCP) and the Coordinadora Nacional de Comunidades Campesinos e Indigenas del Peru (CONACCIP).

They continue to work on issues that directly affect small farmers, including promoting and preserving the cultivation of the coca leaf and combating the recent free trade agreement with the United States, which they believe will decimate indigenous farmers with a flood of products from the United States.

In the ’80s and ’90s, as campesinos moved to urban areas, organizations with a more specific Indian identity formed among Peru’s diverse peoples, emphasizing issues of culture, bilingual and intercultural education, environmental contamination and regional autonomy for the indigenous peoples of Peru’s three distinct regions: the Andes, the coast and the Amazon.

The Consejo Indio de Sud America (CISA), now based in Bolivia, was created at the first Congress of South American Indian Movements in Cusco in 1980. The 1 million people of the Amazon jungle, who comprise 62 different ethnic groups, are represented by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) and the Confederation of Amazon Nations of Peru (CONAP). The Centro de Culturas Indigenas de Peru gives particular focus to women and children.

The First National Congess of Indigenous Peoples in Peru organized the Coordinadora Permanente de los Pueblos Indigenas (COPPIP) in 1997.

Alejandro Toledo, Peru’s first Indian president, has been credited with helping to bring the discourse of Indian identity into Peruvian politics, but was criticized for focusing too much on Peruvian Indians as “folklore” and not doing enough to substantially change Native exclusion and poverty.

CONAPA, an organization he created with his wife, Belgian anthropologist Eliane Karp, was shut down after allegations of mismanagement of funds and has since been replaced by INDEPA, the Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo de Pueblos Andinos, Amazonicos y Afroperuanos.

The ethnocacerista movement, started by current Peruvian candidate Ollanta Humala’s Communist father, Isaac Humala, draws heavily on Quechua and Aymara traditions and pride in “the copper-colored race” and has questioned why a white majority should have so much power with a country with an Indian and mestizo majority.

But the nationalism and tactics of armed insurrection used in the past by this movement have been criticized by some Indian leaders who are weary of violence and suspicious of movements that “use” Peru’s Indian heritage for their own ends.

In March, some of the organizers of the first two Conferences of Indigenous Peoples put together a third conference that announced the creation of a new movement, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Peru – CONAIP.

Organizers of this movement reject “caudillos, messiahs and existing political parties” and call for a “sustained and peaceful uprising” of Indian people in Peru, with a refoundation of the constitution based on traditional Andean spiritual and economic principles.

One of the organizers, editor and economist Javier Loja, has said when asked where the Indian movements were in Peru: “They are in Ecuador and Bolivia.”

He, like other Andean activists, emphasizes the territorial unity of these countries, which were once part of the Incan state of Tawantinsuyo.

Other activists acknowledge that historical and regional differences have affected the development of indigenous movements in Peru, but see these differences as a strength, not a weakness.

“It’s easy to take power but it’s difficult to govern,” said Alberto Pisangochota, president of AIDESEP. “We want to arrive in power in a way that is very disciplined and organized, and we want to arrive as sons and daughter[s] of the people.”