06/06/2012 01:24 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Your Land for My Wallet: Inconsistencies & Contradictions in Peruvian Land Legislation

Currently, indigenous groups in the Amazon are increasingly being encroached upon and removed from their land, and are facing submission to systems of forced labor and exploitation. Patterns of subjugation and dispossession are certainly not unique to indigenous communities in Latin America, nor are they new problems. Indigenous Peruvians have faced exploitation and removal from ancestral lands since the imposition of foreign rule under Spanish colonials. However in modern Peru, neoliberal economic trends that drive legislation are continuously stripping communities from their rights to title ancestral lands. The Peruvian government promotes the exploitation of resources and supports foreign investment and activity by transnational corporations.

After spending time in the highlands of Peru working with indigenous groups, I wanted to examine the situation and understand its roots. I studied Spanish and English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and have always had a passion for legal issues. The most profound moment of my interaction with indigenous communities came about during a talk from indigenous youth activist group CEJOKAM (Consejo Étnico de Jóvenes Kichwa de la Amazonía) in which they discussed their mission and explained the Kinti Kartonera project. This project, based on the 2003 Cartonera project in Buenos Aires, involves active documentation of indigenous culture. Members of CEJOKAM travel to indigenous communities in the region and document as many aspects of Kichwa culture as they can. This includes everything from myths and legends to songs and cultural practices. The objective of the Kinti Kartonera project is to have everything recorded, in the indigenous native language Quechua, as a way of cultural preservation. Why is there a need to document such a ubiquitous and seemingly unrecordable aspect of life? CEJOKAM is actively pursuing this project because they are fearful every day for their people and culture, in the face of continuous encroachment of lands inhabited by native communities, by oil drillers, loggers and miners.

In my thesis, I first present the reader with context of historical instances of subjugation and exploitation of native communities, beginning under the Inca Empire and exploding under Spanish colonial rule. Even after Spanish rule was abolished in the nineteenth century, indigenous Peruvians still faced patterns of land dispossession and cultural oppression. I sought to link the strife between indigenous communities and their colonial rulers, foreign interests and their own government. I also found connections between political and economic trends in modern Peru, and how these relate to objectives set forth in present-day laws. Using scholarly literature accessed through the University of Massachusetts library database, and past and present Peruvian laws and codes, my research examines the inconsistent and contradictory treatment of indigenous Peruvians, as expressed in contemporary laws regarding land rights. Moreover, I argue that the present systems of subjugation are in theory similar historical trends of treatment by power structures of the native Andean population, diverging under consideration of contemporary neoliberal economic objectives.