In the midst of this health emergency, Peru has a risk that socio-economic gaps between indigenous peoples and the rest of the population deepens, according to a report.
The report made by CHIRAPAQ, Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru, collected 30 testimonies from indigenous mayors, traditional authorities, teachers, youth advocates, midwives and farmers, with the purpose of identifying the needs and learning the response strategies of Andean and Amazonian indigenous peoples to the Coronavirus.
“These are the most neglected and impoverished groups in the country and among whom the spread of the virus would cause the greater number of victims”, assures Tarcila Rivera Zea, vicepresident of CHIRAPAQ and former member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Apart from complying with compulsory isolation, local population and authorities blocked the roads with logs and stones in the communities of Vilcas Huamán province in Ayacucho in order to prevent the entry of foreign people who could infect them.
Because of these provisions, indigenous women cannot go to small markets and districts where they buy and sell small animals and produce to have additional income. On the other hand, men cannot work paving roads or in building projects. “This creates a great pressure on Andean families’ economies, and especially on indigenous women who are expected to be the food providers in their homes”, explains the indigenous activist.
CHIRAPAQ has been informed of at least 5 local governments in Ayacucho who are purchasing primarily rice, oil and pasta for food kits that should be distributed with the 231 million soles transferred from the central government to municipal governments. They do this, instead of “finding an answer in indigenous food culture and buy directly from farmers to safeguard their economy”, she explains.
Indigenous women that live in urban areas have also been hit by the economic crisis. The district of San Juan Bautista, located in the outskirts of Huamanga (Ayacucho), was founded by hundreds of families displaced in the internal conflict of the eighties. Here, women organize themselves to sell regional food at low prices as a means of self-employment. In response to this health crisis, the Santa Rosa Gastronomic Association of Typical Food Sellers of Ayacucho has stopped their activities, creating losses of almost 1,300 soles (394 US) for each member.
According to the report, strategies have not been adopted in the Vilcas Huamán province so that indigenous children, teenagers and youth can begin their school year. “In communities where electricity is available only for a few hours and, of course, there is no Internet, e-learning is still a faraway dream”, explains Tarcila.
In the face of limited radio coverage, communities turn to the use of loudspeakers to communicate the measures to avoid infection and the government provisions to the district population in the Quechua language. “We urge the Ministry of Education to incorporate this form of communication that is traditionally used in our villages so that indigenous children do not lose the school year”, she declared.
In Loreto, twenty indigenous young people from the National University of the Peruvian Amazon (UNAP, for its name in Spanish) are in compulsory isolation in the city, far from their families and with meager means to feed themselves. It is also impossible for these university students who belong to the Student Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Peru (OEPIAP) to continue their studies in distance learning since they do not have Internet. CHIRAPAQ recommends establishing education subsidies for indigenous university students stranded in the regions’ capitals.
Finally, CHIRAPAQ urges that a working group conformed by the different ministries, indigenous organizations, United Nations system organizations is created during the Coronavirus emergency and that measures are adopted to prevent infections in the communities. “We, indigenous peoples, have already suffered from ethnocide as a consequence of the diseases spread by the colonizers. We do not want that history repeats itself”, she concluded.