The Naso indigenous community of
By the same token, however, they are cursed to live in such a beautiful and coveted place. The Naso aren't all that different from many other indigenous groups in
Last month, a small delegation of Naso leaders traveled to
"For the last three years we've been campaigning to get the world to pay attention to our situation," says Eliseo Vargas, a savvy and well-versed Naso spokesperson. "We've been fighting to get collective land titles for an even longer period of time, so right now we're happy to begin to be heard and to introduce this first petition."
The Naso practice subsistence agriculture and live in 160,000 hectares but they have little rights over their ancestral lands. Unlike the neighboring Kuna—a community I wrote about in the Spring 2010 AQ—they don't enjoy "comarca" status within the Panamanian constitution, a title that would allow them to practice their traditions and way of life within their territory in relative autonomy from the central government. Instead, Naso communities have been subjected to forced evictions, detentions and the destruction of their environment.
For the last three years, the Panamanian cattle company, Bocas, has been pushing the agricultural frontier further and further into Naso territory, cutting down their forests and jeopardizing their access to arable land. Naso leadership has brought the case to the Panamanian courts to no avail. When the heavy machinery began to flatten humble thatched roof huts in the
"We feel that the cattle company is complicit with the people in government because they have never responded to our requests," says Vargas. "And despite all of our demands, last month, the ministry of justice presented us with its third eviction notice."
But there exists an even greater threat to the Naso; one that has been in construction on the banks of
“Blocking the river will flood vast areas where we live; we would have to move our homes, families, crops, animals, and our lives," wrote a Ngöbe-Buglé leader to the U.S.-based contractor in charge of the Bonyic dam, AES Corporation. "Where would we go?"
The history of forced evictions of indigenous communities is not uncommon in
But today's globalized indigenous rights movement is beginning to change business as usual. A growing number of cases are now being brought to the IACHR and other rights watchdogs, and countries like
*Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org based in San Francisco, California.