Peru: will land titling undercut Sendero?

Peru’s President Ollanta Humala on Oct 25 announced the creation of a new multi-million dollar fund for development projects in the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE)—the last two remaining areas of the country where the Shining Path insurgency remains active. The initiative is aimed at undermining the insurgency and providing economic alternatives to coca cultivation. (La Republica, Oct. 25) The government’s Organism for the Formalization of Informal Property (COFOPRI) also announced that land titles would be granted to 784 campesino families in San Martín region’s provinces of Huallaga and Lamas, both in the Huallaga Valley. Since August 2011, a total of 3,513 land parcels have been titled to peasant families in San Martín, in a bid to pacify the restive region. (Andina, Oct. 25)

But the titling of lands to campesino and indigenous communities across Peru has been nearly paralyzed for the past two years, with many of the files lost in intractable bureaucratic tangles. Under President Alan García, who ruled from 2006 to 2010, a mere 19 titles were granted to communities, in addition to 23 expansions of titled communal lands, according to COFOPRI. In 2010, the government transferred COFOPRI’s land titling function to regional administrations—which charge that they have not been provided with the complete files or information by the Secretariat of Decentralization, responsible for overseeing the transition.

As of September 2010, a total of 6,069 peasant communities in the Andes and on the coast and 1,649 indigenous communities in the Amazon had been registered by COFOPRI. Of this total, 16% have still not been granted title. However, sources at the non-governmental Institute of the Common Good (IBC) maintain that the real number of untitled communities is much greater, especially in the Amazon rainforest. IBC’s Eduardo Nayap, a lawmaker and member of the Awajún ethnic group, said the actual number of untitled communities in the Amazon could be up to four times greater than the official estimate. “We indigenous people are not counted in the statistics,” he told Tierramérica. Yet the opening of lands to oil interests continues apace, without indigenous title having been clarified. (IPS-Tierramérica, Oct. 16)

COFOPRI has also overseen a re-consolidation of lands in oligarchic hands, under mechanisms allowing former landlords to challenge peasant titles to lands redistributed during the agrarian reform of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most of the lands that have been titled to campesinos since then have been in marginal areas on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.