Indigenous Peoples of Panama Celebrate Major Land Rights Win

“We’ve waited 40 years for this day. This decision allows us to finally have our rights to lands overlapped by national protected areas recognized.”

– Embera leader

On Tuesday, December 10th, International Human Rights Day, Indigenous leaders from around the Darien in Panama gathered in the Embera village of Arimae to celebrate an important victory in advancing indigenous rights in the country.

Alexis Alvarado, Head of the Department of Indigenous Affairs at the National Land Management Authority, presents a copy of the government resolution that paves the way for land titling for numerous indigenous communities in Panama.

After years of negotiationpressure and legal work, the Ministry of Environment in Panama recently cleared the way for the titling of indigenous lands in protected areas.

Leaders celebrated this landmark resolution — which recognizes that indigenous peoples’ claims to land predate the establishment of the protected area system in Panama — and that the best strategy to conserve forests is to respect the rights of indigenous peoples who live there.

Embera Cacique Elivardo Membache summed up the occasion, saying, “We’ve waited 40 years for this day. This decision allows us to finally obtain rights to lands that overlap national protected areas.”

Meanwhile, Panamanian government official, Alexis Alvarado, Head of the Department of Indigenous Affairs at the National Land Management Authority, said that “the resolution proves that there is no incompatibility between the recognition of Indigenous lands and protected areas, and that Indigenous communities have rights to lands inside national protected areas.”

December 10th is also particularly important for the community of Arimae, as they celebrated the fourth anniversary of their land title.

Although not overlapped by a protected area, Arimae is central to the struggle for collective lands in Panama because it is where the struggle for recognition of collective lands was born, and where many of its leaders came from.

We hope that with the new resolution, more Embera, Wounaan, Guna and Naso indigenous lands will be recognized in the coming year, thus advancing the protection of the environment and human rights in Panama.

For more information, read our update.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.