Naso Land Rights in the Balance

The Naso People have lived in Panama and Costa Rica since time immemorial. Their vision of the world is rooted in a balance between human needs and the natural environment, which makes them natural guardians of the forest. On February 20, 2019, the National Assembly of Panama passed Law 656, at long last recognizing the Naso people’s territory.  The President now has 30 days to ratify it or send it to the Supreme Court.

The Naso have been fighting since at least the early 1970s for legal recognition of their territory. They number a little over 4,000 people, and against enormous odds have preserved their language, culture, and way of life. Their traditional lands cover some of the most mountainous and biodiversity-rich areas of western Panama. As is the case with indigenous lands elsewhere, the Naso have protected their forest.  Maps demonstrate that deforestation trends in their territory are up to 10 times less than outside of it – and they’ve been more effective than the national parks that overlap their territory.

This is not the first time that recognition of the Naso territory is in the balance.  Previous attempts stalled, and in late 2018, President Varela vetoed Law 656, citing problems with the overlap with protected areas.  The Assembly’s Indigenous Commission brought it back for another vote, however, and it’s now advanced farther than it ever has.  Please join the campaign we’re doing with the Naso Congress, COONAPIP, Land Rights Now and Alianza para la Conservacion y el Desarrollo.

“We have the forest, the river, the animals. If we were to cut it all down – what would we live from? What would we eat? This place is our life. We would never destroy it.”

– Lupita Vargas

Read Lupita Vargas’ story.

What can you do? Read the policy brief and sign the petition.

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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.