Panama City, September 2018
COONAPIP Scales Up Indigenous Land Titling in Panama
The National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP) launched a new effort last week to scale up titling of collective lands and strengthen governance in the Central American nation. COONAPIP met with key government agencies, including the National Land Administration (ANATI) and the National Geographic Institute (Tommy Guardia), and key international allies including the Rainforest Foundation US (RF-US) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to reiterate the indigenous movement’s primary demands, including for the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, legal recognition of remaining ancestral lands outside of the indigenous provinces (called Comarcas), including collective lands and areas to annex to the Comarcas, as well as a new Comarca for the Naso people and a series of specific proposals to speed up collective titling and strengthen practices around indigenous representation, consultation and participation.
Land tenure security is one of the central prerequisites for effective forest conservation and broader sustainable development anywhere, but particularly so for marginalized indigenous communities whose cultural survival also depends on securing the lands they have traditionally occupied. Land rights has been the central objective of the RF-US’s work in Panama over the past decade, and is also the objective of a new grant to COONAPIP from the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility in Sweden. Over the next two years, COONAPIP, in conjunction with member Congresses and Councils (indigenous traditional authorities) and support from RF-US, will intensify efforts to map remaining lands to be titled and prepare title applications for legal recognition. This will involve overcoming the obstacles set up by the Ministry of Environment to titling collective lands that are overlapped by protected areas established much later, often without free prior informed consent of the indigenous people living on those lands. This constitutes on ongoing and serious violation of the fundamental human rights of indigenous Panamanians, and is the subject of an upcoming hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In addition to gaining legal recognition to their lands, indigenous peoples in Panama are working to establish more effective rules for governing natural resource use, both internally within communities, and to stop the continuous threats from outsiders who clear forest for cattle and farms, and government sanctioned mining, transportation and energy projects. These rules will take many forms, including internal regulations within communities, co-management regimes with government, and standardizing procedures for mapping, monitoring and protecting Panama’s globally important biodiversity and natural resources.