Silenced Voices: Indigenous Communities in Peru

Peru is home to 55 indigenous communities that reside in various locations such as the Andes and remote areas of the jungle. Interestingly, these communities use 48 different words to say ‘Hello’. Despite their unique culture and traditional practices, these communities are often portrayed in advertisements to attract tourists. However, it remains unclear whether the Peruvian government truly supports these communities or merely presents a positive image. In this article, we will delve into the historical context and present-day challenges between the Peruvian state and its indigenous communities.

Based on data from the ENAHO National Household Survey in 2018, individuals who speak indigenous or Aboriginal languages have a poverty rate of 32.3%, with 5.4% living in extreme poverty.

The Defensoría del Pueblo, an institution dedicated to safeguarding fundamental rights and public freedoms in Peru, has highlighted the vulnerability of indigenous populations due to the lack of public services in remote rural areas, which puts them at risk. This issue has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Consequently, the social and economic challenges faced by indigenous peoples are amplified by the insufficient government support they receive.

The latest national census reveals that the Indigenous or Aboriginal people constitute more than 7% of the Peruvian population and according with last information from INEI (National Institute of Statistics and Informatics) Peru has a population of 32 million. However, they have been historically overlooked and disregarded. During the Spanish colonization of Peru, which began 492 years ago, indigenous communities were dispersed and isolated from the emerging social structures. As a result of colonization, indigenous people were killed and subjugated, and they became a minority group, whereas they were the social majority before the arrival of the Spanish. With time, the various indigenous languages gradually faded away, and Spanish emerged as the official language of Peru. After colonization, society was divided into two major social groups, the Spanish oligarchy, and the indigenous Peruvians. Cuzco, the sacred land of the Incas, which was once the cradle of the indigenous people, no longer held that status, and Lima emerged as the capital of Peru. The centralization of the Peruvian government was also established from this point once the republic was formed.

The indigenous communities in the Andes and remote jungle forests of Peru were neglected by the government for decades, leaving them without access to education, healthcare, and basic necessities such as drinking water and electricity. These communities had to survive on their own, relying on agriculture and cattle raising for their livelihoods. Despite being ignored by the government for so long, they continue to demand recognition and their rights.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the Peruvian government adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which means that for 186 years – from Peru’s independence in 1821 until 2007 – indigenous communities had no rights. This has had serious consequences, as these communities are the poorest and most underprivileged in Peru.

However, there is an even greater wound that has been inflicted on these communities: social stigma. Former president Alan Garcia once said, “These people are not first-class citizens, that can say 400,000 natives to 28 million Peruvians,” highlighting the fact that even the highest authority in Peru did not consider indigenous communities as equal citizens. It is unfortunate that these communities, which represent a rich part of Peru’s culture and heritage, have been relegated to an undeveloped group by members of the government.

In 2009, a conflict dubbed ‘Baguazo’ broke out between the government and indigenous peoples of Peru. This was sparked by the government’s approval of a series of legislative decrees in support of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed with the US government. These decrees had a direct impact on Amazonian communities as they allowed a mining company to occupy a protected area without consulting the indigenous communities residing there. In response, the indigenous communities staged a protest on the Amazonian highway, disrupting the movement of vehicles until their concerns were addressed. The government dispatched the army and armed forces to clear the highway, which resulted in the loss of 33 lives. Despite the former president’s efforts to alleviate the situation, the conflict continued to strain the relationship between the government and the indigenous peoples.

It’s worth noting that Peru has enforced prior consultation since 1995, in accordance with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which mandates that indigenous communities be consulted before policies that affect them are implemented. Despite this, social conflicts have persisted since the Bagua tragedy. Projects like Conga and Tia Maria have produced similar outcomes, as the government appears to ignore the rights of indigenous communities. By imposing decrees and bypassing proper consultation, the state has enabled private corporations to exploit their resources.

The plight of indigenous peoples and their lack of protection in the face of environmental damage is a systemic injustice that highlights the unequal power dynamics between state governments and indigenous communities. Sadly, this is not an isolated issue. Rather, it is reflective of a systematic disregard for indigenous peoples’ rights and self-determination. The institutional response to indigenous peoples’ protests against deforestation is indicative of a bold disregard for their rights and their direct victimization in the situation. The unfortunate result is that the voices and experiences of affected communities are ignored and delegitimized, perpetuating an unfair system that prioritizes economic and political interests over the protection of human and environmental rights.

Indigenous communities are facing a critical lack of protection against environmental damage, as they are limited in accessing justice and effective preventative measures to combat unlawful exploitation of their land. This leads to impunity for those responsible for environmental crimes, exacerbating the sense of vulnerability and powerlessness felt by these populations. Their voices go unheard as their territory is exploited and polluted. It is crucial to recognize and honor the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consultation in all decisions affecting their land and way of life. This requires their active participation in decision-making processes and the implementation of effective measures to prevent and penalize any action that jeopardizes their cultural and geographic identity. To effectively tackle this issue, it is essential not only to respect indigenous peoples’ rights but also to reform power structures and institutional practices that perpetuate their marginalization and vulnerability. This is the only way to ensure a fairer and more inclusive future.


Alan García. (2009). America TV : ‘Estas personas no son ciudadanos de primera clase…’ [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjzxl1lBswc

Dunlap, A. (2019). ‘Agro sí, mina NO!’ the Tía Maria copper mine, state terrorism and social war by every means in the Tambo Valley, Peru. Political Geography, 71, pp.10–25. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.02.001

ENAHO.  (2018). Plataforma Nacional de Datos Abiertos. [online] Available at: https://www.datosabiertos.gob.pe/dataset/encuesta-nacional-de-hogares-enaho-2018-instituto-nacional-de-estad%C3%ADstica-e-inform%C3%A1tica-inei

INEI (2021). Instituto Nacional de Estadistica e Informatica. [online] Inei.gob.pe. Available at: https://m.inei.gob.pe/prensa/noticias/peru-tiene-una-poblacion-de-32-millones-131-mil-400-habitantes-al-30-de-junio-del-presente-ano-11659/.

illari Rimarachin Martínez

One comment
  1. Jorge Rimarachín Cabrera

    Un artículo excelente, con una buena entrada, cuerpo y salida sostenible al problema indígena peruano.
    Felicitaciones para Illari

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