World Rainforest Movement

Meso-America: Indigenous Peoples’ opinion regarding protected areas

On analyzing the issue of protected areas, it is essential to hear the opinion of those who inhabit them, as the establishment of such areas usually results in impacts on the local populations. In this respect, we have extracted part of the Declaration of the Meso-American Indigenous Peoples to the First Meso-American Congress on Protected Areas (March 2003), which clearly expresses their points of view and their claims. The declaration makes the following considerations:

“1.- That we, the Indigenous peoples have examined and concluded that the decrees on Protected Areas issued by the States have shown themselves to be legal instruments that repeatedly and systematically infringe on and violate the Indigenous peoples’ own territorial planning processes, in addition to being instruments that have served to continue with the spoliation of our territories, prohibiting access and use of spaces that are sacred to us, to then give the use and usufruct of such protected areas in concessions to individuals, with no due return of the benefits that could be used to strengthen the capabilities of our peoples.

2.- That decision-making processes regarding policies, plans, programmes and projects related to protected areas have been carried out without the participation, consultation, prior and informed consent and without the full and effective participation of our Peoples.

3.- That the concept of CO-MANAGEMENT of protected areas is incompatible with the Indigenous Peoples’ vision and cosmo-vision, given that our vision of territoriality and biodiversity conservation is not limited to the accumulation of capital, because the so-called protected areas are part of our home, as they are located in our ancestral territories.

4.- That the design of research, plans, programmes and projects and their implementation has been undertaken unilaterally and with the exclusion of our Peoples, in spite of the fact that we have been the main guaranteeing actors in the conservation of our territorial spaces, with or without State decrees, which may be demonstrated when superimposing maps of Protected Areas with maps of Indigenous Peoples.

5.- That addressing the issue of “an ethnic vision on protected areas” as a final symposium on the Congress agenda, shows a racist and discriminatory practice regarding Indigenous Peoples, already overcome in the international framework within the United Nations.

In view of the above, we Declare:

1) That management of Protected Areas between stakeholders (States, Researchers, NGOs, etc.) and rights-holders (Indigenous Peoples), should firstly and as a fundamental pre-requisite, be recognized by the free will of our Peoples.

2) That a legal framework should be formulated, guaranteeing the full participation of the Indigenous Peoples in the process of management, conservation, protection and administration of protected areas established within their territories.

3) That the State should recognize and respect the full validity of the collective and collateral rights of the Indigenous Peoples over their territories, as is the case of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, the Convention on Biological Diversity, etc.

4) That the State should guarantee provision to the Indigenous Peoples of financial, technical and administrative resources for the management of protected areas.

5) That initiatives to be developed in protected areas should be carried out following consultation, and the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous Peoples.

6) That the principle of equal rights and opportunities in decision-making should be fully enforced.

7) That income from the use and usufruct of protected areas should be invested and distributed for the development of the communities who live in protected areas and for the restructuring of ecosystems.

8) That we reject the Central American Protocol for Access to Genetic Resources and to traditional knowledge that leaves out and does not recognize our rights.

With the above we want to set on record the basic prerequisites for the implementation of co-management under a cooperation policy between stakeholders and indigenous peoples, giving a chance for future generations to see, believe and recreate themselves in a world at least as rich in biodiversity as the one we have inherited, and our understanding of a shared responsibility, as Meso-American Originating Peoples.”

Declaration by the Indigenous Peoples of Meso-America to the First Meso-American Congress on Protected Areas, Managua, Nicaragua, 9 March 2003.