Peru Yavarí Tapiche

Yavarí Tapiche: The Peruvian Indigenous Reserve 17 Years in the Making

Earlier this year, on April 10, the Peruvian Supreme Court voted to pass legislation creating a 2.7 million acre reserve to protect the rights of several isolated and initial contact tribes near the Peru-Brazil border. The tribes include the Matsés, Remo (Isconahua), and Marubo peoples along with potentially hundreds of other tribes that have not been identified. Yavarí Tapiche is the fourth and largest indigenous reserve created thus far.

The declaration was made under a Peruvian statute protecting indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact (PIACI, Personas indígenas Aislados y Contactos Iniciales). Around 7,000 folks living in the Yavarí Tapiche Reservation fit this definition, with nearly 5,000 living in total isolation. Tribes living in voluntary isolation in the Amazon are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases that outside populations, mainly the logging and oil companies who want to use the land, are at risk of bringing to the newly protected communities.

 

Buildings located just south of the Yavarí Tapiche Reservation believed to be built by PIACI. Source: The Guardian. Photo by ORPIO.

 

Once the Ministry of Culture approved the Supreme Court’s decision, the government got to work setting up channels of communication with local and national authorities, including activists who live near the reserve, to ensure the protections are met. The rights of the PIACI tribes the state recognizes are essentially their right to continue to live uncontacted and the right to maintain use of their ancestral lands. 

The area of Yavarí Tapiche lies deep within the Amazon Rainforest in the Loreto region of Peru, near the source of the Blanco, Tapiche, and Yavarí Rivers. The tribes that live in this area, and many other PIACI tribes across the Amazon, live a partially nomadic lifestyle where they move around the rainforest depending on the season, relying entirely on its resources to sustain them.

 

Map showing the overlap of 15 forest concessions in the Yavari Tapiche Indigenous Reserve. An oil concession — Block 135 — was carved out of the original request for the reserve. Source: Orpio.

 

Aside from the PIACI tribes living in these remote areas, they are largely untouched by outsiders and even oil and logging companies. Part of the reason it took so long for Yavarí Tapiche to be officially created was the objections of these corporations who wanted to extract natural resources from the areas and couldn’t do so under a protected status. A block near the border was dropped from the original reservation plan to placate such objections, and the reservation plans remain relatively intact.

 

A photo released by the Ministry of Culture of structures built by PIACI. Source: Ministerio de Cultura, Peru.

 

Although activists aren’t thrilled with the concessions, the biggest threat to the region is now illegal logging and drug trafficking. As stated above, outside contact can be very dangerous for PIACI because they haven’t been exposed to the diseases people outside remote tribes have acquired immunity to. With safeguards in place that create quick communication channels between local activists and the government officials who can enforce protection, advocates are hoping the decree is effectively implemented.

Angela Arriola, a specialist in policies for Indigenous peoples and Piaci and advisor to the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, said after the passage of the law; “The creation of Yavarí Tapiche… is a great step, a great advance, but management measures need to be implemented, only categorization is not a guarantee of protection.”

 

Javari River, border between Brazil and Peru. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler.

 

While it’s too soon to definitively say if the government’s management system will be effective, supporters of protecting such areas of the Amazon are hoping the process of creating reserves like Yavarí Tapiche will be smoother in the future. The initial proposal to create the Yavarí Tapiche reserve was submitted back in 2004, even before the law protecting PIACI was passed in 2006. The PIACI law itself took an additional five years to be implemented by the government, again in part to objections by oil companies. However, Yavarí Tapiche is the fourth and largest reservation to be created under the PIACI protection statute, which lends hope that the process will be smoother going forward. 

 


Hannah Fontaine | Harvard University

Hannah is a recent graduate of Harvard University who wrote her thesis about the connection between the state-sponsored violence of the Guatemalan Revolution and the lack of prosecutorial and judicial success for women who are survivors of sexual violence in the country today. In the fall, she will be attending University of Wisconsin- Madison for law school where she plans to focus on immigration and criminal law. Hannah has been working with Latina Republic since October 2020 and her favorite part about writing articles is using quotes from interview subjects to emphasize their voices and experiences, telling their stories as they want them to be told and highlighting the successes of organizations and movements working to make their communities better.