A NEW study released in Mexico, reveals that governments in Central America, including Panama often with the support of donor nations and conservation organizations, are using protected areas to wall off indigenous peoples from their traditional territories in the name of protecting biodiversity.
At a biodiversity conference in Cancun, negotiators admitted they are not on track to reach their goals for slowing the destruction of the planet’s remaining store of unique plants and other forms of wildlife.
“Our findings mirror a global trend documented in a recent report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Andrew Davis, study author and a researcher with the Prisma Foundation in El Salvador.
“Commitments to Indigenous Peoples look good on paper, but when you travel to the protected areas in some countries, you see government agencies using the threat of arrest and sometimes even intimidation to prevent indigenous peoples from harvesting and using resources on lands they have been conserving for hundreds of years.”
Prisma’s analysis of five conservation initiatives suggests that governments, often in collaboration with conservation organizations and donor nations, continue to stifle and even undermine the rights of Indigenous Peoples in some of the most biodiverse areas of Central America—despite compelling evidence that Indigenous Peoples and local communities, armed with strong rights to their territories—regularly outperform both public and private management of forests and other natural resources.
Indigenous Peoples and local communities have legally recognized rights to approximately 65 percent of the forests in Mesoamerica, far exceeding any other region in the world.
Prisma’s study reports that government agencies, often backed by funding from multilateral banks and European donors, have persistently overlooked these groups in creating conservation areas designed to protect and preserve tropical forests and the wealth of biodiversity they hold—from rare medicinal plants to endangered animal species.
“Much like the wall Mr. Trump envisions for Mexico, a wall has effectively grown up around many protected areas, shutting out the people who depend on the forests for their survival,” Davis said.
“And, just as the U.S. is likely to discover, the dependence goes both ways.”
In addition to revealing a trend toward excluding indigenous peoples from planning and implementing efforts to conserve the region’s treasured plant and wildlife, the findings also suggest local communitieshave been fundamental to the region’s success in preventing the destruction of forests and protecting
biodiversity on their traditional lands.
Covering a region that stretches from the Yucatan in southern Mexico to the rainforests of Darien in Panama, the case studies suggest that protecting remote regions from poaching, illegal logging and reaching other conservation goals can only be accomplished by granting and reinforcing strong rights of local peoples to their traditional territories.
“Mexico and the countries of Central America have become an inadvertent testing ground for approaches to conservation,” Davis said.
“When done right, indigenous people are allowed to do what they do best: protect the biodiversity of the forests and other lands they and their forefathers have inhabited, sometimes for millennia
. In Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and beyond, we found conclusive evidence that supporting and securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities serves as a tool that can be put to work immediately by governments that are serious about protecting biodiversity.”
The region’s major biosphere parks were created without input from local communities. These include the
Montes Azules in Mexico, the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, and, the Darien National Park in Panama,”
Worldwide, “protected areas” cost the globe 12.1 billion U.S. dollars annually to maintain, despite evidence that shows 50 to 80 percent of the areas remain poorly managed or underfunded. And the protected areas continue to lose biodiversity, currently at almost half the rate of unprotected areas.