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Indigenous voices. Meet Ruth Buendía

Date: 09/08/2013
Indigenous voices. Meet Ruth Buendía

Indigenous voices. Meet Ruth Buendía

On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, RFUK talks to Ruth Buendía, the President of the Central Ashaninka del Rio Ene (CARE), our main indigenous partner organisation in Peru.

Ruth was born and raised in the indigenous Asháninka community of Cutivireni, along the banks of the Ene river. As a young girl, she experienced tremendous hardship: her father was murdered by the Shining Path terrorist movement, forcing Ruth, her mother and her sister to flee into the depths of the jungle – which is now a part of the protected Asháninka Communal Reserve. Ruth eventually moved to Satipo, a nearby town,, and then to Lima, the capital, but at seventeen she returned to the forest of her origins to find her family, and set her mind to studying.

By the age of twenty-seven, Ruth had run and successfully been elected as the first female President of CARE, which represents seventeen communities of around ten thousand indigenous Ashaninka people.

She has since worked to defend the territory and lands of the Asháninka by helping increase their legal presence in the eyes of the state, and building agreements to finally acknowledge historically neglected peoples. The Peruvian government has ratified international treaties and adopted national laws intended to protect indigenous peoples, however their transformation from paper to reality has not yet been achieved. Ruth acknowledges “We indigenous peoples have been historically neglected, or in many cases, directly eliminated through indifference or exclusion. Certainly, we realise that there have been advances, like Peru’s adoption of a Law on Prior Consultation, but through our work in indigenous communities, we are also aware that indigenous peoples still often lack recognition. There is still work to be done before indigenous peoples are recognized as equal citizens alongside all others of Peruvian or other societies.

However, Buendía argues, further progress requires greater knowledge and awareness. The Peruvian government continues to allocate concessions for oil or timber exploitation in indigenous territories, without recognising “that we use the resources these lands provide… we live and travel throughout them. They do not acknowledge all of this”, Buendía says. There is still a wide gap between the government’s knowledge and perceptions, and indigenous peoples’ reality. For these reasons, the State thinks it adequate to strike deals such as the Pakitzapango proposal, a megadam that would have flooded thousands of hectares of fertile, sacred rainforest land, as well as displaced more than 10,000 Asháninka and led to “catastrophic and tragic results.” Due to Ruth and CARE’s advocacy and championing of indigenous rights, the plans were stopped.

RFUK sat down with Ruth to chat about the indigenous communities she works with, her views on the issue of prior consultation, indigenous rights and the protection of the rainforest. 

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