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The Struggle Between Indigenous Folkways and National Law: Resolving the Past and the Present

Baiganchoka Discover Your Culture

June 20, 2010

Peru, Cusco, Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu peakOver the last twenty years, almost all applicable Latin American countries have been moving toward full recognition of their multiethnic citizenship. Peru codified indigenous rights in 1993, Ecuador legalized them in 1998, and Bolivia passed a new constitution including embedded indigenous rights in 2009. However, despite a favorable movement in the direction of increased equality for indigenous peoples, an opposing trend of violence and discrimination has persisted between the state and indigenous populations in these three countries. Last year in Bagua, Peru, for example, a violent clash occurred between indigenous protesters and the national police, resulting in thirty-four deaths and one hundred wounded. In Ecuador, an indigenous group recently prosecuted a man for murder, punishing him with public humiliation and beatings, a sentence many Europeanized Ecuadorians saw as barbaric. In May, indigenous peoples lynched four police officers in the Amazonian region of Bolivia. As these three cases show, the lack of a clearly defined process to mediate often hostile interactions between indigenous custom and Western law has left room for tension, conflict, and violence to brew between indigenous people and the state. Thus, national laws concerning the links between indigenous and state justice must be better developed to prevent conflict and human rights abuses from breaking out.

Indigenous Law and National Constitutions
Defining indigenous justice is a complex issue because each of the many different indigenous groups in Latin America has its own customary laws. The ever-changing nature of oral tradition further complicates such a definition. Rachel Sieder, author and senior lecturer in Latin American politics at the University of London, points out that

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