The Naso People
The Naso People have lived in Panama and Costa Rica since time immemorial. Their vision of the world is rooted in a balance between human needs and the natural environment, which makes them natural guardians of the forest.
Their traditional lands cover some of the most mountainous and biodiversity-rich areas of western Panama. In October 2018, after many years of struggle, the National Assembly of Panama approved Law 656, which creates the Comarca Naso Tjer Di.
Bocas del Toro, Panamá
Naso Tjer Di Territory
The Fight for the Comarca
The Naso, one of only two indigenous peoples in Panama for which the government has not recognized their ancestral lands, have been fighting since at least the early 1970s for legal recognition and legal security of their territory. Previous attempts to establish a Comarca, in 2003 and 2005, failed due to a lack of political will.
In the 1980s, the Panamanian government created the La Amistad International Park (PILA) and the Palo Seco Protected Forest, both of which overlap the traditional Naso lands, without any consultation with the indigenous peoples. The PILA was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1990.
Despite the creation of these protected areas, the government has also advanced plans for the construction of hydroelectric dams on these lands, including the Bonyic dam, which is has been built in the Palo Seco Protected Forest.
Panama runs the risk of the PILA being included in the List of World Heritage in Danger, due to the dams it has built and the plans to build more around the PILA.
Protected areas overlapping the Naso Territory
Which areas areas are really protected?
Since 2000, there has been more deforestation in the portions of the PILA and Palo Seco protected areas outside the Naso Territory than within - indicating that the Naso are more effective conservationists than the understaffed parks.
Hydrologic dams built within protected areas
The Environmental Case
The tropical forests of the region around the PILA and the Palo Seco Protected Forest have been protected, free of charge, by the Naso and Bri Bri Peoples for centuries. That is precisely why the area was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
This reality is widespread in Panama - where there is forest remaining in good condition is in the Comarcas and indigenous territories. And, in fact, worldwide, scientific research has proven that the territorial security of indigenous peoples contributes more to forest conservation than protected areas or any other strategy of environmental protection.
The deforestation trends in the PILA area shows that where forest clearing is happening is on national lands outside of the Naso areas, where the agricultural frontier advancing and urbanization is spreading. This is clearly shown in the figures: in the area of the Comarca some 682 hectares of forest have been lost, while in the areas of PILA and Bosque Protector the amount lost is ten times greater, some 6,934 hectares in the last 17 years, despite being similar overall sizes.
Since the 1970s, the Naso have had internal rules for the sustainable use of their natural resources. This has certainly contributed to the protection of the forest, and that the rate of deforestation has remained so low. This shows that there is no conflict between indigenous territorial recognition and protection of the environment. In fact, this 'contradiction' has been overcome in several countries and in international jurisprudence.
“Contrary to some voices of environmentalists who do not know the reality of our people and our territory, we are the true custodians of our land that today has the international park, and we are sure that the creation of the Comarca Naso will be a double shield for the park, because it has its category as a protected area and, in addition, it will reinforce the protection by our people and our territory"
With the recognition of the Naso comarca, Panama has a unique opportunity to advance human rights wile also conserving the environment and positioning it's country as a leader in fair negotiations.
The Naso are the true protectors of the forest.
The Naso are the true protectors of the forest.
The Human Rights Case
National law in Panama, from the constitution of the republic to law 72 of 2008, explicitly recognizes that indigenous peoples have the right to the lands and territories they have traditionally used and occupied, including land that has been designated as protected areas. That is aligned with international law, including the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which also clearly recognizes that indigenous peoples have the right to their ancestral territories, and that the state has the obligation to title, demarcate and protect them against the interests of third parties.
The Panamanian state has failed to comply with this obligation in relation to the Naso people, resulting in a situation with ongoing serious violations of their fundamental human rights.
The Business Case
Panama is a regional business hub - important for Latin America and the world as an international trade center, with 5% of the world's trade passing through the Panama Canal. Panama is one of the fastest growing economies worldwide. To sustain this strong economic growth requires the rule of law, clarity on property rights, and democratic governance that allows for clear rules of the game for international investment.
The lack of clarity about land tenure in particular, becomes a very serious risk for foreign and domestic investment, because it increases the possibility of conflicts and costly delays in any investment project; a situation evidenced in the construction of hydroelectric power plants in Panama such as Barro Blanco in the Ngobe territory and Bonyic in the Naso territory.
The creation of the Naso Comarca will fulfill Panama's obligations to humans rights and the environment, we are confident that President Varela with approve Law 656.
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