Indigenous Groups Continue To Be Excluded From Development Across Latin America

A woman from the Brazilian Amazon region protests during the COP20 climate change conference in Peru in December 2014. Photo: AP Photo/Martin Mejia

A woman from the Brazilian Amazon region protests during the COP20 climate change conference in Peru in December 2014. Photo: AP Photo/Martin Mejia


They are the first inhabitants of the American continent, speak a total of 560 languages and have countless varied and rich traditions: the 42 million indigenous people across Latin America.

However, despite 70 million Latin Americans having escaped poverty over the past two decades, almost half of the continent’s indigenous groups remain under the poverty line, according to the new World Bank report entitled Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First century.

However, improvements were reported in the representation of indigenous peoples as part of the region’s political life, as well as access to primary education and electricity. Equality in the educational sector was also established between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Mexico, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

But there are still significant gaps between the two populations.

“Born to indigenous parents markedly increases the likelihood of growing up in a poor household,” the report says. Today indigenous people remain the poorest group across Latin America, suffering from lower levels of income and reduced access to schooling.

In addition, indigenous communities do not necessarily share the same vision of development in terms of economic, political and social achievements.

Several countries have adopted laws and other mechanisms to recognize indigenous rights, territories and traditions.

In addition, indigenous communities are now facing new and challenging realities: for example, almost half of the natives of the region live in cities, which poses new challenges on how to preserve their culture and respect their identity.

Improvement in many areas

Across much of the region, indigenous groups have increased their political participation. In Bolivia,  indigenous peoples represent 30 percent of the legislators in parliament.

In addition, increasing numbers of countries have accepted indigenous traditions in the electoral process, such as the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where 418 of the 570 municipalities are governed according to their customs.

These events are due, in part, to the realization of international treaties and manifestos, such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.

However, despite the progress, indigenous communities remain are excluded from development.

“Latin America underwent a profound social transformation that reduced poverty and expanded the middle class, but indigenous communities benefited less than other Latin Americans,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The study also notes that poverty decreased among indigenous communities, but the inequality gap between them and the rest of the population remained the same or increased.

Development Goals

Being of indigenous descent increases the odds of growing up in a poor household, regardless of the educational level of parents, the size or location of the home, the report highlighted.

The World Bank urges a multifaceted inclusion of indigenous communities, especially in light of the new Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in late 2015.

“If indigenous peoples have to take a role as key players in the Post-2015 Agenda, we must consider their voices and ideas,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Director of urban, rural and social development of the World Bank.

A total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals have been established, including commitments concerning indigenous rights in relation to education and territories.

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