Breaking News
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

Peru's indigenous hope for a voice, at last, under new president

CommoditiesJul 05, 2021 07:06AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
5/5 © Reuters. Maxima Ccalla moves dehydrated potatoes on a field in the Carata peasant community, in Puno, Peru June 18, 2021. Picture taken June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Angela Ponce 2/5

By Stefanie Eschenbacher and Angela Ponce

CARATA, Peru (Reuters) - Maxima Ccalla, 60, an indigenous Quechua woman, has spent her life tilling the harsh soil in Peru's Andean highlands, resigned to a fate far removed from the vast riches buried deep beneath her feet in seams of copper, zinc and gold.

The Andean communities in Ccalla's home region of Puno and beyond have long clashed with the mining companies that dig mineral wealth out from the ground.

In recent interviews, many said they felt discriminated against and marginalized, and accused mining companies of polluting their water and soil.

But in a country still under the shadow of a colonial past, the rise of an outsider politician, the son of peasant farmers, is sparking hopes of change. It has also thrown a spotlight on stark divides between the rural Andean highlands and remote Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) settlements, and the wealthier - and whiter - coastal cities.

Pedro Castillo, who wears a straw farmers hat and plays up his humble village roots, has pledged to give a voice to Peru's "forgotten" rural groups and redistribute mineral wealth in the world's second largest producer of copper.

"The looting is over, the theft is over, the assault is over, the discrimination against the Peruvian people is over," he said at a speech in Cuzco.

The socially conservative leftist is on the cusp of being confirmed president after firing up the rural and indigenous vote, including in mineral-rich regions like Puno.

"So long, governments have promised to solve our problems but nothing has changed," Ccalla said in Quechua through a translator while working in the fields surrounding her home in the community of Carata.

"Now, hopefully, he will fulfill his promises."

Ccalla is one of millions of mostly poor, rural Peruvians who voted for Castillo in the June 6 run-off election.

Wearing a colorful, traditional Montera hat against the sun, Ccalla's demands are simple: she wants safe drinking water.


Castillo holds a slim lead, which is being scrutinized after legal pressure from his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori who has alleged fraud and wants to disqualify some votes from rural areas.

Election observers said the vote was carried out cleanly.

The tension over the count has exposed a racial and socio-economic divide in the country.

More than a dozen leaders and activists from Quechua and Aymara communities, scattered across the Andes, and others deep in the Amazon rainforest hundreds of miles north, spoke to Reuters candidly about the discrimination they face.

In Puno, the region where Carata is located, Castillo scored some 90% of the total vote count. His party logo, a yellow pencil on red background, had been painted on walls of lone houses - the only splashes of bright color for miles around.

Though Castillo does not identify as a member of an indigenous community, those who spoke to Reuters overwhelmingly said they could relate to him "as one of us" because of his humble upbringing and his background as a farmer.

As with Bolivia's Evo Morales a decade ago, they hoped he would give greater representation to marginalized groups, and a more state-led approach to mining to drive higher social spending.

"Now we see a lot of possibilities for the future - he'll be a good president," said Rene Belizario, 34, a Quechua. But, he added, "this is our opportunity and if he doesn't deliver, the people will rise. There'll be protests."

Belizario, a father of three young boys, said he hoped Castillo would "recover" mines in the area operated by private companies to redistribute profits and generate jobs.

Mining is a key driver of Peru's economy. Metals are the country's largest export and Castillo, even with his plans to shake things up, will need to negotiate his way forward.

And what farming-based indigenous communities want in development terms rarely tallies with the ideas of the government in distant Lima, said Vito Calderon, an Aymara who took part in a 2011 protest against a mining project.


Castillo is not Peru's first indigenous leader.

Alejandro Toledo, a Quechua who was president in the early 2000s, had sparked hopes among Andean groups that he would give them more profile, though left them largely disappointed.

More recently, leftist president Ollanta Humala also promised dialogue with indigenous groups but was criticized for pushing oil interests over preserving their land rights.

Indigenous leaders told Reuters that they had decided to support Castillo after he met with them to hear their demands and pledged to protect indigenous lands and push for a new constitution.

Melania Camales, who represents indigenous women in the Amazon, is among those who met him. She has hopes for him as president, but knows it won't be easy.

"For decades, our land has been stolen by private companies, concessioned by the government," she said. Some 200 years of "colonialist, racist, classist and male chauvinist education" will be difficult to undo, she added.

"We know he could betray us and power could go to his head. But the last thing we as indigenous communities should lose is hope."

Long feeling discriminated against because of their social and economic status or skin color, many told Reuters the problem had become even more evident during the election.

AIDESEP, an umbrella organization for Peru's indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest, slammed attempts to annul rural votes as "denying our existence."

"They don't understand that our country, Peru, is plurinational - it's not just the capital Lima," said Lourdes Huanca, an Aymara and rights activist at another organization, FENMUCARINAP.

Discrimination was systematic, she said. "To them, we are not capable; to them, we don't know how to think; according to them, we can't make decisions."

Back in Carata, thin cows with prominent ribs grazed on herbs burnt by the highland sun; the potato harvest was laid out to freeze dry in the cold night air; barefoot children, with red cheeks, wrapped newborn lambs in blankets for the cold.

For Ccalla and others, the fear was that development is eroding a way of life - much older than the 200 years of Peru.

"We feel vulnerable and discriminated but we are so worried about contaminated water and soil, we can't fight for a bigger cause," she said.

Peru's indigenous hope for a voice, at last, under new president

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email