The Wounaan territorial monitoring program is showing unprecedented results. Cooperation between Wounaan authorities, the Ministry of Environment and Panama's Attorney General Office is holding illegal loggers accountable for their environmental crimes. In early February, 2023, the Ministry of Environment delivered citations to more than twenty individuals for their ecological damages. Panama's Attorney General office is uncovering malfeasance and possible corruption.
Photo: Panama police accompany Mi Ambiente staff and Wounaan monitors.
Since January 2021, Wounaan communities have been collecting evidence of illegal logging, deforestation and other ecological damages to their forested territory, and reporting it to Panama’s environmental authorities. This year, their cooperation is resulting in the penalization and prosecution of offenders for their environmental crimes and infractions. The objective is to deter further invasion and land grabbing by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers and protect Wounaan biodiversity.
In the past two years, Wounaan have documented and reported 127 hectares of deforestation in their territories, and more than 200 trees that were illegally logged. Territories such as Rio Hondo, Rio Platanares and Maje are not yet collectively titled and therefore, still considered "unoccupied" state land, thus leaving it open to deforestation and land grabbing. While their land rights are not legally recognized, the only recourse available to Wounaan to protect their forests and biodiversity is to engage Panama's environmental authorities in enforcing their environmental laws. Together, they are holding bad actors accountable for their environmental crimes. Wounaan are proud that, finally, the Ministry of Environment is taking their environmental complaints seriously.
Photo: documentation of the destruction to Wounaan territory taken by Wounaan licensed drone operator.