Aruza, circled in red on the map, is home to a little over 400 Wounaan. It’s an idyllic community that borders and buffers Darien National Park. Since 2017, Native Future has been supporting Aruza families to plant native trees important to their culture and livelihoods.
In late January 2022, the community of Aruza learned their application for a collective land title had been annulled by the government agency managing land titling – ANATI. If not reversed, this decision hands over almost 8,000 hectares of intact tropical forest to loggers and cattle ranchers, and sets a dangerous precedent.
ANATI’s decision required urgent action. Early February, Wounaan authorities met with ANATI officials to formally oppose the decision, holding a televised protest outside of the ANATI offices. They met with the Minister of Environment, who agreed to suspend logging permits in Aruza, except for three that were already approved. On March 24, the Wounaan National Congress filed an injunction in Panama’s Supreme Court to restrain any further action in Aruza.
This dedicated attention to enforcement of Panama’s environmental laws is bearing fruit. Three environmental complaints submitted by Wounaan, including one from Aruza, are poised to result in fines for the violators.
Meanwhile, Native Future called together partners to support a re-orientation of existing resources and a communication of the issue nationally and internationally. Rainforest Foundation US and the UNDP GEF Small Grants program agreed to restructure their support to Wounaan which resulted in an additional $22,000 dedicated to this issue. Our work with partners also resulted in an OpEd published in the national newspaper, La Estrella, and the article “Indigenous Land, Rights and Sovereignty in Panama: What’s Going on in the Darien Gap?” which recounts the historical context of Indigenous land rights in Darien. The Aruza case was also reported in the Yale360 article, “Panama’s Indigenous Wage High-Tech Fight for Their Lands”. (You can read all of these articles from our Media page on our website: https://www.nativefuture.org/media-1 )
While these recent successes are impressive, the territorial monitoring program continues to document and report deforestation in Aruza. The situation is ongoing as is our support for the Wounaan National Congress to advocate and legally fight to restore Aruza’s lands to the community.