Ministry of Health using Matses Indigenous Map
In April 2022, Acaté and the Matsés governing board (junta directiva) held an in-depth conference in the city of Iquitos. The conference was attended by all the officers of the Matsés junta. Acaté was represented by our Peruvian and US based team, David Fleck, Christopher Herndon, William Park, and Carla Noain. The Matsés junta was elected in December of 2021 and this was the first opportunity they had to meet as a governing body. Except for the President, who was reelected, the junta members were new and most had never been in leadership positions before. Due to the formalities of the Peruvian government and in general for interinstitutional meetings, we had to send official invitation letters to each agency, some delivered in physical form, and wait for the countersigned acceptance letters. The Matsés delegation flights were delayed several times so we had to reschedule all the myriad of meetings with governmental agencies (Health, Education, Culture and others) three times but after this juggling of schedules we were ready to begin. The objective of the meetings with the various agencies was to provide the leaders an opportunity to understand the programs that each agency provides and to build connections to improve their access to services in the communities. In an extremely bureaucratic country like Peru, that suffers from rampant corruption there are many services available on paper but actually benefiting from the programs requires significant effort and diligent follow through to navigate the barriers to accessing the services, which range from bureaucratic obstacles to lack of available ear-marked funding due to embezzlement at level of national or regional ministries.
The first conference meeting was with the El Programa Nacional. This program focuses on services for the international border areas of Peru that are underserved and, in the case of the Matsés, practically lack government services. The idea is to build government centers that would offer all services from access to the National Bank to healthcare and preschool education. The program has constructed two facilities in Matsés territory but a lot of the functionality has not been added apart from a kitchen that can be used for certain activities and satellite internet connection that can be turned on when they have fuel to run the generator, which is rare according to the Matsés. The Matsés had an opportunity to express their disappointment in the program and to make suggestions that the facility be turned over to members from the community. This was agreed to and the Matsés leaders now have all the contacts for the program directors in Lima who have published on-line their intention to bring the promised services to the Matsés. We will monitor this situation along with the Matsés leaders.
The next meeting was Asuntos Indígenas or the Native Affairs agency of the State of Loreto. Acaté had partnered with them for the evacuation and care of the Matses stranded in Iquitos at the start of the pandemic. They are aware of Acaté’s numerous successful projects with the Matses and wanted to assess the ability of the communities to carry out a sustainable economic project and in order to present a project for consideration they needed a lot of demographic data from the Matses. After breaking up into subgroups and much discussion it was decided that a program to sell banana flour in Iquitos would be the proposal that Asuntos Indígenas would submit. It usually takes about a year or more for this type of project to materialize so the admins believe it will start in early 2023 and employ over 100 Matsés.
El Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas por el Estado – Sernanp was the next session. This was a very controversial meeting as the Matses National Reserve administered by SERNANP occupies much of the Matses Ancestral Territory. The long and sad story of the Matses losing their ancestral land is beyond the scope of this report and was discussed in June 2017 Field Report. Although the formation of the so-called Matsés National Reserve had been touted at the time by involved large international conservation organizations and Peruvian government as bringing job opportunities for the Matsés. The Matsés were told that there would be a specified number of jobs as park rangers to patrol and protect the Reserve. The reality, over a decade, is that the majority of park rangers (70% at the time of our meeting) are non-Matsés hired from local settlements outside of the Matsés communities. The Park Directors prefer to only work with the villages in the buffer zone that the government imposed on the Matsés. It was agreed as a result of the meeting that the National Park would Matsés would hire more Matsés. We are pleased to report that, as of writing the number of Matsés hired as park rangers for the Reserve has now more than doubled.
The next part of the meeting focused on the major lack of communication and consultation with the Matsés leadership, which again was not what the proposed operating model with the National Park was formed. The Matsés leaders in attendance emphasized the importance of communication and consultation and an understanding was reached that this would be improved. In a follow up meeting in June the Matses leaders came back to Iquitos to negotiate a new Master Plan for the National Reserve on terms more favorable to the Matses especially with regards to new employment opportunities and prior consultation.
Last year, there was a tragic incident where a SERNANP speedboat struck at high velocity a Matsés canoe killing three Matsés. The families were not able to obtain relief, with many barriers and delays due to the complexities and requirements of the SERNANP insurance policy and the fillings required. This understandably is a point of major sensitivity and importance to the affected families as the Matsés communities at large. The Park Director informed the Matsés how to proceed in order to provide the SERNANP officials in Lima the papers required by their liability insurance to compensate the families of the deceased.
The next session was with the Department of Education. The representative they sent had visited the Matsés communities and knew some of the participants. It is well known that the Education Department is underfunded so the Matsés were appreciative that a large new school had just been completed in their largest village. The discussion turned to the issue of absentee teachers. These teachers give up half their salaries to corrupt administrators in return for being excused from work. Complaining to the corrupt administrators would not be effective but higher up the chain of command there are ombudsman who have to send carbon copies of official complaints to all the offices. They reviewed the procedure to remove these absent teachers and also how the parents associations can help to improve educational outcomes.
Defensoría del Pueblo is an independent agency of the government created by congress whose findings can not be overruled by any other agency of the state. Their function is to fight corruption and injustice. The lawyer who came to the meeting as their representative became wide-eyed as he heard about the total lack of services the Matses population receives from the District Government. It turned out the Matsés had previously tried to use Defensoría del Pueblo to fight corruption without any results due to a series of Catch 22s. You need documents from the corrupt government to file against them but the government won’t give anyone the required papers. The Matses feel that this agency is more bark than bite but were glad to have an update on the activities and possibilities from this agency.
The final agency was the Ministry of Health (MINSA). Acaté has a Memorandum of Understanding with them and we frequently help coordinate medical evacuations and pay for shortfalls in care, for which in absence of direct grant support with our own funding. The health care system does not really exist in Matsés territory but has an outpost in one village. MINSA apparently believed that this post, as limited as it is, served three of the largest Matses villages. We showed the map of Matsés territory so she could see that the villages are hours apart in the best circumstances and that it would be practically impossible to transport patients from one to the other. We agreed that the most remote Matsés villages need their own clinics and that more medicines were needed to stock the existing outpost. This is a very positive outcome for the Matsés but will require a multiagency funding.
The Ministry of Transportation and OSINFOR, the environmental police, both declined to participate in the program.
In addition to agencies of the Peruvian state we also wanted to coordinate with any other NGOs that might have programs to benefit the Matses. Unfortunately, although there are many that apparently work in the region, few have any presence in the region. CEDIA, who helped the Matses with their land title years ago in creation of the Matsés Communal Reserve, came to the conference but are focused solely on Land Titling at this point. Formabiop also came to the meeting and they specialize in training bilingual teachers for native communities. The Matses leaders showed a lot of interest in this program as there is a lack of properly trained teachers who speak Matsés. They signed the necessary papers so that Formabiop can seek funding to set up a training program for future Matsés teachers. Formabiop does excellent work but struggles with their own funding.
The conference also provided an opportunity to work with the new Matsés leaders and present them with the 10 year history of Acate’s activities with the Matses and answer any questions. We then went on to discuss our current projects with the leaders and present work plans and budgets. Then we discussed the types of projects that we could do in the coming years and got a sense of their priorities. It was apparent that they all had hopes for a carbon project that would be able to fund multiple different projects and we agreed that we would try to find a reputable partner.
The last session of the conference was dedicated to the community bylaws and the Life Plans as well as the roles of each member of the leadership council. We also had an opportunity to go over some general leadership principles and traits and the dynamics created through good versus poor leadership.
Last, but not least, we are proud to announce that we have partnered with Matsés youth to revitalize the long defunct and inactive Matsés Youth Organization, restoring full its legal incorporation and standing, which is an involved process. The Matsés leaders and communities are presently working to enhance organization ByLaws, vision, and select members from all the Matsés communities. It is difficult to convey the excitement and support of the Matsés younger generations for the Matsés Youth Organization to become engaged as emerging leaders in their communities and effect positive change. More on this important development in future reporting.