Image courtesy of Clevland.com
A group of fishermen in Juan Hombrón, Panama, have been fighting for free title to land that was instead given to several companies.
Land titling is a kind of land reform in which individuals and families are given official property rights for land they have previously occupied or used. It is a powerful tool for preventing concentration of resources into the hands of the already wealthy, and ensuring people like the fishermen of Juan Hombrón can continue making a living.
Fishermen Stand Up to Nepotism
The companies have announced that they will fight for the land they have (unfairly) received, and the former director of the National Land Qualification Authority, who offered the titles, has been acquitted. The companies belonged to family members of the Minister of the Presidency, clearly demonstrating nepotism.
If Panama had a more transparent and accessible land titling process, such nepotism would have been deemed illegal and the fisherman would be granted the land they deserve. Hopefully the fishermen’s case can set a positive precedent for the country.
Land Titling a Complex Process for Communities
Thanks to the support of Fundación Pachamama (our sister organization), the Achuar (our indigenous partners in Ecuador), Shiwiar, and Shuar peoples of Ecuador have been granted legal land title to a total of 1.8 million acres of territory, much of which they have occupied for centuries.
Fundación Pachamama assisted the process of mapping, titling, and the participatory census of the territories, which allowed for the implementation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They also trained their indigenous partners how to use GIS, which helped them secure the title to their land. Thus, the land will continue to be used sustainably and thoughtfully, as it has been for thousands of years.
Not a Complete Answer, But Part of It
Though legal title may help prevent Achuar, Shiwiar, and Shuar land from being used by destructive extractive industries, it is not a complete answer, since Ecuador distinguishes land rights above ground from rights to minerals and oil below ground.
However, as the fishermen of Juan Hombrón are no doubt learning, gaining title to land can affirm a community’s traditional way of life and mobilize them to successfully take on even bigger challenges.