Youth and indigenous people, activists towards greater political representation in Peru
Indigenous youth in Peru lacks representation despite incentives such as electoral candidate quotas. To celebrate the International Day of Youth and Indigenous Peoples, let’s learn about the progress and challenges of this population in the run-up to the 2022 Regional and Municipal Elections
Jhonn Keler has a particular way of looking at political representation. His references bring him to images of young people like him: indigenous activists raising their voices to improve their environment, a very distant vision from the traditional conception associated with public management positions. It shows a substantial gap between what indigenous youth today consider their true reflection in activist spaces and the political class making decisions. The lack of identification of youth with the design of public policies is a serious matter of concern.
Jhonn Keler Diaz Coronado is a 27-year-old indigenous Amazonian descendant whose grandparents belonged to the Kokama Kokamilla community and is a leader of Espíritu Verde Amazónico. This civil organization promotes environmental education on wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and river pollution. Espíritu Verde is one of the 100 civil organizations included in Redpública.pe, a platform for political and citizen participation led by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
The environmental activist feels enthusiastic about many young people interested in making changes. However, he also finds it uncomfortable to delve into some reflections in which he cannot balance his work of caring for the Amazon with the image of someone like him holding a political position. Being a young person in Peru already poses a situation of vulnerability and represents a great challenge and limitations to taking up positions of public office; being young and indigenous constitutes a crossroads of circumstances that make the barriers they face even bigger.
A large unrepresented part of the Peruvian population
Andean and Amazonian indigenous peoples represent almost 26% of the population of our country, with nearly 6 million Peruvians, according to the last census in 2017. However, to this day, this human group, which symbolizes almost a third of our nation, has an insufficient representation in political positions.
The Peruvian government has been promoting greater participation of indigenous leaders in politics for 20 years using the 15% quota in registering candidate lists. Regardless, this percentage corresponds only to nominations for management positions such as regional councilors and provincial or district alderperson and does not include executive positions aimed at regional governments or provincial or district mayorships. Moreover, despite incentives, historically, the results obtained at the polls have been adverse.
Proof of this is the last three regional and municipal elections: while the number of candidates for the indigenous quota has been increasing, having almost tripled between 2010 and 2018, the average number of elected authorities does not exceed 7.1%. The panorama suggests this is due to the hierarchy of numbers for those who aspire to public office.
Milagros Suito, head of the National Directorate of Civic Education and Citizen Training of the National Jury of Elections (JNE), states that it is necessary to understand the differences in the electoral system for nomination since the formulas are different for those running for the presidency, vice-presidency, or regional council lists, and for municipal lists, which is usually the one that applies to the majority.
“Obviously, location is important. The reason is that, according to the evidence we identified in 2014, only 16 indigenous councilors were elected. In 2018, the number went up to 34 because the expansion of the areas for applying the [15%] quota occurred, but it is still a low number. In 2017, in the indigenous political participation group, there was a legislative initiative filed seeking to modify the regional elections law so that the distribution figure is applied differentially, enabling the candidates that compose these lists to the council to have the opportunity to be elected,” remarks.
For these Regional and Municipal Elections 2022, Suito highlights that the indigenous youth at the top of the lists of candidates may achieve a similar percentage to the 2018 process, at 4 to 5%. Notwithstanding, she adds that there is still work to do from the JNE to identify young and indigenous male and female candidates since, in the affidavit of life of the candidates, there is no ethnic identification question.
The weight of indigenous rejection
Amachay is a civil organization based in Puno, southern Andean Peru, that provides legal counseling, psychological support, and social assistance and is also part of Redpública. One of its volunteers, Alercio Laura, is a 26-year-old Quechua interpreter. His parents and grandparents were born in the rural area of Azángaro, Puno, and taught him the values and customs of their village, which he shaped with a more academic profile.
Alercio studied laws in Lima and used his native language, Quechua, in the labor field. However, he does not feel that people value his education and the revalidation of his language in the capital. On the contrary, he was discriminated against for wearing his traditional clothing or speaking Spanish with “motes” (Quechua accent), as he calls them. Whereas Lima has the largest indigenous population in Peru, it is at the same time the most hostile scenario for people who self-identify as indigenous.
Like Alercio, discrimination against the indigenous population is a persistent problem that affects them differently. When it is transmitted to young people, the discriminatory impact is felt individually or collectively and dents social interaction, influencing aspects such as political participation and representation.
“There is a psychological effect due to the established system since there was no indigenous political participation for a long time. To this day, it is thought that this belongs to an activity that occurs only in large cities; in general, indigenous participation occurs in social spaces but not in politics. Consequently, we lack representatives,” says Alercio.
For Deisy Gonzales, founder and head of the psychological area of Amachay, unfortunately, there is not much indigenous youth political participation in the high Andean city, characterized mainly by an aspiration based on dreams. Gonzáles explains that this denomination responds to a youth’s perception of the systematic discrimination in Puno, where political participation is exclusively for older men, not women or young people.
“I remember that once, during the activities that the municipality organizes with civil society, different authorities met with people from different places to talk about their communities, but they did not invite young people to the meeting. Despite this, they still attended and presented their proposals, and the elders responded that young people were useless because of their lack of experience,” Gonzáles states.
Seeking new ways out for greater representation
Sandra Cabanillas is a 24-year-old self-identified indigenous woman from Cajamarca who, as part of the GovTech Generation, a decentralized innovation initiative of the Redpública platform, proposed a technological solution to help organize mobility in Cajamarca.
For Sandra political participation in her city is governed very differently because the rondas campesinas (“ rural patrols “) play a critical role in designing the city’s policies. Even so, she believes that new forums, more in tune with her generation, such as technology, can generate larger representation.
“Technological innovation spaces are a good way to make our voices heard. In the past, I didn’t have the opportunity to propose ideas or discuss issues that exist in my society,” she notes.
According to a report published by the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), 55% of households in Peru had internet access in the last quarter of 2021, revealing a clear leap of improvement in the digital gap in just one year after the beginning of the pandemic. However, if we compare rural and urban areas, although both have shown progress, the figure drops to just over 20% in rural areas. Nevertheless, innovation is still considered a window of opportunity for inclusion, especially considering that the majority (37%) of indigenous candidates in the 2022 Regional and Municipal Elections are young people under 30.
On the other hand, as well as innovation, training is also a key to narrowing the gaps in the participation of the young and indigenous population. Therefore, since 2021, the JNE, in alliance with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and International IDEA, has been promoting the Indigenous Political Participation Program aimed at reducing the knowledge gaps of indigenous candidates based on a hybrid proposal that also considers virtuality.
In conclusion, the improvement in political participation and representation of indigenous youth in Peru still has a long and challenging road ahead, particularly in the struggle against stereotypes and the provision of symbolic and decision-making spaces for this group. Yet, the “dream,” as Deisy Gonzales says, makes the youth participate and, through activism and innovation, gain space and demonstrate their political and civic contribution.
Stories by Salvador Candia