Since the early 1970s, the indigenous rainforest nations, in particular the Campa Ashaninka from the much threatened central jungle area, have been co-ordinating opposition to these threats. Representatives, sometimes working in conjunction with indigenous political umbrella organizations, have gone increasingly regularly to Lima to get publicity and assert Indian claims to land. For the Ashaninka, this territorial struggle has been and continues to be for titles on the Ene and Tambo , the only regions left to them after four centuries of “civilizing” influence. In publicity terms they have met with some success. The exploitation of the forests has become a political issue, fuelled in the early 1980s within Peru (and outside) by the bizarre events surrounding Werner Herzog’s filming of Fitzcarraldo, a film about exploitation of Indians, yet whose director so angered local commmunities that at one stage a whole production camp was burned down.
With the rise of Sendero Luminoso things got much worse for some indigenous Peruvian Amazon groups. Again, the Ashaninka suffered greatly because of their close proximity to the Sendero heartlands. Sendero are now virtually extinct, due in part to the fierce stand taken by the Ashaninka themselves, and in the last six years, the Ashaninka have regained control of much of the territory they had lost to the terrorists. The problem they face now is one of organized land invasions by settlers, many of these recalcitrant terrorists, frequently with the support of regional authorities. In many cases, the political revolutionary fervour of the late 1980s and early 1990s has been replaced by a spreading religious evangelicalism.
While the Indians have certainly undergone a radical growth in political awareness, in real terms they have made little progress. Former President Belaunde, whose promises of human rights in the late 1970s led to many thousands of Ashaninka making their way down to polling stations by raft to vote for him, has merely speeded up the process of colonization, and in the Ene region alone, the Indians face multinational claims to millions of acres of their territory. To make matters worse, President Fujimori changed the law in 1995 to allow colonization of Indian lands if they had been “unoccupied” for two years or more. Obviously, with many of the traditional rainforest Indians having a semi-nomadic existence, depending on hunting and gathering for survival, colonists can take over an area of forest claiming it as uninhabited, even though it’s part of traditional territory. This particular law change particularly affected the Ashaninka, who had already been forced to leave their usual scattered settlements for self-protection against the terrorists. At the close of the twentieth century, they had largely moved back into their original settlements and territories, though closely followed by more waves of colonists. The civil war against Sendero, in which the Ashaninka played a significant role, did much to unite the traditionally scattered Ashaninka nation, but whether or not it has prepared them sufficiently well to hold things together remains to be seen