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Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century

A report by the World Bank, Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, shines light on the situation of Indigenous Peoples across Latin America. The publication finds that, despite important advances, indigenous communities in the region are disproportionately affected by poverty, and continue to face widespread economic and social exclusion.

Indigenous peoples made significant social progress, experienced a reduction in poverty levels in several countries and gained improved access to basic services during the boom of the first decade of the century, but they did not benefit to the same extent as the rest of Latin Americans, according to a new World Bank study.

The study notes that thanks to a combination of economic growth and good social policies, poverty of indigenous households decreased in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador, while in others, such as Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, the educational gap that for decades excluded indigenous children was closed.

However, the report points out that, despite these gains, many gaps remain, as indigenous peoples continue to be confronted with glass ceilings and structural barriers that limit their full social and economic inclusion. While indigenous peoples make up 8 percent of the population in the region, they represent approximately 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extremely poor in Latin America. Also, they still face challenges to gain access to basic services and the adoption of new technologies, a key aspect of increasingly globalized societies.

Contrary to popular belief, nearly half of Latin America’s indigenous population now live in urban areas. But even in cities, indigenous people often live in areas that are less secure, less sanitary, and more disaster-prone than non-indigenous urban residents.

To reduce their vulnerabilities more successfully, the report suggests looking at indigenous issues through a different lens which takes into account their voices, cultures, and identities.

Education, which has been one of the most important advances in the last decade, is one of the solutions proposed in the report, although efforts are needed to increase its quality and make it culturally appropriate and bilingual.

The latest available census data shows that in 2010 there were about 42 million indigenous people in Latin America, making up nearly 8 percent of the total population. Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia had the largest populations, with more than 80 percent of the regional total, or 34 million.