There is a vast diversity of indigenous peoples in Latin America. According to CEPAL (2006), there are approximately 642 indigenous groups in the region, with a population fluctuating between 30 and 50 million and growing. In many countries in the region, such as Bolivia and Guatemala, the indigenous are the majority of the population. In Mexico, although not the majority, there are approximately 11 million indigenous.
Indigenous peoples pre-date the States in which they live and, despite subjugation policies aimed at their destruction, they are still managing to uphold and rebuild their identity, language and culture, as well as their traditional social, legal and political systems, or a large part thereof. The continent’s history and very essence are rooted in the cultural and social foundations of these indigenous peoples.
Throughout history, indigenous peoples have developed different forms of resistance and currently, having gained strength, indigenous movements are reclaiming their land rights, respect for their cultural values, languages, customs and institutions and the right to decide their development priorities and how it will take shape. Indigenous movements in Latin America have grown markedly in recent decades and have increased their organisational capacity as political actors, demanding increasingly higher levels of participation.
There have been significant changes in the recognition of legal rights. A dozen Latin American countries have ratified ILO Convention No. 169 (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela), and almost all party States have carried out constitutional and legislative reforms that, in one way or another, include provisions on indigenous peoples. Furthermore, public programmes and policies to improve the situation of indigenous peoples have been developed and carried out in many of these countries. Nonetheless, the region still faces major hurdles in the implementation of the Convention, which guarantees the participation of indigenous peoples and the effective enjoyment of the rights recognised in the Convention.