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Amazon environmentalist gunned down in Peru

Amazon environmentalist gunned down in Peru

Amazon environmentalist gunned down in Peru
Rhett A. Butler,
March 14, 2008

After reporting a truck loaded with mahogany illegally logged from the Amazon rainforest, Julio Gualberto García Agapito, a Peruvian authority who worked to protect forests, was gunned down by Amancion Jacinto Maque, an illegal timber operator, on February 26, 2008. He is survived by his wife and children.

Don Julio

As Lieutenant Governor (Teniente Gobernador) of the town Alerta in the Tahuamanu Province of Madre de Dios in Peru, Don Julio dedicated his life to conservation and building sustainable livelihoods for the people of southwestern Peru. Himself a castañero, or Brazil nut collector, whose livelihood depended on the health of the forest, Don Julio worked to understand the changes occurring in Madre de Dios. Development pressures are mounting in the region due to the improvement of the Carretera Transoceanica or Trans-Oceanic highway, which links the heart of the Amazon to the Pacific. The highway will soon serve as an artery for transporting soy and other agricultural products to Pacific ports — the gateway to China.

While many see the Carretera Transoceanica as an opportunity to bring development to a remote region, conservationists are concerned that its paving could turn one of the most biodiverse parts of the Amazon into a sea of soy fields, cattle pasture, and logged forests. Already a network of “unofficial” roads, built by loggers and developers of other extractive industries, is expanding in the region, facilitating illegal logging and agricultural conversion of forest. Accordingly the area’s deforestation rate is rising — a 2007 study found that Madre de Dios is one of the two provinces in Peru that account for 86 percent of the country’s forest degradation and deforestation. About 75 percent of the damage occurs within 12.5 miles (20 km) of roads.

It was in this landscape that Don Julio was killed. Known by researchers working in the area for his hospitality, kindness, and devotion to forests, Don Julio was shot to death in broad daylight at the office of the Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA), Peru’s resource management agency, in the town of Alerta.

Deforestation rates in Peru, 1999-2005. Image by Rhett A. Butler

According to Andina (Agencia Peruana de Noticias), Don Julio Garcia had alerted the Peruvian national police and INRENA about a truck that was transporting 700 square feet of illegal mahogany. While the wood was being unloaded by the authorities, a man with a copy of the truck’s key, jumped in and drove it away. National police officers proceeded to chase the truck while Don Julio Garcia remained in the INRENA office. Within a few minutes, he was shot ten times by Amancion Jacinto Maque, another man involved in the illegal operation, who shortly thereafter escaped to Bolivia.

A great loss

Angelica Almeyda, an anthropologist at Stanford University who had worked closely with Don Julio, called his death a great loss.

“The death of Don Julio fills me with great sadness and indignation,” she wrote in a memoriam. “Don Julio was one of the few leaders who had the courage to fight for the well-being of his town, for the forests and for that which he considered to be just.”

“It is incomprehensible that illegal mahogany can take away the life of an exemplar man in Madre de Dios,” she continued. “My hope is that his murder… will fuel needed efforts against the irrational and illegal use of the natural resources of Madre de Dios.”

Similar murders in recent years have served to catalyze forest protection efforts in the Amazon. The 1988 killing of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber tapper, sparked international outcry about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and led to the creation of more than a dozen forest reserves. The assassination of Dorothy Stang, an American nun, in the Amazon state of Pará in 2005 triggered a massive crackdown on illegal deforestation in the region.

Help Don Julio’s Family

The Amazon Conservation Association has set up an account to support Don Julio’s family:

Follow up story in the New York Times: Murder on the Resource Frontier

A la memoria de Don Julio, Teniente Gobernador de Alerta [Español]

In memoriam de Don Julio, Teniente Gobernador d’Alerta [Français]
A Memoria de Don Julio, Teniente Gobernador de Alerta [Português]

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