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Peru fails to investigate murder of Amazon environmental leader

Peru fails to investigate murder of Amazon environmental leader

Peru fails to investigate murder of Amazon environmental leader
Rhett A. Butler,
April 22, 2008

Peruvian authorities failed to respond to requests for protection from Julio Garcia Agapito, the environmental leader who was gunned down in southeastern Peru in late February, according to a new petition which calls for an investigation into his murder. Julio Garcia’s killing at the hands of an illegal logger set off international outcry and highlighted rising tensions over the paving of a highway in the Amazon rainforest.

Lieutenant Governor gunned down over timber trafficking

As Lieutenant Governor of the town Alerta in the department of Madre de Dio in southeastern Peru, Julio Garcia had increasingly served in the capacity of an environmental law enforcement official, supporting the efforts of the Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA), Peru’s resource management agency, to monitor and confiscate illegal timber. His unofficial role, which often included tracking down shipments of illicit wood, put him at odds with loggers who illegally extract mahogany and other valuable timber from the surrounding rainforest.

Don Julio Garcia Agapito

On February 26th 2008 the conflict between Julio Garcia and development interests reached a breaking point. Julio Garcia was shot eight times by Amancio Jacinto Maqque, a timber trafficker, at the INRENA office in Alerta. According to Andina (Agencia Peruana de Noticias), 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 Julio Garcia remained in the INRENA office. Within a few minutes, he was shot dead by Maqque.

While illegal logging is nothing new in southeastern Peru, the brazen nature of the day-time murder just meters from a police office, seemed to confirm fears that law enforcement is failing at a time when governance is most needed. 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 paving of the highway, which will soon serve as an artery for transporting soy and other agricultural products to Pacific ports, has been accompanied by an influx of miners, loggers, and speculators. An atmosphere of lawlessness prevails.

Request for protection unfulfilled

Given this landscape, Julio Garcia apparently understood that his life was at risk. On October 18th 2007, Julio Garcia sent a formal request to the Minister of the Interior requesting protection. His request was never granted, according to a new letter signed by 161 people representing 14 organizations.

“The police reaction [to Julio Garcia’s murder]… has been suspiciously apathetic,” stated the letter sent to Luis Alva Castro, Peru’s Minister of the Interior, and Jorge Del Castillo Gálvez, President of the Council of Ministers, on April 17th.

“This vile act represents, in our understanding, a qualitative jump in the violence that those who are involved in illegal logging and other illicit activities are willing to display,” the letter continued. “Unfortunately such activities prevail in this border area in the face of the weakness or absence of the authorities that are called to protect the citizens and our natural patrimony.”

“This murder follows an attack perpetrated a few months ago against an INRENA officer in Puerto Maldonado and occurs in the middle of an unbearable increase in delinquency, violence against woman and sexual trafficking of minors in both urban centers and mining and logging camps throughout Madre de Dios.”

The letter goes on to demand an official investigation into Julio Garcia’s murder, a report on the security offered to police officers and citizens working to uphold environmental law, and an update on an INRENA project to control illegal logging in the area.

“No citizen that respects the law, and even more so a local authority, should be abandoned to his/her fate in Peru, much less in a border area,” the letter continues. “More than a month after his death, and after the news has been published in widely read newspapers throughout the world, the silence of the Executive branch in the face of the murder of a member of the government’s party is disconcerting. We are concerned by the repeating warnings of the presence of organized crime in the forestry sector and the apparent lack of actions to address this.”

Amazon environmentalist gunned down in Peru

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