Four Ashaninka were killed last week by illegal loggers in the Peruvian Amazon, reports El Comercio.
One of those killed was Edwin Chota, the leader of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto indigenous community who won fame for fighting illegal loggers. As such, Chota was a top target for assassination, according to a conservationist familiar with the situation.
Details about the other victims weren’t immediately available.
The murders occurred on September 1, but the remoteness of the area delayed the news, which was first reported by Reyder Sebastián Quinticuari, the president of Aconamac or La Asociación de Comunidades Nativas Asháninkas de Masisea y Callería.
“Our people have always defended our resources and have faced illegal loggers who see our reserves as a place to exploit,” El Comercio quoted Sebastián as saying.
Conflicts between loggers and indigenous communities are common in Peru. Loggers often operate illegally within indigenous territories and launder the wood through legal concessions. A report published in 2012 by the Environmental Investigative Agency found forestry fraud widespread in Peru with large volumes of contraband timber making it to the U.S. market as “legally-sourced” timber.
With a population estimated at 25,000-45,000, the Ashaninka are the largest tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. Small groups of Ashaninka also live in Acre, Brazil.
Murder in the Peruvian Rainforest
Press release from ProPurús and The Upper Amazon Conservancy
Four indigenous Ashéninka leaders, Edwin Chota Valera, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Melendez, and Francisco Pinedo, were murdered in the Peruvian Amazon due to their efforts to obtain legal title to their native community of Alto Tamaya Saweto and prevent continued illegal logging in their lands. The four men were walking a remote rainforest trail through their ancestral homelands to meet with their Ashéninka cousins in Apiwtxa, Brasil to discuss logging and drug trafficking threats along the Peru/Brazil border. The Alto Tamaya Saweto community had recently made important progress in their long struggle for territorial rights, having met this summer with the Presidency of the Council of Ministries (PCM), the new Peruvian Forestry Service (SERFOR), and the state forest supervisory organization (OSINFOR) to advance Saweto’s decade long efforts to downsize the forests of permanent protection (BPP) and legally exclude the inactive forestry concessions overlapping their territory. Since January 2012, Upper Amazon Conservancy and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, have been assisting the community in this struggle.
The Peruvian state must guarantee that Saweto’s legal and administrative proceedings continue while also ensuring the security of this indigenous population that lives in constant threat by illegal loggers and drug traffickers. These defenders of the rainforest and its people must be protected if the extensive forests of the Amazon are to continue their vital roles in maintaining carbon cycles, water cycles, and biodiversity. The widows and children of the assassinated community members have fled down-river to the regional capital of Pucallpa while the remaining members of the community persist in Saweto, surrounded by illegal loggers who continue to issue death threats over the radio.
Edwin Chota and Jorge Ríos featured in the April 2013, National Geographic Article,Mahogany’s Last Stand where author Wallace talks of the same trail where the four men from Saweto were killed: “As long as we don’t have title, the loggers don’t respect native ownership,” Chota says, standing at the rear of the canoe, propelling us with thrusts of a ten-foot pole. “They threaten us. They intimidate. They have the guns.” The target of frequent death threats, Chota has repeatedly been forced to seek sanctuary among the Ashéninka’s tribal relatives in Brazil, a two-day hike from here along ancient footpaths.”
Scott Wallace’s National Geographic Blog article, Threats abound as Peru cops seize ill-gotten tim- ber , identifies loggers who issued death threats against the people of Saweto. The Society of Threatened Peoples recognized the danger to Edwin Chota’s life in 2012 writing letters to embas- sies, conducting a video interview with Chota, and writing a short article: Edwin Chota in mortal danger . The New York Times also quoted Edwin Chota in an article in October 2013 about corrup- tion endemic in the prosecution of illegal logging Corruption in Peru aids cutting of rainforest : “There is no law,” Mr. Chota said, during a visit to the sawmill that held the stacks of massive logs that he had followed from his village. “There’s no money to investigate. There’s only money to de- stroy.”
A facebook page, Title Saweto’s Land, and petition page have been set up to support Saweto’s struggle for control of their territory.