Conservation news

Environmentalist gunned down by illegal miners in Peru

  • On Thursday night, Alfredo Ernesto Vracko Neuenschwander was gunned down at his home along the Interoceanic Highway.
  • Vracko, 58, was a woodworker who led a movement to resist forest invasions by illegal gold miners in Peru’s biodiverse Tambopata region.
  • Illegal gold miners are suspected to be responsible for the murder.

Another prominent environmentalist has been killed in Peru.

On Thursday night, Alfredo Ernesto Vracko Neuenschwander, a woodworker who led a movement to resist forest invasions by illegal gold miners in Peru’s biodiverse Tambopata region, was gunned down at his home along the Interoceanic Highway in La Pampa, Madre de Dios, reports INFOREGIÓN. Vracko was 58.

Illegal gold miners are suspected to be responsible for the murder, according to INFOREGIÓN. Vracko had faced down many threats from miners, especially after he formed FEFOREMAD, an association of woodworkers to defend forest concessions in La Pampa. But despite his efforts, he reportedly received little help from Peruvian authorities.

Alfredo Vracko’s Facebook profile picture.

Vracko joins a growing list of Peruvian environmentalists and indigenous leaders who have been killed for trying to protect their homes and livelihoods. According to a report published a year ago by Global Witness, at least 57 activists were killed between 2002 and 2014.

The news of Vracko’s assassination comes just two days after Forest Peoples Programme warned that another environmentalist is at risk for his activism. According to the rights group, Washington Bolivar, an indigenous activist from the Shipibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya in the Ucayali region of Peru, has gotten death threats for opposing Plantaciones de Pucallpa’s plan to convert 5,000 hectares of rainforest to an industrial oil palm plantation.

Forest Peoples Programme has linked the plantation to a group of companies controlled by Dennis Melka, a businessman who has been criticized destructive practices in other parts of Peru, including the conversion of a large block of dense rainforest for a cacao plantation.

Bolivar has formally filed two reports to authorities over the threats.

Oil palm plantation development and gold mining have expanded rapidly in the Peruvian Amazon in recent years. The activities are impacting some of the most wildlife-rich forests on the planet.

Gold mining in Peru. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Update 11/21/2015 05:33 Pacific

VIDEO: Interview with Vracko’s son [Spanish]