- The anti-corruption police and the criminal prosecutor in Ucayali, Peru raided the office of the Regional Directorate of Agriculture of Ucayali and arrested two of its officials for alleged criminal activity related to the illegal issuance of land ownership titles.
- The land trafficking problem in the Ucayali region involves officials, judges, and business owners.
- Mongabay Latam flew over the areas of Nueva Requena and Curimaná and found out how this illegal activity has increased deforestation.
The Ucayali region, one of the Peruvian Amazon’s most deforested areas according to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), has an ever-growing land trafficking problem. There is increasing evidence that business owners, illegal loggers, and timber traffickers use corrupt methods to illegally acquire land and cause deforestation.
On December 12, anti-corruption police and the criminal prosecutor for the Coronel Portillo province in Ucayali carried out a raid on the office of the Regional Directorate of Agriculture of Ucayali (DRAU). The head of the office, Isaac Huamán Pérez, and the director of the Directorate of Legal Physical Sanitation of Agrarian Property (DISAFILPA), Christopher Hernández Larrañaga, were arrested.
According to the court order, Huamán Pérez and Hernández Larrañaga were accused of “illegally holding land belonging to native communities and to the State on behalf of the family members of employees of the DRAU and of mayors in Ucayali.” They are also accused of allegedly being involved in a criminal group and working against public administration.
Documents, plans, computers, and other items were seized in the raid, and the two men’s homes were also searched.
It is alleged that the workers, engineers, and technicians from the DISAFILPA have colluded to falsify documents that were sent to the local authorities in charge of issuing property titles “with the full knowledge of the Regional Director of Ucayali and the head of the DISAFILPA.”
It is also alleged that the land in question includes permanent production forests and conservation areas that are sold to foreign companies for planting palm and cocoa.
Dishonest methods of acquiring land
Illegal land transfers in Ucayali are all caused by a common denominator: the illegal issuance of property titles by the DRAU and its subsidiaries.
In Nueva Requena in 2017, a violent land dispute in which six people were killed revealed the details of land trafficking. Those involved were immigrants, business owners, regional government authorities, and judges. A year after that investigation, the illegal auctioning of land has increased.
The Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic completed a report showing that of 203 properties, 128 plots had false boundaries, which were used to grant title to the land. Those plots were created without access roads, were sometimes within bodies of water, or otherwise inaccessible.
The comptroller’s office cancelled the 128 titles and attempted to correctly register 75 of the properties. The problem is that their borders are still false, documents have been lost, and the possessors of the plots are not living on them as is required.
The Comptroller has ordered regional authorities to correct the problem. If there is no solution, an audit will take place in 2019. The sudden raid on the regional offices on December 12 will soon change things.
Flying over deforestation
In a flight over the districts of Nueva Requena (in Coronel Portillo province) and Curimaná (in Padre Abad province) organized by the Center for Amazonian and National Vigilance (CEVAN) of the Peruvian Air Force, Mongabay Latam was able to see the devastation.
Palm and rice crops fill the areas where trees once stood.
According to the Ministry of Environment, the deforested land in Ucayali reached 72,000 acres in 2016.
A report from MAAP estimates that between 2000 and 2018, 77,840 acres in the Ucayali and Loreto regions were deforested. In order to satisfy demands, the National Palm Oil Board of Peru (JUNPALMA) aims to expand to 618,000 acres of palm plantations by 2028.
Land belonging to no one
Prosecutor José Guzmán Ferro revealed that land traffickers in the Pucallpa region have created agricultural associations that bring dozens of partners together, including some government officials. In most cases, these partners rarely live in the area and are not farmers.
The partners access land that is divided into “tables,” according to Guzmán. The delivery of properties was conducted by the DRAU, through the DISAFILPA office responsible for issuing titles for land ownership.
An anonymous regional government source claims that large companies want to expand their domains into the forests. The evidence he cites is that deforestation is done using machinery that no local farmers would typically own.
Dennis Verde, a consultant and the comptroller for land registry evaluations, explains that drug trafficking is also part of the dispute over the forests, as coca crops have also been spreading into the region.
He believes the flyovers conducted by the Peruvian Air Force will help to “identify what occurs in the forests.”
José Miguel Davis Molina of the Peruvian Air Force says that the efforts to continue monitoring the Amazon will become permanent in the future, which will require “the integration of everyone’s efforts.”
The struggles of indigenous communities
In the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya, the Shipobo indigenous group has been fighting against the company that owns a large plantation called Ocho Sur Pucallpa for having settled in the community’s territory and reducing their available land.
According to the comptroller’s office, the document that proves the community’s ownership of the land was approved in an irregular manner.
On December 6, a group of Shipobo people including the community’s president, Carlos Hoyos, went to speak out against the encroachment on their land at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.
The raid on December 12 marks the beginning of a new chapter in the fight against land trafficking in Ucayali: one in which officials’ corruption is exposed. What still remains is for business owners, judges, and other types of land traffickers to be held accountable for their actions.
Banner image: José León/Diario Ímpetu.