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Peru: Invaders claim their first victim at the Macuya Forest Investigation Center

  • On June 13, forest defender Julio Crisanto López was wounded by two gunshots as he was leaving the Macuya Forest, and died several days later.
  • Since 2017, deforestation in the protected area has destroyed more than 500 hectares of forest according to satellite images.
  • Though protected and dedicated to biological research, land traffickers have invaded portions of it, cutting trees and preparing the way for farmers to begin raising crops or cattle.

An invasion of the Macuya Forest has claimed its first victim. Julio Crisanto López was the last person keeping watch at the Macuya Forestry Investigation and Training Center (Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Forestal Bosque Macuya – CICFOR-BM), an area of forest managed by the National University of Ucayali (UNU) which has been invaded by land traffickers and agriculturalists repeatedly since 2017.

On June 13, as he was departing the area having completed his daily monitoring of the forest, Crisanto López was shot twice – once in the leg and once in the abdomen – leaving him seriously wounded.

Julio Crisanto López era vigilante en el Bosque Macuya. Foto: Facebook Facultad Ingeniería Forestal.
Julio Crisanto López was a watchman in the Macuya Forest. Photo: Facebook Forestry Engineering Faculty.

Despite his injuries, he made the two-kilometer bike trip to the Fernando Belaúnde Terry freeway which marks the edge of the forest, where he was able to speak to his daughter by phone. He was assisted by police and taken to the Yarinacocha hospital where he died several days later.

“He was in intensive care and died on 22 June,” his wife Linda Salazar Rojas explained to Mongabay Latam. “He had been threatened more than once and he had asked for protection but they didn’t give him any, not even a bulletproof vest.” Salazar is now calling for those responsible for the murder of her husband to be found.

A forest under invasion

The murder of Crisanto López highlights once again the violence that has reigned over the Macuya Forest since 2017. In December of that year, the invaders destroyed and burned the CICFOR-BM research facilities. Since then, the students and scientists who used to carry out biological investigations have stopped going.

El Centro de Investigación Bosque Macuya fue destruido y quemado en diciembre de 2017. Foto: Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Ambientales.
The Forestry Investigation and Training Center in Macuya Forest was burned down in December 2017. Photo: Faculty of Forestry Science and Environmental Studies.

Linda Salazar adds that in February 2018, her husband had requested protection and had reported several of the invaders whom he had identified as those responsible for the threats, but his request was ignored.

“Other workers had left because of the threats but he carried on, writing reports about the deforestation. He was the university’s representative,” his wife says, complaining about the lack of support from the institution. “My husband has died. Now I have to continue with the case to find out who killed him,” Salazar laments.

Los invasores han arrasado con varios sectores del Bosque Macuya. Foto: Ingeniería Forestal UNU.
The invaders have razed many areas of the Macuya Forest. Photo: Forestry Engineering UNU.

Rector of the UNU, Carlos Fachín, explains their position: “We are supporting the relatives. Unfortunately, he was not a university employee; he was under contract from a company that offers security services to this center of studies.”

Fachín adds that the other workers carrying out monitoring work in the forest had no longer wished to continue due to the threats. “He was in the area and unfortunately he was killed. We didn’t think the invaders would act in this manner. We are preparing a report for the Prosecutor’s Office so they can investigate the incident as organized crime.”

Prosecutor Alejandrina Cuayla Huacho, coordinator of the Campo Verde Corporate Provincial Penal Prosecutor’s Office, told Mongabay Latam that this is not the only case relating to the Macuya Forest in this jurisdiction; it is the third violent crime under investigation.

El Bosque Macuya fue invadido en 2017. Foto: Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Ambientales.
The Macuya Forest was invaded in 2017. Photo: Faculty of Forestry Science and Environmental Studies.

As well as the murder of Crisanto López, the Prosecutor’s Office is also handling two cases of misappropriation of property as a result of incidents that took place in 2017. “There is one person in jail because of the previous incidents and another court case began last week. The charges are aggravated misappropriation within the state. The sentence for that is a minimum of five years imprisonment,” explains Prosecutor Cuayla.

Two other investigations proceeding within the Ucayali Prosecutor’s Office Specialized in Environmental Materials are for illegal logging and deforestation there.

Another violent episode took place in February 2019 when a group of students and forestry professionals went into this forest to carry out an inventory of the flora and fauna. In this case, the invaders beat the students and held them captive. Three hours later they were released.

Deforestation in Macuya

Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), via its Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), has been analyzing the deforestation that has been occurring in Macuya Forest, since the invaders arrived in 2017.

Más de 500 hectáreas han sido deforestadas en el Bosque Macuya. Fuente: MAAP.
Illegal deforestation has destroyed more than 500 hectares of the Macuya Forest. Source: MAAP.

According to their analysis, the loss of forest from June 2017 to May 2019 was 567.98 hectares, almost a quarter of the total area granted to the university by the Peruvian government in 1987. For comparison, the CICFOR-BM covers a total of 2,640 hectares of forest.

In 2017 alone, deforestation destroyed 155.9 hectares following the arrival of the invaders. In 2018, this figure increased to 179.24 hectares, but this year MAAP’s report states the deforestation is already greater: “In only the first five months of 2019, they have destroyed 232.84 hectares of forest. That represents a record amount compared with the figures from previous years.”

The map comparing deforestation between July 2017 and May 2019 demonstrates how the forest is being lost “by the opening of supposed agricultural venues,” explains the MAAP report.

Imágenes satelitales muestran la deforestación en el Bosque Macuya. Fuente: MAAP.
Satellite images showing recent deforestation in the Macuya Forest. Source: MAAP.

“They are land traffickers and it’s in their interest to take over this forest. They are chopping down hugely valuable species that have been recorded in our investigations. These are trees that are 200-300 years old,” says Edgar Díaz Zúñiga, lecturer at the UNU and part of the commission that has formed to look for a solution.

Prosecutor José Guzmán, from the First Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Environmental Affairs has also claimed, more than once, that land traffickers – people who cut down a section of forest they don’t own and first sell the wood before creating or procuring a counterfeit deed in order to sell the land to people looking to settle and raise crops or cattle – are operating in the Macuya Forest.

A definitive solution?

On Wednesday, June 26, a meeting of the university’s board took place in the presence of students, staff and the authorities of the Faculty of Forestry Engineering and Environmental Studies. During the meeting, it was agreed to sign an agreement with the Armed Forces and the Peruvian Police to hand over protection of the forest to them. They are also considering a draft bill requesting that Peru’s congress grant this area of forest to UNU permanently.

Imágenes de dron muestran la deforestación en el Bosque Macuya. Foto: Ingeniería Forestal UNU.
Drone images show the level of deforestation in the Macuya Forest. Photo: Forestry Engineering UNU.

Cristhian Ruiz Rengifo, Vice-Secretary of the Federal Center of Forestry Engineering backs a definitive solution so that the Macuya Forest can return to being a space for study and teaching, as it has been for nearly 30 years. “For two years now, the students can no longer enter the Investigation Center and the deforestation continues.”

Though the forest was granted to UNU by the Peruvian State in the 1980s, it is however located within the Huánuco territory. For this reason, when the invasions took place between 2017 and 2018, the illegal occupants approached the regional Huánuco government to demand the forest be given to them. At this time, a settlement called Nueva Zelanda was formed to take possession of the invaded areas. Nevertheless, in December 2018, the Regional Huánuco Government passed a resolution ratifying the concession of the forest to the university.

Las imágenes muestran cómo avanzó la deforestación en el Bosque Macuya. Fuente: Ingeniería forestal UNU.
Images show the level of deforestation in the Macuya Forest. Source: Forestry Engineering UNU.

In March 2019, Regional Agriculture Director, Edu Chávez, sent a letter to the invaders, asking them to stop destroying the forest that had been conceded to the university. “The attached images and your behavior do nothing more than demonstrate the little value you and your organization place on the ecosystems that exist there, that we as a regional forestry authority have the obligation to preserve,” the document states, and which also warns of a possible report to the Regional Public Attorney’s Office.

“The university is doing everything legally possible and the draft bill aims to push the Peruvian government to grant the university ownership over the forest as a place dedicated to investigation,” explains UNU Rector Fachín.

Until then, the violence and deforestation is likely to continue in this forest dedicated to science.

This article was first published at Mongabay Latam and its English translation was adapted by Erik Hoffner.

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