After a record number of murders in 2019, the assassinations of environmental and human rights defenders continue unabated and undeterred. Throughout the world and in Latin America in particular, environmental defenders and indigenous leaders face threats and attacks from criminal groups linked to illegal logging, illegal deforestation, land grabbing, and narcotrafficking.
The protectors of our planet are at constant peril of losing not just their land, livelihoods, and way of life, but their actual lives. All in order to safeguard the forests that they – and de facto all of us – depend on to survive. In many countries, such as Peru, authorities have essentially left indigenous communities on their own to fight off land grabbers, illegal loggers, and other criminal actors. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, the intruders now bring with them a deadly virus, making remote communities even more vulnerable.
On March 1st, 2021, The Regional Organization of AIDESEP in Ucayali (ORAU) publicly condemned the murders of two indigenous Cacataibo leaders in Peru. EIA joins ORAU in expressing outrage at the murders of human rights defenders who are protecting the Amazon region and their communities, and echoes ORAU’s calls for urgent and immediate actions. Here is an EIA-translated version in English of ORAU’s original letter in Spanish.
The Regional Organization of AIDESEP in Ucayali (ORAU) publicly condemns two new murders of indigenous Cacataibo leaders, yet another pair of human rights defenders whose only objective was to protect the Amazon region for the sake of their communities. These deaths occurred because we have been abandoned by Peruvian authorities, leaving us at the mercy of drug traffickers, land invaders, and illegal loggers.
Our brother HERASMO GARCIA GRAU, age 28, was kidnapped and in the following days was found cruelly murdered. The Indigenous community of Sinchi Roca is requesting the georeferencing and updating of their communal land titles, but the Ucayali Regional Directorate of Agriculture has systematically refused to conclude this process. This inaction contributes to the interests of invaders, traffickers, and other criminals who use this area as a transit route for their illegal businesses. YENSER RIOS BONSANO, age 26, was also murdered.
On April 12, 2020 the apu2 of Unipacuyacu, Arbildo Melendez, also of the Cacataibo people, was murdered. Almost a year after his death, the State has still not provided justice for his defenseless family, his widow, and his children, while the guilty parties remain free. The relatives of the leaders Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos, Leoncio Quintisima, and Francisco Pinedo from the Alto Tamaya Saweto community, who were murdered in 2014, face a similar situation. Will the rest of us, indigenous leaders, be soon the next victims just for defending our territory? In this context of impunity and abandonment, drug trafficking increases, destroying the economy of our country. It corrupts the State and society, divides communities, and assassinates our leaders. When will the State finally decide to take action to do something for Indigenous Peoples?
As ORAU leaders, we are continually condemning this situation in national and international media. We traveled directly to Lima last November to speak with the Ministers of the Interior, Justice, Culture, Environment, with the President of Congress, with the Prosecutor’s Office, and with DEVIDA. This week, we communicated our concern regarding this situation to the President of the Cabinet of Ministers in person when she visited us in Pucallpa. We know that the State has limitations, but it is not acceptable for it to fail to impose a minimum of authority in the face of the unpunished increase in drug trafficking: Why have they so brutally abandoned the Amazon? Is this attitude just indifference or complicity?
We demand urgent and effective actions:
- Justice for our murdered brothers!!! Trial and conviction of the hitmen and the real perpetrators. It is urgent that the State deactivate criminal gangs linked to drug trafficking.
- Declare a state of emergency in the Ucayali Region and the Province of Puerto Inca in Huánuco. It is not only the pandemic that kills us, but also the indifference or complicity of authorities in the face of the impunity with which timber, drugs, and our land are trafficked. These trends are advancing in our region like another Amazon-destroying fire.
- Urgent titling and georeferencing for the communities that have waited for decades, in the face of the legal uncertainty that we face due to the neglect of the regional governments. This attitude on the part of the government allows false colonizers and fake farmers take advantage of opportunities to invade our territories.
- We call on indigenous communities to exercise their self-defense mechanisms, and we hold the State, which has abandoned us, responsible for any major crisis that may arise if it does not exercise authority over the criminals who are taking over the Peruvian Amazon.
Pucallpa, Ucayali Region, March 1st 2021
Berlin Diques Rios
(President of ORAU)
1 AIDESEP is the largest national indigenous organization in Peru for the Amazon indigenous communities.
2Apu is the term the Peruvian Amazon indigenous communities use to refer to their leaders.
3 Lima is the capital of Peru