Peru in Focus as Widows of Activists Demand Justice

Amazonian women slam government as report says Peru is world’s fourth deadly for environment defenders

Published by Anadolu Agency Nov 18.

The wives of four tribal leaders slain by suspected illegal loggers in September demanded justice Monday, slamming Peru’s government for allowing the case to go cold.

The indigenous Ashaninka women said at a press conference in Lima that the country’s leaders had failed them as investigations stalled and death threats persisted from logging mafias.

Prominent environmental activist Edwin Chota, and Jorge Rios, Leonardo Quinticima and Francisco Pinedo were killed Sept. 1 near their community of Saweto near the Brazil border.

Chota reported death threats from loggers as early as 2005 to the authorities, though no action was taken.

Their bodies remained unrecovered and those responsible for the crime are still free, the widows said in visible anguish.

Their accounts came at the launch of a new report that showed Peru was the second deadliest country in Latin America in the last decade for murders of defenders of the environment.

At least 57 activists in Peru were murdered between 2002 and 2013, with the majority of the killings linked to mining conflicts, oil and logging industries, the London-based nongovernmental organization Global Witness wrote in the “Deadly Environment” report.

In a rising trend, 60 percent of the murders occurred in the last four years, with impunity and lack of information about the perpetrators commonplace.

“With the vengeance that has happened in the community of Saweto, it pains me that we have no security,” said Ergilia Rengifo (pictured right), the wife of Jorge Rios.

Authorities said there was no money to continue the search and had given up, she said.

In the remote jungle where illicit loggers and informal mining fills the void of an absentee state, Rengifo said she also fears for her children’s future.

“My husband is dead,” said Lita Rojas. “I want them [the authorities] to deliver him so I can bury him.”

Peru’s government set up a high commission to investigate the murders, which has borne no hard results.

Ahead of December’s climate change talks in the capital of Lima, the country with the world’s fourth-largest extension of tropical rainforest is in the spotlight.

The case was “symptomatic” of various cases in Peru over the last decade, Chris Moye, environmental governance campaigner for the NGO said.

The report highlighted “institutionalized impunity” with a mere 1 percent of the 908 cases worldwide resulting in successful prosecution.

Brazil, Honduras and the Philippines topped the list.

The demand for justice came as a renewed contest over forest rights intensifies as Peru backs its extractive industries to power its developing economy.

The Saweto community has fought for 12 years to have its land rights recognized, safeguarding vast tracts of land from illicit activity and staving off deforestation – which Peru has pledged to halt by 2021 as part of a UN agreement.

“All I ask for is my land title,” Rengifo said. “Without it I can’t do anything.”

Global Witness echoed calls made by Peru’s main indigenous organization, Aidesep, to title 20 million hectares of land – almost 30 percent of the country’s rainforest – for 594 native communities.

It also called for a moratorium of the pending auction of 5 million hectares in logging concessions.

Titling the land of indigenous communities is the best strategy to fend off deforestation, according to a study by the World Resources Institute.

“The government needs to step up to plate and investigate the illegality in the forest concessions but stop assigning concessions to the extractive industries or they will never meet their two central obligations,” Moye told The Anadolu Agency.

The World Bank estimated in 2011 that up to 80 percent of Peru’s export timber could be illegal, facilitated by fake documents and corruption of public officials.

Irregularities have engulfed the vice president of the Ucayali region, where the murders took place.

Almost 4.5 million cubic meters of wood said to be extracted from his concessions had been logged elsewhere, likely illegally, forestry watchdog Osinfor said in October.

Photo: Alex Pashley

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