Family of Slain Indigenous Leaders Seek Government Support

Chota EdwinThe widowsof three of four indigenous men who were killed by illegal loggers in the eastern Ucayali region, were in Lima on Wednesday to meet with government authorities and demand property titles for their community lands.

Three of the four women, members of the Ashaninka indigenous group, issued a statement after meeting with congressional authorities and representatives of the state in Lima.

“We feel that the state has abandoned us,” the statement said, according to daily El Comercio. “In Peru we are marginalized. We are seeking justice for our dead and we want those that are guilty to be punished, including all of those responsible.”

The three women include Julia Perez, the wife of Edwin Chota ,the president of an Ashaninka community and a known activist who was killed by illegal loggers, as well as  Egilia Rengifo, the wife of Jorge Rios, and Lita Rojas, the wife of Leonicio Quintisima. The Francisco Pinedo’s widow remained in Ucayali, where the community is located.

Chota and the three other men were killed in early September but news of the murders didn’t reach outside of the remote jungle community until about a week later. They were killed in front of their families, who fled the area, and their bodies were scattered by the loggers.

Chota was the community’s leader and the founder of Aconomac, which groups the Ashaninka communities of the Masisea region. Threats against the community, and specifically against the indigenous leaders, were well known locally but also abroad as Edwin Chota had been featured by the New York Times and National Geographic on the threats of illegal logging and loggers to their communities.

Chota’s last visit to Lima was in June this year, to follow up dozens of letters he had already written to authorities and present new letters to the Executive and members of Congress, demanding that they grant land titles for their community territories and providing details of their situation and the death threats.

Logging illegal-Ucayali-Chota

Logs from an illegal operation in the Ucayali region, photographed by Ashaninka activist and community leader Edwin Chota.

It had taken Chota six days to canoe from his community in Alto Tamaya to then travel to Lima for the June 6 meeting with cabinet ministers, arranged by the Public Ombudsman’s Office. But only mid-ranking officials and advisors turned up and although promises were made, nothing was actually done.  In 2013, Chota also came to the Cabinet Chief’s office with other members of his community to demand their land titles but, according to an advisor, the officer assigned to meet them did not give the request much importance.

Peru’s national ombudsman, Eduardo Vega, had said that the deaths could have been prevented.

Authorities have detained a Brazilian, Adeuzo Mapes, and his Peruvian son, Eurico Mapes, as the alleged authors of the crime.

The women asked for the government to provide the indigenous community with property rights over their land, a move that the community has been demanding for several years and that is seen as key to helping them protect Peru’s lush forests from illegal loggers.

“We protect the trees and the rivers. Without them, we would be hungry. The forests are our food, our medicine, our house,” the statement from the three Ashaninka women said.

“We are not going to sit with our arms crossed while the loggers enter and destroy our forests. Now, the government has to do the job that it hasn’t done before. It has to protect our people and respect our rights.”

Their own community is small — 24 families— but they are part of a much larger group of communities in the region who face the same threats.

According to Roberto Guimaraes, a leader in the Federation of Native Communities of the Ucayali and Affluents, there are 82 communities in that region that face threats and problems not only from illegal logging but also legally-licensed logging concessions that overlap into their territories.

The World Bank reported in 2012 that 80% of the lumber coming out  Peru’s Amazon forests is felled illegally.

In a report this week, the forest resources supervisory body, Osinfor, said it had closed four logging concessions to the deputy president of the Ucayali region, Carlos Henderson, who was found to have been  laundering illegal timber through his own legally established logging company Maderera Marañon.

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