Mahogany trees can fetch up to $11,000 (C) Eric Miraglia https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Timber Land: Peru activists murdered in the Amazon
When ordinary people stand up for their rights in many parts of Latin America, they do so in the knowledge that powerful and often violent forces are ranged against them. Earlier this month four campaigners for indigenous land rights in the Peruvian Amazon were murdered, almost certainly by the illegal loggers that have plagued the country for years.
When Edwin Chota Valera, a renowned leader within the Ashánika community who fought for the titles to their ancestral territories, led a delegation to Lima in June this year he told the government of the threats issued against him and his fellow campaigners, and asked for protection. Three months later, he and three other activists, Leoncio Quincima Meléndez, Jorge Ríos Pérez and Francisco Pinedo, were tied up and shot in front of the rest of their community.
Illegal logging costs Peru an estimated $250million per year, but prevention efforts have focused on catching the timber leaving the country, leaving people inside Peru unprotected and exposed. Communities like Edwin’s are often the only obstacle to those intent on stripping the country of its forests, with the nearest help sometimes hundreds of miles away. Villagers, including Edwin’s widow, had to travel for six days by river just to report to the murders.
Edwin, Leoncio, Jorge and Fransisco were victims of a problem faced by indigenous communities across Central and South America. The pressure for timber, minerals and fuel mean a constant battle for communities to survive the rush for these natural resources, with governments either powerless or unwilling to stand up to commercial interests. A Global Witness study found that between 2002 and 2013 a staggering 908 people died protecting their land against environmental and commercial depredation. Peru’s neighbour Brazil was by far the most dangerous place in the world to fight for land rights, with almost half of the global death toll.
Trade Unions continue to support indigenous communities in their fight for their lands and against forced labour across Latin America, but whereas in Brazil the union federation CUT has the power to press its government over breaches of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on indigenous peoples’ rights, in Peru unions face a more hostile negotiating environment, with a number of attacks recorded by the ITUC this year.
International solidarity, therefore, is vital in pressuring the Peruvian government into taking the necessary decisive action to confront the murderers and protect the lives and lands of activists and their families.
Please join us in taking action. The ITUC has asked its affiliates and their unions to register protest letters with the Peruvian government and demand justice for Edwin’s community and that they provide protection for them and the many others affected by illegal loggers. Amnesty International have also launched an action so that individuals, too, can help make sure the government knows that while Peru’s indigenous communities may be remote, they will not be forgotten.
Note: The Amnesty action is not on-line, but the link will provide email addresses as well as further background information. The Peruvian ambassador to the UK can be reached via [email protected]