Drug trafficking and invaded communities increase deforestation and violence against indigenous lead

  • The assassinations of indigenous leaders and the advance of drug trafficking have been the most worrying issues in 2021.

  • The deforestation figures for 2020, presented this year, have been the highest in the last two decades in Peru.

  • Among the advances are the creation of two indigenous reserves for peoples in isolation, the definition of a marine reserve and the declaration of six new regional conservation areas.

Luego de que durante el 2020 la pandemia del COVID-19 obligara a la población a acatar largas cuarentenas que significaron tiempos de inmovilización, el 2021 permitió ver en terreno el impacto de los delitos ambientales en los distintos ecosistemas.

“Ese retorno nos ha permitido ver qué pasó y descubrir aquellos problemas que surgieron en el momento de encierro cuando no era posible ir al campo por las restricciones”, comenta Sandra Ríos, investigadora del Instituto del Bien Común (IBC).

A possible airstrip in the Unipacuyaci native community. Photo: Christian Ugarte / Mongabay Latam.

The violent advance of drug trafficking in the Amazon and the significant increase in deforestation figures, which were the highest in the last 20 years, have been some of the adverse results that followed a year of restrictions in which control actions were also largely paralyzed.

"Everything stopped except illegal activities," indigenous leaders from the most threatened territories of the Peruvian jungle, who during the most critical period of the pandemic were murdered, threatened and persecuted within their own territories, have said more than once.

To the ten crimes of environmental defenders that occurred in 2020, seven of them against indigenous leaders, five more murders have been added this year, mourning the Kakataibo and Asháninka peoples of the regions of Ucayali, Huánuco, Junín and Pasco. In most of these cases, the aggressions have been associated with drug trafficking.

Against this backdrop, the new government's progress on environmental issues is not yet evident. However, the new president of the Council of Ministers, Mirtha Vásquez, hinted in her first speech in the Congress of the Republic that some key points are on the agenda of her administration, among them, legal security for indigenous territories, access to prior consultation, protection for environmental defenders and adaptation to climate change.

The advance of drug trafficking and the murder of environmental defenders.

In 2020, Peru ranked ninth worldwide for the number of environmental defenders murdered, with six people killed, according to the annual report of Global Witness. According to reports from the Peruvian Ombudsman's Office and other institutions, the figure rises to 10 in 2020, seven of them defenders of indigenous peoples. So far in 2021 there have already been five murders of indigenous leaders and community members, while many others remain under threat.

"The crimes of several indigenous leaders and the indiscriminate presence of drug trafficking, mainly in the Ucayali region, has been the most worrying thing this year," says Berlin Diques, president of the Aidesep Ucayali Regional Organization (ORAU), which brings together native communities in the regions of Ucayali, Huanuco and Pasco, the Amazonian area with the greatest pressure from drug trafficking.

In February 2021, Herasmo García Grau, from the Sinchi Roca community, and Yenes Ríos Bonsano, from the Puerto Nuevo community, both from the Kakataibo people, on the border between Ucayali and Huánuco, were allegedly murdered by people dedicated to the illicit cultivation of coca leaf.

Mario López Huanca, Asháninka leader, was murdered in June 2021. Photo: Facebook

Five months later, in July 2021, an indigen