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 indigenous leader was murdered. The victim was Mario Marcos López Huanca of the Shirarine Asháninka community, in the Pasco region, who was shot in the head while walking through his community. López Huanca was also president of Ecosira, the indigenous organization that executes the administration contract for the El Sira Communal Reserve.
The last crime occurred on November 30, also in the Pasco region, when Lucio Pascal Yumanga, from the La Paz de Pucharine community, was found shot in the thorax after several days of having gone hunting.
"Because of the seriousness and the risk situation, the most dramatic thing in 2021 has been the advance of drug trafficking, especially in the Kakataibo territory," says Vladimir Pinto, representative of Amazon Watch in Peru. Pinto also refers to what has happened in Flor de Ucayali, where "there is fear because the situation has worsened".
For Vanessa Cueto, director of Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), a pending issue is the ratification by the Congress of the Republic of the Escazú Agreement - a treaty that promotes access to environmental justice, transparency in information and the protection of environmental defenders - a commitment signed by the Peruvian government in 2018.
The latest Geobosques report on deforestation in Peru reported the loss of 203,272 hectares during the year 2020. This is the highest figure for the last two decades in the country.
According to figures from Global Forest Watch, published by the University of Maryland, Peru also ranks fifth among the countries that lost the most primary forests in 2020.
Although this is the previous year's annual report, specialists consulted by Mongabay Latam agree that there is an increase in environmental crimes affecting forests and fear that this 2021 the figures will be similar.
"2020 has been dire and so far this year is no different. I fear that we will have the same figures," says César Ipenza, a lawyer specializing in environmental issues. "We have had record deforestation and mining, drug trafficking and illegal logging have increased."
In May 2021, Mongabay Latam published a report on deforestation caused by illegal mining in Pariamanu, in Madre de Dios. In the Loreto region, we reported the loss of 374 hectares in Cotuhe, a conservation area near the Yaguas National Park, as well as the invasion of a permanent protection forest in the Napo basin by the Evangelical Association of the Israelite Mission of the New Universal Pact.
Deforestation caused by the Mennonite colony has spread in two regions of Peru. Photo: Sebastian Castañeda.
In addition, the rapid advance of deforestation by four Mennonite colonies in the regions of Ucayali and Huánuco has devastated at least 3,400 hectares since their arrival in Peru, according to reports from the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project.
Beatriz Huertas, an anthropologist specializing in indigenous peoples, confirms that illegal logging and deforestation have continued in the Amazon. "In meetings with indigenous organizations, there is talk of the increase in land trafficking on the border with Brazil, corrupt authorities and drug trafficking as a problem that is intensifying," she says. Huertas adds that "border areas are used for cultivation, processing and transportation of drugs", which has also been reported by the Regional Government of Ucayali (GORE Ucayali).
In August 2021, the GORE Ucayali reported on the progress of deforestation. According to reports from the regional authority, up to 54 clandestine airstrips were detected within its forests, 15 of them in indigenous territories.
"There has been a substantial increase in all crimes [in 2021], but in lesser quantity than 2020 because investigation and control activities returned," says Julio Guzman, Public Prosecutor of the Ministry of Environment.
Evidence of deforestation found by SPDA, photo: Vico Méndez / Actualidad Ambiental.
Another issue to pay attention to is road construction and its relationship to increasing forest loss. Mongabay Latam published several reports during 2021 on the proposals and progress in the construction of questionable roads. The Iquitos Saramiriza and Bellavista-El Estrecho roads in Loreto, and the Pucallpa - Cruzeiro do Sul and Bolognesi - Breu roads in the Ucayali region are some of them.
Many of these proposals are also being promoted by the Congress of the Republic. Nine bills to declare of national interest the construction of an equal number of highways in the Amazon have been presented in the Congress of the Republic. Of these, according to Cueto of DAR, one has been approved, four have an opinion, and four are in Commission to be discussed, of which two were observed by the Executive. "Without planning, the presence of highways is a latent risk for the Amazon", clarifies the expert.