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Threats Abound as Peru Cops Seize Timber

Indians near Brazil frontier seek protection as officials investigate allegations

Ashéninka indigenous leaders are calling on authorities to guarantee their safety after receiving alleged death threats from irate loggers whose wood was impounded this week at a sawmill in the timber hub of Pucallpa on the Ucayali River.

National Police agents and investigators from the environmental crimes prosecutors office seized more than 750 logs (930 cubic meters) at the Forza Nova sawmill on the Manantay River this week after members of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto indigenous community claimed the wood had been illegally extracted from their land. As I reported in “Mahogany’s Last Stand,” in National Geographic, April 2013, the natives of Saweto have been locked in a struggle to gain title to their land and expel illegal loggers who have been pillaging their forests in a remote headwaters region along Peru’s border with Brazil.

Official documents from the prosecutor’s office in Pucallpa recorded statements from Saweto community chief Edwin Chota Valera and treasurer Jorge Ríos Pérez indicating they had received death threats from the man who claimed ownership of the wood, which officials valued at $100,000.

“Someone from Saweto will die, and I will denounce you as a drug trafficker,” logging boss Hugo Sorio Flores allegedly told Chota, who claims to have GPS coordinates to identify the exact locations where the timber was extracted. A third community official, Leandro Comacho Ramírez, says he was threatened last Friday, April 5th, by Eurico Mapes Gómez, one of the loggers the Ashéninka accuse of cutting the timber and selling it to Sorio Flores.

Chota said the people of Saweto hope the regional Ucayali government will soon title their homelands and shut down logging operations in the Alto Tamaya region. In the meantime, the community is living through moments of high anxiety.

“The timber and loggers are now under investigation,” Chota wrote in a statement from Pucallpa. “But who will protect the people of Saweto and their leaders from the armed and dangerous loggers?”

Lumberjacks have long since hauled off the most valuable timber from the Alto Tamaya watershed. The haul impounded by officials this week includes several lesser-known species that are nonetheless of incalculable value to the ecology of the Amazon rain forest, including ishpingo, copaíba, tornillo and estoroque.

According to University of Richmond professor David Salisbury, who serves as an advisor to the Ashéninka of Saweto, officials from the prosecutors office and the environmental protection service are at odds over what to do with the timber. Fearful the logs could vanish if left in the hands of  local environmental protection agents, prosecutors are urging the Ashéninka to dispose of the timber. Salisbury says such a plan is fraught with risks for the natives, underscoring the need to move forward with final titling of the land and a definitive expulsion of the loggers.

Scott Wallace writes about the environment and indigenous affairs for National Geographic and other publications. He is the author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted TribesFor more information, please visit www.scottwallace.com.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Douglas Cooke
    United States
    September 14, 2:03 pm

    The U.S. should put a moratorium on all imported wood. We should be able to provide our own wood and see that it is logged sustainably. If we can’t provide our own wood, we’re using too much. This would greatly reduce demand for wood in the Amazon and other rainforests. But I can already hear my fellow Americans crying “Socialism!!! Impeach Obama!!”

  2. Sonia chota valera
    PERU
    September 9, 1:46 pm

    HAN MATADO A MI HERMANO,EDWIN CHOTA VALERA,DIRIGENTE ASHANINKA,Y A 3 DE SUS HERMANOS MAS,NOS ENCONTRAMOS DESESPERADAS,SU CADAVER ESTA SIENDO DEVORADO POR LOS ANIMALES,EL DENUNCIO A LOS DEPREDADORES DE NUESTRA TIERRA,LAS AUTORIDADES DE MI PAIS NO HICERON NADA PARA AYUDAR AL PUEBLO ASHANINKA,A PESAR QUE DENUNCIO ANTE EL CONGRESO,AHORA ES TARDE,PERO PIDO JUSTICIA PARA MI HERMANO Y NUESTRA GENTE,HE LEIDO SU COMENTARIO,AUN NO SE SI UD YA SABE ESTA LAMENTABLE NOTICIA PARA MI FAMILIA,MUCHAS GRACIAS

  3. luz chota valera
    perú
    September 9, 1:21 pm

    SOMOS LAS HERMANAS DE EDWIN CHOTA VALERA,ESTAMOS MUY TRISTES CON LO QUE HA PASADO CON NUESTRO HERMANO,ESTAMOS DESESPERADAS POR MI HERMANO,HEMOS LEIDO SU COMENTARIO PERO NO SABEMOS INGLES,SOMOS GENTE HUMILDE Y SENCILLA PERO CON PRINCIPIOS COMO LOS DE MI HERMANO,MI HERMANO DENUNCIO EL PELIGRO QUE TENIA SU VIDA Y LAS DE SUS HERMANOS ASHANINKAS PERO LAS AUTORIDADES DE MI PAIS NO HICIERON NADA,QUE INJUSTO ES TODO ESTO,AGRADECEREMOS NOS PUEDAN AYUDAR POR LA JUSTICIA NO SOLO DE MI HERMANO SINO TAMBIEN DE NUESTRO PUEBLO Y NUESTRA NATURALEZA,GRACIAS

  4. David Christoph'e
    USA
    May 29, 2013, 9:32 pm

    I hope they find a way to stop the distruction of the forests of Peru , People are losing their homelands and places to hunt . The forests are vast in the Amazon , but it won’t be forever .